Developing Your Career In Property

01 Sep 2011
Mel Pikos
Property Council of Australia

Employment opportunities for young people in property have been limited in recent years in what has been a challenging time for the industry. We speak with Ineke Read, Business Manager at Davidson Recruitment, on how to differentiate yourself in a highly competitive job market and improve your chances of employment, and importantly, further developing your career in property.

Q: What do employers look for in young people in property?

Many job descriptions don’t include a list of soft skills that employers would like their employees to possess; however, employers will always be drawn to candidates that can demonstrate the following:

1. You have exceeded expectations at some point. This includes understanding what your role deliverables are and doing more than what is asked of you. Subscribing to the belief that the company comes first and it is your responsibility to improve the business will differentiate yourself from the pack.

2. Demonstrated initiative by getting things started or done without being told to do it. This also applies to personal development. Candidates continually complain that they aren’t receiving any training or are becoming stagnant in their roles. Take the initiative to identify key individuals that possess the knowledge you want and ask for help.

3. Be proactive. This means getting out there and attending industry functions, being involved in industry organisations, and making contacts in the industry.

Q: What are big turn-offs for employers?

I believe the biggest one for employers is lack of stability or loyalty in employment. To expect an employer to invest in you, there needs to be some evidence that you will reward that investment with your loyalty in return. Moving every year is not the right thing to do. Make sure you explore all possible opportunities within your current employer before looking elsewhere, and use the "golden key" that I mentioned in the previous question to make sure you have developed all you can before considering a move.

Q: What relationships should young people develop?

Relationships are absolutely critical in the property industry. It’s not enough just being the best architect, engineer, developer, or valuer. The ability to bring in new business, clients, or opportunities will ensure your rapid progression and demonstrate some of the soft skills mentioned earlier.

Attending industry functions is an important part of immersing yourself in the sector and making a name for yourself. It’s a great way to meet new contacts as people are there to network. It never ceases to amaze me though, how often I will introduce myself to a group of people at an industry event, only to find that they all work at the same company! Move out of your comfort zone and speak to people! Here are some tips and hints on how to maximise your networking opportunities:

· When introducing yourself, say your full name and the company that you work for slowly and clearly. It is appropriate to follow up with a business card at a function – that’s what they are for!

· Remember names. Be able to introduce the person that you just met to someone else.

· Break into small groups – if you are alone, introduce yourself to groups of less than four people. That way you don’t have to wait for five people to introduce themselves (and remembering names gets harder).

· Wear your name badge in a place that people can easily see it.

· Ask permission to stay in touch with someone you met.

· A firm, not crushing, handshake is important. Always make eye contact with the person you are shaking hands with. Also, use your left hand to hold food or drink so that your right hand is always free to shake hands and is not covered with food or clammy from holding a cold drink.

· First impressions are important! How you walk, talk and dress will give people an immediate perception of you and your personal brand.

· Keep an open stance. If you are talking with someone and you are too close to them, it will not encourage others to join your group.

· Be genuine – follow up with people that you want to keep in touch with.

· Finally – don’t spend the whole function with one group. Move around. Use the bathroom, or excuse yourself to get another drink. Don’t leave anyone alone. If you want to move on, introduce the person that you just met to someone else first.

Q: What advice can you pass on to students looking at entering into the property industry?

The most important aspect is to get industry experience whilst studying. It is not good enough to graduate with a degree and expect to get a job. This might mean that you work for free a couple of days a week. Also, remember what I said about stability as well, even in your casual jobs. It will set you apart if you have some stability whilst studying. Also, don't worry if the work experience that you get is not exactly where you want to end up; any property experience will help you if it gives you exposure to fundamentals.

Q: What are your top interview tips?

· Make sure that you understand the position description, where the role fits into the organisational chart and a bit about the environment. If you don’t have access to this information – these are great questions to ask at the interview. Remember – never bring up salary at a first interview unless the employer specifically asks you.

· Read any annual reports or articles on the internet about the company. This can also give you a good idea of what questions to ask.

· Dress conservatively – if in doubt it is better to be overdressed than underdressed.

· Spend time reviewing your resume and experience that is relevant to the role and be prepared to discuss.

· Refresh your memory of details of past and present employers. This also includes any data around budgets or specific KPI’s. It looks bad when an interviewer asks something like “who did you report to in that role?” or “what was your budget?” and you can’t remember. Answer with specifics.

· Prepare the questions that you will ask the interviewer. This shows that you really care about the role, and leaves a good impression when intelligent questions are asked.

Q: What should you never do in an interview?

· Never answer questions with a simple “yes” or “no.” Always give a real life example where possible.

· Don’t lie or exaggerate your experience. Answer questions truthfully and as much to the point as possible. If you don’t have experience or exposure to something, be honest about it.

· Don’t ever make negative remarks about your present or former employers or companies.

· Try to be concise in your responses. Interviewers want lots of detail, but quickly.

· Never enquire about salary, bonuses or holidays at the first interview unless you are positive the employer is interested in hiring you and raises the issue first. You should know your rough market value and be prepared to specify your required salary or range if asked.

· Never have a “what can you do for me?” attitude.

Q: What are your top curriculum vitae (CV) tips?

As a general rule, listing specific achievements and quantitative information is much better than general qualitative data. I usually advise candidates to stay away from listing responsibilities that are obvious for the job title. For example, if you are an Assistant Development Manager, don’t list your responsibilities as:

· Working with the Development Manager on projects;

· Dealing with consultants;

· Etc.

Be more specific, such as:

· Reporting directly to the Senior Development Manager on a $60M residential apartment project "name" in New Farm. The project had 120 apartments.

· I joined the project after the lodge of the DA, and the consultant team was in place. I attended meetings, took minutes, and followed up actions.

Once the content of the resume is right, read it out loud to check for flow and feel, and always ensure that grammatical errors and spelling mistakes are eliminated.

Q: What is your greatest success story in dealing with a young person in property?

With the market as tough as it is, I often receive calls from students or young people in property asking how they can get their first job, or transition into a new area where they might not have experience. I give the same advice over and over again, but not many seem to take it. Applying for jobs on websites like Seek is not going to get you a role when you have no experience. In this market, you need to be prepared to do work experience (often for free) and the only way to secure these positions is through the people you know.

If you don’t have a network, you need to build one. This means stepping outside of your comfort zones, introducing yourself to industry people and asking for the opportunity to come in and help them. Graduating from a property degree with no relevant experience will make it almost impossible to get a role.

Last year I met Michael Stanfield at a careers industry event that I was speaking at, where he applied what was spoken about in a really innovative way. Michael was studying Property Economics, and whilst studying, he read Outliers, the story of success by Malcolm Gladwell. Throughout the book, Malcolm claims that the key to success is to commit 10,000 hours to something to become a master. Michael decided that his University studies needed to be applied to activities to “get his hours up.”

He began undertaking feasibilities on sites that were for sale in the newspaper every week. He attended the industry careers night I met him at, and all the guest speakers spoke about making sure you graduate from a degree with industry experience. This inspired him to take a more systematic approach to finding work, and to eventually getting paid work at the end of it.

Michael’s next step was to approach a developer/builder that he had been introduced to through his course, who had bought one of the sites that he had a completed a feasibility on. Michael offered to come in and show them what he had done, and asked for feedback. He was pleased to discover his feasibility was quite close to what they had decided to do. Michael offered to do work experience for free on any new sites that they were looking at. He asked them email him with any new sites, so he could work up a feasibility as soon as he could.

One of the owners of the business soon emailed a site, and what Michael did next was quite extraordinary. He received the email really late in the afternoon, and he wanted to demonstrate that he was super keen, so he stayed up all night working on different scenarios so that he could send it back in the morning. The site didn’t stack up, and he was able to send them a few different scenarios with lots of detail, along with his recommendation to pass on that particular site. Michael said he was able to be quick because he had become comfortable with the town plan over the previous few months and knew important issues to look for.

This lead to the director sending more sites Michael’s way, all of which he worked on for free, finally resulting in an offer of a full time role a month before he graduated. What can we learn from Michael’s experience?

1. Target people you want to work for and approach them.

2. Be willing to work for free and be specific on the project or area you want to work on.

3. Gain flexibility to work on the project when you can. When offering your services for free you aren’t getting paid to sit in the office all day – so do as much work as you can from home to prove that they don’t need to babysit you and that you are proactive and can work on your own.

4. Provide value – under-promise and over-deliver on their expectations. Remember they don’t expect much when you’re working for free.

5. Put a time limit on your free work – this will make the transition to paid work more clear.

6. Smart employers will hire you based on the value you can provide them. If they cannot employ you, that should not be a problem as you now have the experience you needed to begin with when looking elsewhere.