The best advice for real estate graduates in a COVID world

Nov 08, 2020

What can an aspiring commercial real estate (CRE) professional do to create career opportunities in the midst of COVID-19? Are recently minted and soon-to-be qualified graduates destined to miss out on the important indoctrination into our industry which has built the careers of so many before them? 

Some firms have cancelled their 2020 graduate intakes. Coronavirus has been the reason cited by some of the commercial real estate firms who are large enough to typically offer formal graduate recruitment programs, but will not do so this year. This means that the best-laid plans of many graduates have been majorly disrupted.

Worse still, travel restrictions mean that graduates can’t just take a year off traveling and have another go in 2021. This is both frustrating and daunting for the graduating class of 2020.

If you’re in that situation currently, I don’t have a magic pill that will get you your dream job before your (virtual) graduation ceremony.

There is the obvious advice such as polish up your CV, and be patient while also persistent. And to be clear, this is obvious, but still good, advice!

It is also true this period of uncertainty will help young professionals in the long term, by giving them the resilience which will see them through tough times in the future. But that’s not especially helpful right now.

With this in mind, here are six less obvious reminders for recent graduates, or those who are graduating over the next year and were expecting to be entering the workforce in 2020. To maintain your sense of perspective, and to increase your chances of success, keep these in mind while looking for your first “real” job.

Understand that your first job does not need to be your dream job

Some graduates are fixed on working for the most prestigious firms. They may feel that their hard work and top grades up to this point mean that they are entitled to hold out for their ideal position. Well, now is the time to consider different companies or alternative roles that aren’t your top choice. If you are a top candidate compared with your peers, the good news is that hasn’t changed; only the opportunities available in the current market have.

I’m not saying to go for jobs that you’re not interested in, because that’s not helpful to your career, or fair on the company and other applicants. Instead, remember that many of the most successful people in CRE have worked in many areas of the industry before they’ve settled into one sector or specialty. Be open to taking a position which may not fit with your best laid plans as they existed in your mind before 2020, but will still give you a foothold in the industry and help lay the first stone in your career pathway.

Cancelled graduate recruitment programs doesn’t equate to a hiring freeze on all graduates

Graduate intake programs for 2020 being cancelled reflects the high amount of uncertainty that exists currently. The established graduate recruitment process, with an emphasis on observed group activities and multi-panel interviews, do not fit well with physical distancing. It is also true that, from an optics point of view, hiring new graduates while handing out redundancy notices is just not a good look. But this does not equate to a hiring freeze.

You may well have already started building personal links within the Talent Acquisition teams at firms that you were targeting. You could also have connections with other decision makers in the firms where you would like to work. Now is the time to keep them updated with what you are doing. Make sure you ask them about what areas of their business may be hiring right now, and make sure they know that you’re open to other opportunities. Even if there are no job openings today, things can change quickly, and you want to be top of mind when they do.

Use your downtime to upskill

If you’re not spending so much time preparing for job interviews, and COVID-19 restrictions have impacted your casual job or social schedule, you have some spare time up your sleeve. Why not get some training in an area that you aren’t especially strong in? You may want to level-up your sales skills or get some technology credentials. Why not undertake your agent’s representative qualification, or even a Certificate IV in Property Services, so you’re ready to start as an agent? All of these activities demonstrate great initiative and will make you an even more attractive candidate relative to your peers.

You can also check out courses provided by industry associations such as RICS and CoreNet, or look into private providers that have free online learning. Micro-credentialing providers are more accessible than ever as everyone is forced online to learn. These courses – many of which are discounted and some are even free – are also a great way to network and potentially uncover new opportunities.

Consider growth industries with property needs

Have a think about property-related positions within other industries, or property-peripheral sectors, that have greater hiring needs. Nearly every industry has some property needs; non-discretionary retail is an obvious one, as is the health care sector, and government. Some sectors which are adjacent to ours are construction, facility management and logistics. In addition to normal job advertisement sites, you can also utilise newly-created federal and state government websites which have jobs advertised to give you a better idea of which sectors are expanding and how they may relate to property.

You could also look to get involved in a PropTech start-up, where younger technology-savvy professionals with property credentials are likely to be in high demand. When buildings do fully reopen, the industry is going to need innovative solutions that help manage COVID-19 risks. Many of these solutions will come from the PropTech and start-up space.

Double-down on LinkedIn and consider a content strategy

Everyone knows to spend some time brushing up their CV, but how many university students optimise their LinkedIn profile? You may not be aware, but LinkedIn is where many property professionals hang out (I hate to tell you, but not many are on TikTok!). Beyond making sure your profile is up to date and is designed to be found by prospective employers (which would already put you way ahead of the vast majority), you should also connect and engage with relevant people on LinkedIn. This means sending them a personalised connection request and then engaging with their content, so they don’t forget who you are. Bonus points for actually contributing content into the platform, and being a core part of the conversation.

Once you have formed a relationship with someone online, you can ask them to meet offline (or for a Zoom meeting!). Just make sure you are clear on why you want to speak with them. For example: “I’ve seen you’ve done X, and I’d like your advice on Y”. CRE professionals are only human, so flattery can go a long way, but also make sure you’re clear on the purpose, so people know why they should take the time to speak with you.

Speak to your parents (or half a generation later)…

You may have heard of a time, perhaps before you were born, when the Australian economy was in recession. People who graduated in the early 1990s faced a jobs market which was bleak. It could be helpful to hear their perspective, so you know that you’re not the first person (or generation) this is happening to, and there is light at the end of the tunnel (most of those people are doing pretty ok now, right?!?). It will be useful to hear how they handled a recession, and what their strategies were to get that first job.

For those in East Asia, speak to people who graduated in the late 1990s. For those in the US, ask anyone who graduated into the Great Recession just over a decade ago. It is always helpful to speak to people who have faced similar challenges to what you are currently facing. They may well have even better advice than is contained in this article!

Additional resources

Just as you’ve found this blog post, you should continue to locate resources that contain advice on how to deal with this unprecedented situation. The fact we are in unchartered waters means that nobody knows definitely how to handle it or how this will all end. What I do know is that it will help to get support with how to navigate it – keep on looking until you find advice that consistently resonates with you.


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