Although real estate interview case studies can be intimidating, there are proven strategies that can help you improve your performance and overall confidence. It sounds trite, but it’s true – practice makes perfect. Whether it’s modeling, mental math, or Excel keyboard shortcuts, putting in the time at home is by far the best way to set yourself up for success. To help you guide your preparation, we’ve compiled a list of 5 DO’s and 5 DONT’s that will make you more confident going into any interview case study.
DO Be Confident
When in interviews, coffee chats, or general interactions with industry professionals, try to avoid behaviors that give away your nervousness, like laughing anxiously, avoiding eye contact, or speaking too softly. Don’t apologize (i.e. don’t say “sorry” when your interviewer catches a mistake in your case study) as this signals insecurity. In general, smile, maintain eye contact, and attempt to engage your interviewer about their day or something mildly social in the first few minutes of the interview. If meeting someone again, follow up on something they had mentioned in your previous meeting (i.e. their weekend/summer plans, personal achievements, etc.). This shows you were listening and are able to make small talk.
DO Retain Composure
Case studies are as much a test of your composure as they are a test of your knowledge (particularly if they are timed and administered in person in an office). Practice will go a long way here, so before taking a case study, set aside several hours to practice a mock case study and get comfortable with the types of questions or tasks that you may encounter. If it’s a timed case study in the office, make sure that you spend some time learning Excel keyboard shortcuts, formatting techniques, and basic formulas in order to increase your speed and efficiency in the real thing.
DO Be Considerate
Every interviewer takes time out of their busy schedule to interact with you, so showing enthusiasm and genuine interest can make a big difference. Make sure to emphasize that you care about the position and that you found the material of the case interesting. Even if it’s a trivial comment, sprinkling in relevant facts from outside resources into the discussion can set you apart from others.
In addition, try to think above and beyond for the questions that you’re answering. For example, a case might ask you to model two different scenarios to test your ability, but it may not ask you to pick one as your preferred option. In this instance, you might take it a step further and add a quick sentence such as: “I think Scenario 2 makes more sense given the pickup in IRR and minimal loss to the equity multiple.” Doing this will show your self initiative and ability to go beyond the bare minimum take things a step further.
DO Write Out Your Answers
Most case studies will ask you to build a model and then answer a few specific quantitative and/or qualitative questions. When you build your model, the answers might be implicit (“just look at the IRR in my model”). However, for a more polished and professional work product, you should actually write out your answers in addition to submitting the model. Most people don’t bother to explicitly write their answers out even though it makes it a lot easier for the person reviewing their case. Doing so is another opportunity to stand out.
DO Follow Modeling Best Practices
Make sure to follow clear and concise formatting norms. Your model should ideally be dynamic and have an inputs section, a cash flow section, and an output section with the relevant return metrics. Be sure to color code your cells in order to let your interviewer know which cells are inputs and which are calculations. Please see our practice real estate interview case study for a sample model and some specific modeling tips.
DON’T Talk Yourself Into a Corner
Be concise when responding to questions and don’t over explain things. Don’t speak for longer than necessary. A good rule of thumb is 10 to 20 seconds per response. If the question deserves a nuanced response, give a high-level answer (less than 30 seconds) and then ask your interviewer if they’d like to dive deeper.
NEVER try and submit someone else’s model as your own. As an example, an interview candidate once used a pre-built template in an interview. The candidate couldn’t even explain how it worked. When asked if they had built the model from scratch, they said yes, but were unable to explain even the most basic functionalities of the model. This is an easy way to eliminate yourself from an interview process and leave a terrible impression with the firm you interviewed with.
DON’T Let Perfect Be the Enemy of Good
In-person timed case studies are generally meant as an intermediate hurdle that all serious contenders should be able to manage. For this reason, try to keep things simple, make sure to answer all questions given, and follow instructions. Some candidates hyperfixate on a topic early on and burn too much time on the clock, and then rush to finish the remaining pieces. So just get your work done and move on, then revisit at the end if possible. If you are unsure about something, or decide to use your own assumptions, make a note of it and move on. The exception here is for larger case studies where you have a week or two to complete them. In this situation, you really want to go above and beyond in order to impress your interviewers and stand out.
This point overlaps with DO Be Confident, above, but it’s so important that it’s worth reiterating. If you make a mistake on a case, or with a mental math question, don’t apologize for it. Instead, reframe your response – say thank you, say that’s interesting, or show appreciation for a learning opportunity. And follow up with your interviewer to fully understand their comment and then run it back by them to confirm your understanding.
DON’T Show Up Unprepared
If you have an on-site interview, bring several copies of your resume, a notebook and a pen, and a calculator. If you’re doing the case or interview at home or off-site, make sure your computer is fully functional and your Excel works before you start the case.
As an example, we’ve seen candidates realize that their preferred computer wasn’t working at the last minute and then attempt the case on their personal Macbook. For an Excel test, this is less than ideal. To avoid this, run Excel, Macabacus, or any other relevant software at least 30 minutes before the start of the case and make sure that your laptop is charged and ready to go. Once you receive the case, confirm receipt via email so that your interviewer knows you are working. If you have an on-site case study, don’t be afraid to request additional hardware (keyboard, mouse, etc.) if their IT person didn’t set you up correctly, and make sure that the software actually works before you start.
The difference between nailing a case study and spinning out unsuccessfully usually comes down to preparation and effort. So be sure to put in the work beforehand, do your research, and help make your interviewer’s job easier by following the tips above. This will put you ahead of the pack and one step closer to landing the job.
Looking to learn more? Check out our various professional resources! Whether you have yet to break into the industry or are just starting out in a new role, we have everything you need. All you need to bring is your effort!