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edition 4 (189)
April 2014
Human resources

Pressed, stressed and assessed

The growing role of competitions and assessment centres in the recruitment processes of real estate companies

Rafał Ostrowski

Pressed, stressed and assessed
Dorota Skowrońska (Cushman & Wakefield)

These days job applicants have learnt how to fire out the answers to questions like well-primed machines. As a result, it is not any easier to evaluate them. This is why companies are increasingly looking at non-standard recruitment techniques to find the right candidate

Sponsoring students is not merely a pro bono publico activity, but could also be beneficial to a company. At least this is what Dorota Skowrońska, the director of the human resources department at Cushman & Wakefield, claims. She has been responsible for the involvement of the Polish C&W office in the International Real Estate Challenge programme for the last eight years. Every year the company spends a dozen or so thousand złoty on a several month long programme for students from Poland, with the final round taking place abroad. For two weeks they undergo a rather complicated testing process in cities such as Berlin, Hamburg and London. Under the supervision of local real estate agents, they are familiarised with the local office market (viewing a minimum of three office buildings) before presenting their recommendations, including a market analysis, to the potential tenants – a role played by the organisers. Those who score highly in the assessment of their performance of these tasks are very often given an internship or even an actual entry-level job offer. Every year the programme 70–75 people take part in the programme from twelve universities across Europe and the US. One of these is the Warsaw School of Economics. “Participants are set some hard tests. They accompany each other 24 hours a day for nearly two weeks,” explains Paweł Nowakowski, the coordinator of the IREC project in the investment and real estate faculty at the Warsaw School of Economics. Time pressure as well as cultural and language barriers were among the main challenges this international group of students had to face. “The issue of good planning was consistently significant. For example, in Vienna, where we went, we had to obtain all the information needed about a building in the course of one meeting. We could not overlook a single thing. However, the most stressful were the finals in Berlin. We were under time pressure throughout the entire competition, but it was the final presentation that was the most important. Despite the time limit we had to give it our best and do the presentation as well as we could,” relates Piotr Łopusiński, who was offered an internship in the valuation and consultancy department at Cushman & Wakefield thanks to the programme.
The competition is both an adventure for students and an effective recruitment tool for companies. A dozen or so or even several dozens of students from the Warsaw School of Economics apply to join the programme every year. In the first stage they write two short essays on a topic related to real estate. In the second they are interviewed by C&W representatives. And the four people selected in this way ultimately take part in the programme. “It is important that the programme provides companies with access to young people who are interested in real estate before they start their professional careers. Subsequent stages of the programme also allow the company to take a closer look at the candidates and choose the most suitable people from the group,” explains Paweł Nowakowski.

Assessment centres
Last year Savills carried out a similar experiment but on a smaller scale. In one of their own assessment centres two groups including four people each performed a number of tasks as part of the recruitment process. “We did this to observe the candidates’ behaviour, how they communicate with each other, how they work under time pressure, as well as to assess their ability to approach tasks,” says Tomasz Buras, a member of the board and director of Savills’ office department. There was also a preliminary selection based on the CVs sent and interviews. However, the assessment centre itself did not generate any additional costs except for the time spent on the process. “The department heads who assessed the candidates were busy for only a few hours,” claims Tomasz Buras. In the end, two people were offered internships as a result of the assessment and were subsequently employed by the company. Savills is considering repeating the scheme this year, to recruit people for its summer internships. “This approach is popular in other industries – mainly with large companies that need a lot of staff,” says Tomasz Buras. He emphasises that an assessment centre works well in the recruitment of students because they cannot be employed on the basis of their experience or knowledge, as this can only gained later during their careers. The main factors are their ability to cooperate, their communication skills, analytical thinking and their ability to establish relations – the so-called soft skills. Indeed, this sort of recruitment can be stressful for candidates, but this is a different kind of stress than that experienced during an interview or an ordinary exam because it is more spread out over time. “Sometimes the stress dissipates after a few hours and the candidates are able to reveal their true selves. This is often impossible during an exam,” claims Małgorzata Sacewicz-Górska of the ManpowerGroup employment agency, which runs assessment centres for large companies in the FMCG sector. “In corporations HR departments are often too busy to organise such kinds of recruitment, so they can outsource it,” she points out.

Winning the contest
The ‘Grasz o staż’ competition held by PwC is the largest on the Polish market that awards internships to students. Around 3,000 candidates and 100 companies participated in the competition last year. It is not clear how many there will be this year because the deadline (April 7th) has yet to expire for submitting applications, but it has already been revealed that there are 242 internships available. The real estate sector is represented by Cushman & Wakefield, which has offered two internships. As with other similar competitions, the biggest value for companies lies in the opportunity of selecting candidates from a suitable group of interested applicants. The selection is carried out in two stages. First the students take a written test prepared by sector specialists. The second stage involves an interview with the company. “Thanks to such competitions young people can secure internships and are often also offered jobs. According to the rules of the competition, the remuneration and work of the interns – a minimum of four weeks – comes under the supervision of an internship guardian,” explains Anna Łukawa of PwC, who coordinates the programme.

Hefty costs – and what in return?
Assessment centres and similar programmes that require trips abroad, as in the case of IREC, can be rather expensive recruitment tools. Thus the question arises of whether such an investment pays off, particularly considering that this is for the recruitment of applicants for entry-level positions. But Dorota Skowrońska has few doubts that it does: “Investment in the employer’s brand pays off,” she insists. “In the course of one year I have a minimum of 20 internship and traineeship vacancies and my employment plans include four to five entry-level jobs for graduates. If I get two to four good candidates from the IREC programme alone and a minimum of two people from the ‘Grasz o staż’ competition, we will be satisfied,” adds the head of the HR department at C&W.
Importantly, the people who succeed in getting through such a demanding selection process are often more motivated to work later on. And there are also advantages when it comes to the marketing. The company’s participation in competitions for students is a way of promoting it among other potential candidates. “We present ourselves as a company that has the required expert knowledge in the field of commercial real estate to carry out educational activities among the youth, and so we promote ourselves as a student- and graduate-friendly workplace at the same time,” declares Dorota Skowrońska.

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