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a great first impression elliott sparsis and sebastian abigail have made a splash among leading surveying firms with their video-entry global internship awards scheme. by cherry maslen

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Elliott Sparsis (left) and Sebastian Abigail launched Sociable Surveyors in 2011 with 15 internships – this year they will offer 30

f there was one thing Elliott Sparsis and Sebastian Abigail knew for certain, it was that, in today’s economic climate, there was no guarantee of a job at the end of their university education. Both were studying for real estate management degrees at Kingston University in Surrey and, like thousands of others, hoped to find positions with one of the UK’s major property firms. What they did was pretty impressive for two young undergraduates. Last year, they set up Sociable Surveyors, a scheme to award international internships with the type of organisations that would help students get on to the first rung of the property career ladder. There’s nothing new about work placements, but the big difference with this scheme is that all successful applicants have their travel and accommodation expenses paid, as well as receiving a payment of £250 a week, whether the internship is in central London or Shanghai. And, crucially, students have to record a two-minute entry video to present themselves and their skills. As for the name, Elliott explains that sociable is exactly what today’s graduates need to be. ‘You can’t afford to be shy if you want to work in the property world, especially in the current economic situation,’ he says. ‘We learnt early on that, no matter what branch of property you’re in, it’s about people, networking and putting yourself out there. We knew students would struggle to find jobs or get on graduate trainee schemes unless they had some good work placements on their CVs. The recession has meant cuts in jobs and traineeships and, with the cost of accommodation in London so high, it can be very difficult to even take up an internship if you’re home base is outside the capital.’ By getting as much sponsorship as they could and charging a nominal fee of £10 per applicant, the pair raised enough to pay for flights and hotel rooms for 15 week-long internships in cities such as Paris, Brussels and New York as well as London. The scheme has been so successful that this year the number of placements and their duration has doubled, with 30 two-week internships on offer. The global reach now covers eight cities: Tokyo, Sydney, Melbourne, Shanghai, Abu Dhabi, Paris, London and Edinburgh,

Sociable Surveyors // providing an exciting leg up into the property world. And the dozen or so companies involved so far are all major players in real estate, development and construction, including Jones Lang LaSalle, Knight Frank, Savills, CBRE and Land Securities. ‘We’re amazed at how successful it’s been,’ says Elliott, who is now completing a masters degree at South Bank University before joining Savills in September. ‘The videos really make a difference because students can get their personalities and passion across, and potential employers can make a more accurate judgment on whether the applicant will fit with their company’s needs. It works for everyone.’ The scheme is not-for-profit, explains Sebastian, 25, a graduate trainee at Knight Frank in Paris. The small amount of money left over after expenses in 2011 was re-invested into this year’s scheme. The pair funded the slick website themselves and have worked extraordinarily hard on a project that doesn’t directly benefit either of them. As beneficiaries of internships themselves, they both know how important they are. Elliott, now 27, had worked in his family’s manufacturing business and completed several property placements before launching Sociable Surveyors. Both he and Sebastian did back-to-back work experience in their summer holidays in order to get ‘cracking internships’ on their CVs. If it seems oddly altruistic to set up a scheme they don’t benefit from themselves, it’s certainly true that Sociable Surveyors has increased the pair’s networking opportunities and already given them a high profile in the industry. The awards evening they hosted last summer to hand out the internships was a great success, and both were delighted when RICS became the principal sponsor of the scheme for 2012, with the awards event to be held on 19 July in central London. So have last year’s interns reaped any rewards? Claire Chambers, 22, a property management and valuation student at Glasgow Caledonian University, received not one but two of the 2011 internships. She was selected by Knight Frank for a week at its Brussels office and by DTZ for a week in London.‘It was great, I feel it has really set me up,’ she says. ‘You can’t learn vital skills such as how to negotiate and present in a >>

Sam Salloway (below left) and Lizzie Parrott (below) won internships with Savills last year, and have now secured jobs with the firm

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Sociable Surveyors //

Two of this year’s entrants, Charlotte Heath and James Webster. The winners will be announced at the awards event on 19 July

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classroom, but on the internships I was immediately learning my job as part of a team letting office and industrial space. I loved the buzz and the relationships I built up with people.’ Claire is now completing a sandwich year with commercial property consultants Lambert Smith Hampton in Glasgow, which will count towards her APC, before going on to the final year of her four-year course. Sam Salloway, also 22, is in his final year at Reading University and starts as a graduate trainee at Savills in September. He’s convinced he would never have got on to the coveted graduate scheme if he hadn’t won a Sociable Surveyors internship with the commercial lettings team at the firm’s London HQ. ‘It’s a really good way to get noticed because employers can see you’ve already competed against others and won,’ he says. ‘My intern week was brilliant – I went to client meetings with the office agency director, which was invaluable.’ Sam will move to London now he has a job, but as his home is in Derbyshire he would have struggled to make ends meet without an expenses-paid internship. Savills’training manager Ema Saunders says she was impressed with Elliott and Sebastian’s entrepreneurship.‘They showed us a different way of recruiting which is very well suited to our business. You can’t judge spark from a written CV. The videos are a good way to pick up the kind of enthusiasm, motivation and personality we’re looking for.’ In fact, in addition to Sam, Savills has taken two more Sociable Surveyors interns on to its graduate training programme, one of whom, Lizzie Parrott, has already started at the firm. ‘I was rejected by all the graduate trainee schemes I applied for before I got the Sociable Surveyors internship,’ says Lizzie, 23, who completed a degree in real estate management at Oxford Brookes University last summer.

‘It’s a really good way to get noticed – employers can see you’ve already competed against others and won’ She beat 120 other hopefuls to win a trip to Savills’ New York office. ‘I had the most fantastic week in New York, I couldn’t believe I was actually working in Manhattan and staying in a hotel right on Times Square,’ she says. ‘I was fascinated by the work, too, which involved preparing research for a report on a highly confidential new development. I remember a beautiful sunny day when I had to go out and take photographs for my research – it couldn’t have been better.’ Lizzie believes the two-minute video helped her get across her passion for buildings, her commitment and personality. She came back from New York to no job, but it wasn’t long before a call from Savills with the offer of a graduate traineeship meant her hard work and enthusiasm in New York had paid off. More than ever, firms are looking for graduates who can think for themselves and approach challenges creatively. ‘There’s a lot of cutting and pasting at college, but to stand out you have to have your own ideas,’ adds Lizzie. Savills’ third Sociable Surveyor-turnedgraduate trainee actually did his intern week with Knight Frank in Paris. Surveying is a second career for 30-year-old Stuart Bridge, who worked as a recruitment consultant in the construction sector. ‘I used to recruit QS,’ he says.‘Then with the recession my commission fees fell and I decided to try something different.’Few people know better than Stuart the skills needed to make a good surveyor. As a mature student at Oxford Brookes University


studying estate management, he already stood out, and his video application neatly demonstrated his motivation and confidence. ‘It was a fantastic opportunity to spend a week with the Knight Frank guys in Paris,’ Stuart says. ‘I only had schoolboy French, which was a bit of a struggle at meetings, but it was invaluable to learn about the European lease structure, for instance, which is very different to ours, especially as the property business becomes increasingly global.’ Highlights from his trip included exploring La Défense, the Paris equivalent of Canary Wharf, where he was assigned to look for office space for a client. Stuart’s was one of two internships provided by Knight Frank in 2011; this year they are offering four, two in London, one in Paris and another in Shanghai. ‘What we like about Sociable Surveyors is that it’s very broad, open to students from all universities instead of one,’ says Louise Saunders, Knight Frank’s UK recruitment manager, who has been involved with the firm’s graduate scheme for six years. Like other property firms, Knight Frank has had to consider reducing numbers on its graduate scheme during the recession. In 2009, probably the worst year for everyone in the business, it recruited fewer graduates, but otherwise has kept numbers steady, taking on approximately 10-15 on the commercial side and five in residential. ‘Whatever happens economically, we continue to look for the very best candidates.’ Retail specialist Hammerson offered internships last year even though it had no graduate trainee scheme. ‘We wanted to support students keen to get into the industry by offering them experience,’says HR adviser Leonie Rumble. The placements offered through Sociable Surveyors went so well that the company is now setting up a graduate

scheme. ‘We asked the students what they were interested in and focused on making them feel part of a team straight away.’ James Webster and Charlotte Heath are two of this year’s students who’ve applied for Sociable Surveyors placements. Webster, 21, who is in his final year at Reading University, eventually hopes to focus on the corporate side of real estate and asset management. ‘It took quite a bit of preparation to get my video right, with my sister’s help,’he says.‘But it’s the best way to show your potential – anyone can write and say they’re enthusiastic; by creating a video you can get your true personality across.’ Charlotte Heath, 22, certainly has skills many of her peers won’t have. Keen to work in international real estate, she is in her final year of a modern languages degree at the University of Birmingham, having spent her third year in France and Spain. She speaks French, Spanish and Portuguese and, to prove her commitment, has already spent her holidays doing work experience with firms including Knight Frank and Savills. So keen is she to be awarded a Sociable Surveyors internship that she has sent in not one but three video clips – a general version and two tailored to specific overseas internships. ‘I feel like I’m juggling a lot of balls,’ she says,‘but in today’s job market I’m not leaving anything to chance.’

After a week with Knight Frank in Paris, Stuart Bridge got a job with Savills. Student Claire Chambers won two internships, with Knight Frank and DTZ, and is now completing her sandwich year at Lambert Smith Hampton

Places can be booked at the awards event at the Allen & Overy auditorium in London until 22 June. sociablesurveyors.com

‘Anyone can write and say they’re enthusiastic; by creating a video you can get your true personality across’

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SS RICS June 2012