With the real estate market shifts over the last decade, many experienced analysts have flocked into more competitive sectors of commerce. Your ad may not be trending because ‘Help wanted’ postings are no longer the best way to attract talent. There is an alternative: recruit top talent directly from undergraduate and graduate real estate programs.
In real estate, deal people usually don’t want to get their hands dirty with human resources. Job descriptions can be hazy, and conversations usually only start when a need arises. But when there is a need, firms scramble to hire as quickly as possible, often at the expense of a thorough recruiting effort.
To new job seekers, the real estate hiring process appears unorganized, unpredictable and unattractive. When given a choice, high-performing young professionals don’t want to take the risk of targeting an industry that lacks a cohesive and professional recruiting process. In comparison, investment banks, consultancies and brand managers have a consistent and tangible approach. They arrive on campuses early in the fall with detailed job descriptions and refined interview schedules. By taking a more relaxed approach, many real estate firms miss top talent.
Admittedly, real estate recruiting will never be as predictable as other industries—the cyclicality of the industry alone prevents a normalized recruiting calendar. However, the process and tone that real estate firms follow in filling their needs – whenever they may arise—can and should be improved. By adopting a simple, proactive recruiting strategy, firms can yield the right candidates for any needed job.
The first key to recruiting is to have a keen understanding of the firm’s business culture and to search for candidates who will enhance it. All too often, real estate firms hire people and then try to convert them to a distinctive culture. This approach may be successful, but a better approach is to find those candidates that already have attributes the firm desires.
For example, Hines conducts a more structured recruiting effort to hire high-performers who are team players first. The Brookdale Group, based in Atlanta, seeks to maintain a firm culture influenced by southern ideals and congeniality. Harrison Street Capital, based in Chicago, tends to shy away from candidates targeting a Wall Street-inspired culture or career track. Instead, it created an undergraduate intern program that usually seeds their pool of hiring. What works for one firm may not work for another, but each firm seeks to hire people who in some way already embody the subtle cultural values that the firm intends to maintain.
If real estate firms cast their nets wider and more aggressively, they will find many suitable job candidates emerging from schools around the country. Students at schools like the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, the University of North Carolina, the University of Southern California and the University of Texas at Austin (as well as others) study real estate finance, capital markets and development and spend significant time crafting teamwork and leadership skills. At UNC, there is a robust real estate program with roughly 30 MBA real estate concentrators each year. A number of companies visit campus to present to students and conduct interviews, but there is always room for more. At schools with less established real estate programs, students focused on real estate are left to conduct their own job search off-campus while their peers attend a variety of banking, consulting and marketing presentations.
Regardless if there are immediate jobs available, real estate firms will benefit by forming an on-campus presence in order to identify and track top talent. Visiting school campuses gives employers an opportunity to market to a large group of young professionals during a single meeting. The scale of conversation is far more attractive than a series of one-on-one informational meetings or interviews with candidates. By visiting a campus, firms can develop a holistic connection with department heads and program staff— people who can provide objective evaluations on current students and past graduates. If and when there is a position to fill, campus recruitment efforts will provide a selection of thoroughly scouted candidates from which choose.
There is no science to picking schools with which to form relationships—geography, depth of the real estate program, rankings and culture should all come into play. The important takeaway is to be proactive in the recruiting cycle to connect with the best available talent. Empower one of your current employees to lead the recruiting process and represent the firm on campus visits each year. When visiting a campus, give a short presentation to a room full of students, get to know program staff and career advisors and watch those efforts pay off.
There remains huge room for improvement in how the real estate industry cultivates its workforce. The cyclicality and unpredictability of real estate is part of its charm, but there is no reason that the real estate industry cannot recruit with the same precision and thoughtfulness of other industries. If firms establish relationships with prospective hires well before hiring becomes dire, they can prudently select the right talent for the appropriate opening. If firms take a consistent and direct approach to recruiting, their payoffs will be tremendous.
Renner is a 2014 MBA graduate from the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, where he concentrated in real estate and corporate finance.