The real estate job market has changed dramatically over the past 3-4 months, with the market shifting from one that favored job seekers to one that now favors employers. In light of that shift, we’re excited to welcome onto the A.CRE Audio Series one of the foremost experts in real estate careers: Kent Elliott of RETS Associates.
Kent founded the real estate executive search firm, RETS Associates, in 2002. Since that time his firm has placed more than 3,000 real estate candidates spanning 22 U.S. states and across every major real estate discipline and property type. In this episode of the A.CRE Audio Series, we discuss with Kent the current job landscape. We then ask Kent for pointers on how candidates can stand out in the interview (and beyond).
This episode is a good complement to our other discussions on the A.CRE Audio Series with top real estate recruiters. Check out our season two episode with Jeff Wittenberg and our season one episode with Alex Barake.
Today’s Job Market & How To Stand Out In An Interview with Kent Elliott
Watch as Spencer, Michael, Sam, and Kent Elliott discuss today’s job market, as well as how to stand out as a candidate in the current challenging environment.
Resources from this Episode
- A.CRE Accelerator: https://www.adventuresincre.com/accelerator
- More CRE Career Advice: https://www.adventuresincre.com/careers/
- [SPENCER ADD]
Episode Transcript – Today’s Job Market & How To Stand Out In An Interview
Welcome to the Adventures in CRE Audio Series. Join Michael Belasco and Spencer Burton as they pull back the curtain on everything commercial real estate and introduce you to some of the top minds in the industry. If you want to take your skills to the next level and be part of a growing community of CRE professionals across the world, this is for you.
Sam Carlson (00:26):
Hello, and welcome back to the Adventures in CRE Audio Series. Today, we are joined by Kent Elliott. Kent, thanks for coming.
Kent Elliott (00:33):
Sam Carlson (00:34):
And we’re talking about what’s going on in today’s job market, as well as how to stand out in an interview. To get us started, to frame the conversation, I’m going to kick it over to Spencer. And let’s get going.
Spencer Burton (00:46):
Yeah. Kent, again, thanks for joining us. So Kent is a timely guest, a lot of disruptive things happening in the job market right now, and so we wanted to get Kent on and get his insights into where things are. And then we’ll talk about something equally substantive around the interview and how you can stand out. Now, in way of introduction, Kent began his career in commercial real estate right out of college, interned for Jana Turner at the Koll Company in 1993 and he grew into a leasing and property management role, later spent five years at CBRE as a managing director for strategic accounts working for several national pension fund advisor clients. So Kent comes with real commercial real estate experience. He founded RETS Associates, a real estate recruiting firm, in 2002 and was later joined by Jana in 2008. So, Kent, again, thank you for joining us. Did I miss anything about your background that we should be highlighting here?
Kent Elliott (01:53):
Oh boy. The real estate side of it is so many years in the past, but yeah. So that’s something a little bit different about our team, is we’ve got real estate practitioners who have learned recruiting, and then we’ve got recruiters that have learned real estate. But it certainly helps to have the background in real estate. I used to say I can speak all the languages fluently. But at this point, I can still speak them, just not as fluently.
Spencer Burton (02:18):
Yeah. And it’s always nice to have someone on your side who has been there, right? Even if it has been a few years. Having been in the industry and understanding what we, as practitioners, go through, I think that’s a huge value add that your firm brings. So let’s talk about a little bit, and we’ll get to the interview piece, which I think is important. But we’re in the depths of this pandemic right now, we’re third week of July, 2020, what’s the job market like right now in commercial real estate? Is it frozen? If I were out there looking for a job, would have any success? What’s your insight there?
Kent Elliott (03:02):
Yeah. Good question. It comes down to really, who are you? What’s your functional skillset? And some of it comes down to, where are you located? So we’re seeing the burner on high, tenure bull market continuing with no COVID impact is in one sector. Product type wise, that’s industrial, and still seeing a ton of industrial development and construction searches going on right now. That’s definitely, as you look at the stove top, that’s the one where the flames are coming out the side of the pot and it’s still on fire. And unemployment in that space is… I mean, I would say unemployment in that specific sector, in a number of first tier markets, is actually negative, which is a contradictory to what we’re seeing from a macro level of, I don’t even know what national unemployment is at this point, 20+%, but in industrial development, it’s actually negative.
Michael Belasco (04:05):
Spencer Burton (04:05):
That’s fascinating. Yeah. I saw a cap rate survey on cap rates for the big four property types over the last six months. Further compression in industrial, which is crazy to me, given all the uncertainty in the capital market. So it doesn’t surprise me that the job market in the industrial sector would be equally as strong. What about, though… Because most of our listeners aren’t, unfortunately, in industrial. They’re in multi-family, or retail, office, or one of the niche property types. What are their prospects like? Yeah.
Kent Elliott (04:45):
Yeah. So industrial is that high burner. I’d say multi-family is second. The one thing you got to think or you have to remember is that you look at a multi-family development, and that’s a long cycle to find a deal, and then design it, construct it, build it, and occupy it. It’s a long timeline. So deals that have been going on for a year or two are still under way and they’ll be finished in the next year or two. So multi-families is second. Then you’ve got the other two of the big four. You have retail and office, and I don’t know which one’s third and which one’s fourth, or maybe they’re both fourth.
Kent Elliott (05:26):
But office, we’re all sitting here, it looks like we’re all at home. We all have offices, I assume, and a lot of people just aren’t going back to them at this point. So who knows when they are, and what’s the reconfiguration at that point. And then on the retail side, our retail clients, a lot of major retail REITs out there, they’re trying to figure out, how do we make these projects mixed use? And that’s easier said than done when you’ve got an existing project, whether you scrape it and start over, which some of our clients are doing, or you are ham and egging it and putting in a mixed use component to an existing retail center.
Spencer Burton (06:03):
So what about if I find myself unemployed? Okay. So perhaps, I’m coming out of college, so I haven’t gotten that first job or that first job out of grad school, or I lost my job, maybe I work for a development shop that scaled back. What advice do you have for those people? And there’s, unfortunately, too many right now in the market.
Kent Elliott (06:26):
Yeah. And that talent pool are really two different groups. So number one, those coming out of college, it’s the chicken and the egg. How do I get a job without experience? How do I get experience without a job? I don’t know, but you got to figure out how to do that. And it can be… Internships help, designations help, getting your real estate license, getting ARGUS certified, whatever you can do that are check off the box types of things that’ll make you a more attractive candidate in the marketplace when you’re coming out of school, those are really the things that recent grads ought to be doing, whether it’s going into their senior year or finishing. They finished May-June of this year. It’s check off the box type of items, and those internships can help.
Kent Elliott (07:17):
Now if you’re a couple years into it and have been displaced, the good news is that you hopefully have some experience. And if you’ve been modeling retail, if that’s all you’ve been doing, it’d be great to get you some broader exposure to learn some other product types so that you’re a better looking candidate. If an office REIT comes along and they’re looking for a financial analyst or an associate, they want the sure thing in a lot of cases.
Kent Elliott (07:45):
And if you’re somebody that you’re a one trick pony with product type, it probably makes you a less attractive candidate than somebody who’s got multiple product types that they can model and they have expertise in. Because you have to remember that that analyst and associate title and function is really an entry point into the industry. It’s a great entry point in the industry, and we love it because we love to work with candidates after they have a little bit of experience all the way on up to where they’re very experienced. But it’s difficult for us to help them straight out of school because they don’t have that true experience. But once they have a year, that’s when we can start helping them.
Spencer Burton (08:22):
Got it. Got it. So, one more question. I know I’m monopolizing the mic here, Michael and Sam, so I apologize. You went through The Great Recession 2008, right? RETS was around then. How would you compare this commercial real estate job market to the commercial real estate job market 12 years ago?
Kent Elliott (08:47):
Now you’re testing my memory. I would… Okay. My quick reaction to that is, as of right now, July 22nd, it’s not as bad as it was back in 2008, 2009. Without a doubt, there’s still hiring going on out there. So I would say, as of right now, call it four months into this pandemic, it’s not as significant as it was 12 years ago.
Sam Carlson (09:23):
That’s pretty interesting. So I think a lot of this conversation, we wanted to talk about the interview process, how to stand out, that whole piece as well. But before we transition into that, I’m actually kind of curious, four months ago, I’m assuming when you were meeting with candidates, people like that, you were giving them pretty… I’m not going to say… Your advice was probably very similar from one candidate to the next. I’m wondering if your advice for people to stand out today, if that has adjusted and changed in the last couple of months, or do you find that the same things that you were counseling people and asking people to do before is the same, as effective? Have you changed any in the last couple of months?
Kent Elliott (10:10):
The approach to talking with candidates is, at the end of the day, you have to be… It’s the same thing with candidates as it is with clients. As a candidate, you have to be true to who you are, and as a client/employer, you have to know what you want to hire. And at the end of the day, it’s four criteria that we look at with every single candidate. Who are you? What’s your… I mean, we can bring it down to title. What level are you? And maybe it’s product types, sometimes you can get that specific. So I’m a multi-family developer that finds dirt, and then my job is to go find the dirt, and entitle it, and then I hand it off. So who are you? Or I’m a financial analyst that can do office, industrial, retail. The second is where are you located? So, “Hey, I physically live in Chicago right now and I’m looking for a job in Chicago, but I’ve got a girlfriend that lives in LA and I’d love to move to LA.” So those are your two markets that you’re looking at.
Kent Elliott (11:15):
Your third is your timing. So hopefully, you’re fully employed because then you’ve got better leverage, but you’re looking right now, you’re available right now, or if you’re working, there’s going to be a notice period, but it’s, “Hey, I’m out there and I’m looking for a job right now.” And then the fourth, what are your compensation parameters? And I use those words very specifically, because it’s either 17 or 19 states, you guys know this, you can’t ask, “Hey Michael, what’s your current base salary and your cash bonus from last year?” You can’t ask that, but you can ask about what are your compensation expectations or parameters? So those are four that we understand with every candidate that we talk to. And those four today versus five years ago, or 10 years ago, are the exact same things.
Sam Carlson (12:04):
Michael Belasco (12:04):
And so, if I can interject for a second, I want to go back to one of the components you said for those, transitioning. Without as much experience, and it kind of hits on the core of where we’ve brought, even our website. So you were mentioning a lot about modeling. Can you model all of these different assets? If you’re stuck pigeonholed in retail, do you have experience in the other asset types? Is modeling really the one component that helps new candidates really break into the market? Are there other components that they could add to their skillset?
Well, it depends on who you are. The audience for this podcast are really the financial analysts and associates. But if you’re a property manager, that’s a completely different skill set. You don’t really need to know about financial modeling. But the way I look at it is that… I remember talking to a CEO of a private equity firm in Chicago, and we were talking about a position in San Diego, and we were talking about some associate position. He’s like, “You’ve got to remember. Every single person at a private equity firm is a financial analyst, we just all have different titles. I’m the CEO, but I know how to model left and right.” So it depends on the function. The financial modeling side of things can get a candidate into a lot of different functions down the road.
Kent Elliott (13:30):
So what I always say is that if you’re breaking into the industry, being an analyst is one way to break into the industry. And when you graduate, there’s not a ton of value that you can add to your employer because you really don’t know that much. So for a first year, you’re basically learning. So one to two years, you’re an analyst. Maybe two to three, you get promoted, you’re a senior analyst. Maybe three to five, you’re an associate. Four to six, you’re a senior associate. So, that’s the career progression. It’s not always in those four steps. Sometimes it’s two, sometimes it’s all four. But when you get to that six year point, that’s the point where you’ve been pounding the keyboard, doing ARGUS, doing Excel, modeling developments, modeling acquisitions. And at that point, you really don’t want to do that.
Kent Elliott (14:16):
At that point, as a five-year person, you better be able to do an artist model in 16 minutes. And when you were doing it at six months, it probably took you three hours. You’re just far better at what you’re doing now than you were then. But when you get to that point, you’ve got that, call it four to six years, five to seven years, it’s then time to go get a big boy or big girl job. And so, from there, you take that analyst function that you’re doing, and you graduate into acquisitions, or asset management, or development. Or guess what? You pull the rip cord and go back and get your MBA or your MRED, one of those two things. But that’s really the career progression that we see with a lot of candidates. It’s those, call it analyst or associate, put the senior on it. So it’s either two or four titles, and the time period is four to seven years. And then you want to graduate into that big boy or big girl job.
Spencer Burton (15:12):
Yeah. That’s interesting. And this is a good segue, I think, into the interviewing piece of this. So we’re really talking about… We happen to be in an environment right now where it’s an employer’s market, for lack of a better term. There’s an abundance of job seekers, I would say. And so, if you’re a job seeker out there and you’re looking for a job, you need to stand out. And we could talk about how you stand out on the resume and how you get that first interview, but let’s talk specifically about the interview process itself. The first question is, just broadly speaking, how does one stand out in the interview? And by the way, I’ve done my fair share of the interviews, hundreds of these things over the years, and they all kind of blur together. So how do you stand out?
Kent Elliott (16:08):
Preparation, number one. You want to go into that interview having prepared, you want to know about the company, and you want to know about the individuals that you are meeting with. Now, don’t take this as going back to taking some final in college. You don’t need to be able to recite, “Oh, Michael grew up in Topeka and he loved playing cricket in Topeka, whatever.” You don’t need to go back that far, and you don’t need to brown-nose the interviewer that you know everything about their background. But you need to demonstrate that you’re prepared, and intertwine that preparation into the interview. So I always like to say, in an interview, you get there and you have one chance to make a first impression, and that first impression, 90% of the time, is made within the first 10 seconds. If you screw that up, you’re probably not getting the job.
Kent Elliott (17:04):
You have to let the individual from the company control the interview and ask the questions. There are wrong answers that you can give. A wrong answer… “Hey, what color is the sky?” There are two wrong answers. Blue or giving a 200 word answer to what color is the sky? “Well, it depends. If you’re in Costa Rica and there’s an atmospheric condition…” If you go on and on and on, nobody wants to hear that. So, those are the wrong answers you can give. You want to let the interviewer control it. You want to give concise answers that can be quantified. You don’t want to go too far.
Kent Elliott (17:43):
At a certain point in the interview, the dynamics will change a little bit. At a certain point, the interviewer might say, “Hey, Sam, what questions do you have about our company?” And at that point… Or, “What questions do you have?” It’s just an open-ended question. Open-ended to you. You don’t want to go too high and you don’t want to go too low, for certain. You don’t want to ask, “Hey, what’s your cell phone reimbursement policy?” There’s no reason to ask that. You also don’t want to scare them and say, “Well, how long am I going to be an associate before I’m promoted to vice president?” They don’t want to hear that. You have to be careful about those questions that you ask.
Sam Carlson (18:23):
So it’s kind of a test, isn’t it? When the interview transitions from them dictating and them turning it on to the interviewee and asking, “What questions do you have?” That’s a bit of a litmus test, isn’t it?
Kent Elliott (18:38):
Yeah. You have to ask the right questions. Not too high, not too low. You want to ask-
Sam Carlson (18:44):
Can you give an example of something?
Kent Elliott (18:46):
Yeah. Think about standing on the tee box and trying to crush it and hit that 250 yard drive. That’s what you want to ask, straight down the fairway. So, a question that is totally appropriate is, “Tell me about what you would view as success in whoever you hire in this role over the first three, six, 12 months.” Okay. There’s something that’s just straight down the fairway. You also have to gauge. Some of it also depends on who you are talking to, whether it’s the hiring manager, whether it’s a peer, sometimes they do that, or sometimes they bring in the big dog that’s the CEO of the company. So you’ve got to gauge your questions according to the person that you’re talking to.
Sam Carlson (19:39):
Something expectation based, like, “What would your expectations be?” And maybe even infer I’m capable of a pretty decent expected result. Is that… I mean, you had said, “What would be expected in the next six, 12 months?” Would rephrasing it to something like.. What would be a huge success? If this were to be really great, what would that look like? Something in that realm?
Kent Elliott (20:08):
Yeah. I mean, there are different ways that you can ask the same question to get what you’re looking for. Another way is, you’re talking to the interviewer, “Can you share a little bit with me of why the position is open?” Sometimes you know, sometimes you don’t know going in. “Well, we promoted this person.” “Oh. Okay, great. And how long has he or she been in the role, and why were they promoted? What did you see in the person?” So you can gauge… With something like that, you’re asking, “Hey, why is the position open?” “Oh, we just promoted this person.” You’re not flat out asking, “Hey, how long until I’m promoted?” You’re asking it in a softer way.
Sam Carlson (20:53):
Yeah. [crosstalk 00:20:55] It’s almost like… With that specific question, what I liked about that was when you ask why that person was promoted, you’re almost fishing for what were the things that you really liked, that you’re looking for, that you don’t want to lose in that position? Because one of the things when you promote somebody is you have a vacancy that can be hard to fill. And by asking that question, you’re really saying, “How can I not only fill it, but how can I exceed it?” So those are great, great gauges on how to really position yourself favorably, I think.
Michael Belasco (21:27):
Well I think that these are questions to impress, which is important. Are there ways to ask questions to gain intel? You apply to company, you’re excited about it, but you would want to gain some intel to figure out. They might not be forthright about somebody being fired, or quitting, or whatnot. And something might look glorious on the outside, but you get it and you realize you might’ve made a mistake. Is there a way through the interview process with your questions that you might be able to glean some of that insight? Is there any strategies around that, that you’re aware of?
Kent Elliott (21:58):
Well, once again, I think it depends on who you’re talking to. And maybe to your future boss, you’re talking about it one way, and more towards a coworker that would be a straight talker… I mean, with a coworker that’s a straight talker, you might ask, “Hey, what’s a typical day like in the department? What’s the work environment at the company?” With those types of questions, you’re trying to gauge, “Hey, am I going to come in here and grind and be working 12 to 18 hours a day?” You’re going to get that from the coworker. “What’s a typical day like?”
Kent Elliott (22:34):
I mean, it’s a broad question that’s not saying, “What time do I get in and what time do I leave?” It’s a typical day, so they’re softer. If you’re talking to the hiring manager, who is your future boss, you can ask, “Hey, of the people that are on your team at this level, tell me more about who has been successful in the role and why.” One question that you can also ask to that boss is, “What are the major projects that you’re looking at over the next six to 12 months?” So that when the boss gives you that answer, you can then turn it around, and with your answer, you can give the information that you have that’s relevant to the major projects on the horizon.
Spencer Burton (23:23):
That’s interesting. So what I’m hearing is there’s a couple of strategies around the questions, right? So one strategy is you’re demonstrating interest. Added interested. This is a job I’m wanting by the questions you’re asking. Another, to Michael’s point, actually gaining new intel about the role. And then maybe a third being around the nuts and bolts of, what do I actually do? Is that a good framework? What would you say, Kent, is the main reason for asking questions as an interviewee in an interview?
Kent Elliott (24:12):
The main reason… I mean, hiring is a two way street. We all have to remember that. And when you go into an interview at a company, you should be going in to interview because you’re interested in that opportunity at that company. You shouldn’t be going out there on a fishing expedition to go to some interview that you’re not interested in. That’s a waste of everybody’s time. But an interview is a two way street. And the purpose of this first interview, it’s… The candidate has to come… This is like playing Monopoly. Go around the board, collect $200, pass Go. Like that’s what we’re trying to do here. And the candidate has to decide, are they interested in the job? And the employer has to decide, am I interested in this individual as a candidate at our firm? I mean, it, without a doubt, is a two way street that both parties have to follow.
Kent Elliott (25:10):
And just one other thing that kind of goes with what I was just talking about. It’s okay if you’re not interested. If you’re a candidate, and you go in there, and you learn, “Wow, they’re looking for somebody that… I’m going to just be doing financial models and ARGUS and Excel for 12 hours a day for the next three years. I’ve been doing that the last two years. I want to get up and notch.” It’s okay. Ask more questions. I mean, you don’t need to be there for two hours or anything like that, but ask more questions. And you can decide, “Hey, this is not for me.” Now, maybe you don’t say that straight to the hiring manager’s face.
Kent Elliott (25:50):
Maybe it’s in a followup through the recruiter directly to the hiring manager. “After chatting with you, I’ve just decided that this is not the role I’m pursuing.” But then, that’s okay. Believe me, that’s fine. You’ve got to remember, this industry is small. It’s big, but it’s small, and you don’t want to leave somebody with a bad impression of you. And you never know. That hiring manager now could be your boss now, but in five years, they could be interviewing with you. So you always got to remember that.
Spencer Burton (26:22):
That’s a great point, Kent.
Michael Belasco (26:24):
And a job is a commitment, and it’s longterm. You don’t want to get in the door and realize you hate it, and a couple of months later, leave. So, just to your point, it’s incredibly important to land somewhere where you’re going to feel satisfied for the next couple of years. So making sure you understand what you’re getting into is critical. A lot of people fall into the trap of just doing whatever it takes to get the job, regardless of what the actual reality is on the ground, in the day to day. So, I personally value that perspective.
Kent Elliott (26:55):
Yeah. And Michael, where you’re going with that is another good segue, which is, on a resume, you don’t want to be the candidate that changes jobs every year, two years. Because that can catch up with you. And you want to say that a tiger doesn’t change his spots, the zebra doesn’t change his stripes. Down the road, if you’ve had five jobs in four years, a hiring manager is going to look at it and say, “Why is this different now? Are you going to be here for a year?” If you’re there for a year, how much value can you add to the organization?
Michael Belasco (27:38):
And it’s expensive for companies to hire. That’s the other piece. They’re going to want to make sure when they see that and they know, I’m spending a lot of money to bring somebody on board, they’re going to leave in a couple months, or a year, or whatever, then we’re not only wasting money and time ramping that person up and then have to start all over again now.
Kent Elliott (27:58):
So, what’s the right amount of tenure? Well, I mean, a lot of analysts or senior analysts…. What’s the difference… We already talked about this. What’s the difference between an analyst and a senior associate? Not a whole lot. They’re doing the same job, but they certainly better be good at it. But analysts, after two years, they want to be promoted to senior analyst or associate. Now, as an employer, if you don’t provide your employees with those types of opportunities, with changes in title, and hopefully comp, moving up the food chain a little bit, guess what? Some recruiter or some other firm is going to pick up the phone and call that person and say, “Hey, Billy, you’ve been an analyst for two years now. We’ve got this opportunity with this other firm as an associate, and they’re looking exactly for somebody like you. Would you like to hear more about it?” Person’s probably going to say, “Yeah. Because I don’t want to be this entry level analyst for the next two years. I want to move up the food chain.” So employers, if you don’t provide that opportunity, somebody else will.
Spencer Burton (29:04):
Yeah. That’s a really good point. So Kent, we’re running out of time. I can tell we’ve only scratched the surface here. If someone wants to speak to you personally about this… First off, what’s the right person to reach out to a recruiter? You had mentioned kind of early on, you can add value, especially to those who have a few years of experience. Is that a fair statement? Who is the ideal individual to reach out to you and your firm?
Kent Elliott (29:38):
Well, we get reach-outs from young professionals that haven’t even graduated from college. And unfortunately, that’s not our audience. Because as recruiters, employers come to us and they want the sure thing, and that student that’s graduating is not the sure thing. So one year, so 12 months, of experience is really the entry point in which we can help a candidate. And then from 12 months, it goes all the way on up to, I don’t know, 40 years of experience. But those are really the… 12 months to a lot more.
Spencer Burton (30:14):
Great. And do you mind if we share a way to get ahold of you in the introduction to this video, so that the listeners can reach out to you?
Kent Elliott (30:23):
Yeah, they can reach out to me in any way. Please include that information. It’s on our website, retsusa.com. My phone number is on there, email. We’re heavy users of LinkedIn, and that’s an easy way for people to reach out to me, to connect on LinkedIn. And whether I talk to them or one of our recruiters do, we’ll take care of them.
Spencer Burton (30:46):
Great. Again, that was www.retsusa.com. Kent Elliott. Thank you so much, Kent. I’ll send it back to Sam.
Sam Carlson (30:53):
All right, Kent. This has been an awesome podcast. And thanks, listeners, we will see you the next time.
Thanks for tuning into this episode of the Adventures in CRE Audio Series. For show notes and additional resources, head over to www.adventuresincre.com/audioseries. Would you like to learn real estate financial modeling in a matter of weeks and do it with zero guesswork? If so, the A.CRE Accelerator is for you. The Accelerator is a step-by-step, case-based program designed to teach you exactly what you need to know, and in the order you need to know it, so you can gain both the knowledge and experience to take your career to the next level. To see if The Accelerator is right for you, go to www.adventuresincre.com/accelerator.