That first job in real estate, most likely at the analyst-level, will be one of the most important jobs – if not the most important job – of your real estate career. Now don’t misunderstand me. Failures can be overcome, wrong decisions can be made right, and mid-career pivots can be successfully executed. But landing a solid first job in the area of real estate you intend to specialize in, will set your real estate career up for success. So let me offer up some advice to those of you eager to land your first analyst job in commercial real estate.
Note from Spencer: This is a cross post. While I authored this post, it was originally published at one of Michael and I’s favorite blogs, A Student of the Real Estate Game. A big thank you to Joe Stampone for giving us the opportunity to chime into the conversation over there. If you haven’t checked out Joe’s blog, you really need to. His content around starting a CRE business is especially valuable. Go check it out.
Choose Your Path Wisely
Now I don’t know if this is the case in other industries, but in real estate you’re quickly pigeonholed into the geography, property type, and role you work in. So if your first job, is as an analyst in Atlanta at a single-tenant net lease (STNL) development firm, you will likely be branded as a developer of STNL deals in the Southeast United States. And if you decide at some point that development, STNL properties, and/or Atlanta are not right for you, shedding that brand is a difficult task.
I learned this lesson the hard way. I began my career with aspirations of becoming a residential real estate developer. After 10 years of advancing along that track, I came to realize I didn’t particularly enjoy residential development. I was too close to the asset. I spent far too much of my time putting out fires, and not enough time doing what I really enjoy doing – sourcing and analyzing real estate. A stark realization set in, that either I pivot – and fast! – or be doomed to a lifelong career building subdivisions.
It took going to grad school, including the time and cost associated with that move, to transition into a role more suited to my interests and talents. I’m doing today, exactly what I love, but I could have gotten here much faster had I chosen my path wisely. So how do you choose your path? Three quick suggestions.
- Understand the Career Options. Learn the difference between acquisitions, development, asset management, portfolio management, and other roles in real estate. Learn the difference between debt and equity shops, public and private firms, and limited partners and general partners. Make sure you know what options are available to you before taking your first job.
- Talk to CRE Professionals. Talk to as many CRE professionals as you can, both junior and senior folks. Ask what they do on a daily basis and how their role differs from others. Internalize what you hear, and then ask yourself if you could get excited about doing what these CRE professionals do everyday.
- Socialize Your Thought Process with a Mentor. Throughout the process, be sure to discuss your thinking and the options available to you with your mentor. Don’t make this decision alone. Their insights and experience will be essential to both helping you discover your passion, while maintaining reasonable expectations for that first job.
Network Your Way In
In no other industry, is your network more important than in real estate. This is especially true when it comes to finding a job. Real estate companies are notoriously bad at planning for their staffing needs. Most new hiring happens out of necessity (oh no, Harry quit!), rather than because of some well-thought out plan to handle employee attrition and retirement.
As a result, when a position needs to be filled, most often the decision makers will gather in a room and ask one another, “who do we know that would be a good fit for this position.” Sure, they’ll probably also throw the job up on a commercial real estate job board – just in case the perfect candidate applies – but in all likelihood, the person they eventually hire will either be someone they already know, or a candidate referred to them by someone in their network.
So to land that first job in real estate, in my experience you’ll likely have to network your way in. I won’t go into how to network your way in – a whole book can, and has been written on the topic! – but plan to lean on those you know, make new contacts in the area and at companies you’re most interested in, tap into the power of your school’s alumni base, and talk to as many people as you can. It’s who you know, that will eventually lead to your first job in real estate.
Use the Right Job Search Tools
Commercial real estate is a niche field. Its why at top business schools, fewer than 3% of graduates go into the industry, and why so few universities offer masters in real estate programs. Consider that real estate was only recently (2016) added to the S&P 500 as a sector and institutional investors have only in the last couple of decades added real estate to their portfolio allocations.
The reality of seeking a job in a niche field, is that the tools your friends in more prolific fields use don’t necessarily apply to CRE. As an example, the large aggregators of job listings (e.g. LinkedIn, Indeed, Monster, and now Google) are lousy at properly categorizing and displaying jobs in this niche. Try searching for development or acquisitions jobs in those databases and you’ll see far more business development and talent acquisitions positions than actual real estate positions. And the real estate jobs that do appear on these sites, tend to be real estate agent and property management positions.
So most commercial real estate professionals rely on industry-specific job search tools, and word-of-mouth, to learn about job opportunities. As you navigate your job search, there are a few industry job boards you should be aware of.
- SelectLeaders. The oldest of the group, SelectLeaders is the most well-known of the CRE job boards. The site advertises itself as the job site of various CRE trade organizations (e.g. ULI, NAIOP, etc.) and consequentially, you’ll find the largest collection of CRE jobs on SelectLeaders. The interface is tired and not mobile-friendly, but the site has everything from CEO positions down to assistant property manager jobs and positions in between.
- Adventures in CRE Job Board. What started as a real estate financial modeling and career site, has grown to include a real estate job board with 300+ jobs. Given the site’s roots in real estate analysis, the board is more tailored to investment-related roles (e.g. acquisitions, development, asset management, portfolio management). The site has a modern design, is mobile-friendly, and it comes with a companion iOS and Android app.
- Bisnow. The event-organizing, newsletter-sending, network-creating trade publication website – Bisnow – recently launched their own industry job board. As of this writing, job postings were limited to Chicago, Toronto, and Washington DC but given Bisnow’s reach, the board is likely grow. The site’s hip, modern design is easy to navigate and mobile-friendly.
- [Insert Your University’s Name] Career Board. Many schools with undergraduate and graduate real estate degrees have university job boards with commercial real estate as a category. Positions on university job boards are generally for analyst and associate level roles to match the experience of the candidates.
Tolstoy once said, “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” At no other time in your life will your situation allow you to leverage the virtues of patience and time to your benefit more than now. You’re likely young, with relatively few financial obligations and the ability to bunk up with Mom, Dad, or friends. Be patient and wait for the right job.
I recognize you may be feeling pressure. Your friends already have their jobs and Mom and/or Dad are pressuring you to become a productive member of society. But don’t take a job offer just because you want a job. Your first job in real estate is crucial to your career’s success. So choose your path, lean on your network, use the right tools, and go land your first analyst job in commercial real estate.
About the Author: Born and raised in the Northwest United States, Spencer Burton has over 15 years of real estate investment and development experience. In his current position, Spencer assesses new acquisition, development, and debt opportunities for a $45bn real estate fund. He resides in Dallas, TX.