Want to Break into Commercial Real Estate: Here's Some Advice

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It must be that time of year. We’ve had three calls from acquaintances asking what’s the best way for their child, who just obtained their degree in Greek Mythology (or some other similar study), to get into commercial real estate (“CRE”). Perhaps it’s a sign of “market heat” and CRE’s continued visibility as an industry, but there is no shortage of interested applicants for commercial real estate opportunities. It’s a competitive landscape, so what can applicants do to break in more effectively?
Our first suggestion to future graduates who think they want a career in CRE is don’t get a degree in Greek Mythology. However, hindsight is 20-20, and — interestingly — when you go through the bios of successful CRE professionals, you’ll find a diverse list of backgrounds. Who are we to judge? 
Here is some more advice for college graduates who wants to break into the world of CRE:

Commercial real estate isn’t easy 

If you want to join the CRE industry because you think it’s an easy way to get rich or to impress colleagues with a fancy business card – don’t waste your time. In CRE you will work hard. You will face rejection. You will not get rich in your 20s (most likely) and if in a sales role, you may go extended periods of time without income. If you aren’t tough, find another field. Throw out your get-rich-quick books. Most of the authors got rich selling their books to you, not in the field in which they profess to be masters.

“Who you know” opens many doors

Most CRE brokers don’t get hired from a wanted ad. It’s generally a function of who you know; often, that person is a relative or a friend with a relative willing to help. If you only submit resumes online, you will have fewer options. Maybe you don’t know the person personally but, if you can get an introduction to a top professional at a national firm, it will open doors. LinkedIn is an excellent way to figure out who you know and who knows who. 

Clean up your resume. 

Your resume should be clear, concise, and visually appealing. Personally, we believe in keeping a resume to one page – even for seasoned professionals. If longer, it should be for a good reason. 
Clean up your resume, too. It should look like it was created after 1997 not just in content, but in visual quality. Take more than one copy to an interview and customize your resume for different opportunities. Your resume is often your first impression. Make a good one.

Prepare for the interview. 

Research the company you are meeting with and write down some thoughtful questions. We recently had an applicant who confessed he knew nothing about CREXi and asked if there was somewhere he could get more information: “Have you looked online?” was our response. Sadly the answer was “no.” 
You will also be asked to introduce yourself. If you just read your resume as your introduction, you will lose your audience, who will read along with you and will finish while you’re still talking. Prepare a customized “elevator” pitch that will tell your story: Where are you from? What drives you? Why should they hire you? (hint: it’s probably not because of one course you took, your 3.1 GPA, or an internship you did at your uncle’s company). 
If you are doing significantly more talking than the other person, you might lose them. Ask questions. Read books! We often hear applicants get asked: “What was the last book you read?” If you have a good answer or it’s a book they also read, you just connected. Don’t have an answer? That loud noise is dead air. 

Start with the best firms. 

The best firms usually have the best employee development. Research the best firms and brokers in your market. This will help you assess the variety of firms and discover the best personal fit. One firm might be more entrepreneurial than others for the person who seeks a “jack-of-all-trades” role. Some are more specialized and structured. Fit is crucial. If you are an introverted, analytical type who gets an offer for an extroverted cold-calling position, it could be a waste of your time and theirs. Some people are talented enough to learn and master skill sets, but if it goes against your basic wiring, it is less likely to be sustainable.

Brush up your phone skills. 

Here’s the reality, to get in the door and to land that first job (or to get started in any sales career), you must be able to make calls – even if it’s only for a probationary period. There are several books and recordings: Cold Calling Techniques by Shiffman is a good start. There is a generation of people who grew up without widespread use of the telephone. Get comfortable using one, or the generation that did grow up with phones will have a hard time connecting with you.

Acquire new skills and be constantly learning.

If you want to join an investment sales team, then proficiency in Argus will give you a head start. The more you know, the more value you’ll be to the team. Excel masters – like pivot tables and macros – are valuable (Pryor). Being a social media guru can open doors. If you can help your broker trend on LinkedIn, they might make you a partner. This is a unique skill set a young professional can bring to the table. Did you get a sales associate license before needing one? Are you LEED certified? Have you taken a CCIM 101? Show that you want the opportunity and are committed to a career in CRE.

Follow up after the interview.

Once you’ve interviewed, be sure to follow up. Some brokers won’t even consider hiring the best candidate they ever met if there is no professional follow up. Often, those conducting an interview are testing your ability to interact with potential clients. If you don’t follow up with the person who would hire you, will you follow up with the client who may someday potentially hire us?
Good luck and happy hunting!

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Paul Cohen
Paul Cohen

National Sales Director

Paul is the US Director for CREXi where he utilizes his experience in assisting brokers in getting deals done. Paul is widely recognized as a market expert in Commercial Real Estate and has represented numerous private owners with underwriting and developing marketing strategies and has over $1 Billion in total transaction valuation.

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