6 Tips for Networking Into a Commercial Real Estate Brokerage Firm

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6 Tips for Networking Into a Commercial Real Estate Brokerage Firm

Last Night on Mad Men, Roger Sterling used a connection at the airport to "happen to bump into" a potential client. He talked to the guy, became fast friends, and got Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce into the pitch at the last minute by cultivating current relationships and forming new ones.

Not too far off from Sterling's world of 1960's advertising account executives, Commercial Real Estate brokerage is a career based entirely on relationships. Unlike banking, as a broker your personality and people skills matter immediately. You aren't going to be spending a solid handful of years toiling behind the scenes and having an intimate relationship with Excel before you become client-facing.

Almost immediately you'll be on the phone, pounding the pavement, knocking on doors, emailing everyone, networking at formal and informal events, and your relationship with other brokers in your market, both within your company and outside of it, are just as important as your relationships with clients. If your personality sucks, so will your bank account (at least at first).

Unfortunately, while hiring partners can see your GPA or the classes you took on your resume, brokerage firms cannot tell if you have the personality it takes through the hard numbers. Luckily, the skills that will help you land a client and succeed in the industry are the exact same skills that will get you the interview, and the job, in the first place. These aren't super day events where a recruiter hires a class. Most firms are never "hiring," but they'll always hire if you can make them money.

Do you have what it takes? This is what you will need to succeed:

1. Be Persistent

- When you're a broker, clients want to know that you'll be aggressively finding them tenants, finding them space, or finding them a buyer. They want to know that you won't rest until you've solved their problem. In the same way, brokerage firms need to know that you're capable of being persistent without being annoying and they look for that perseverance while you're trying to get a job.

I would recommend first an introductory email with your resume and your intention of finding employment. Then, every couple weeks, I would follow up by sending relevant articles, personal professional successes, and restating your interest. Closing deals in commercial real estate is a horribly long process, so while networking for six months to get a job might sound ridiculous to you, that amount of time will seem like nothing to the broker. Be patient. Be persistent.

2. Be "Old School" - In today's age of online job applications and LinkedIn, it is surprising how many people ignore who is actually doing the hiring. Office principals, usually in their 40's to 70's, don't check their LinkedIn anywhere near as much as you would want them to, and may or may not have to ask their secretary for their password even, and online filters for resume review kill more good candidates than Sirhan Sirhan.

Don't be afraid to send snail mail. Some of my best successes in getting clients and getting this job were due to mailing hard copies of my resume, typed up letters on letterhead instead of emails, or hand written cards. The old guys in charge don't see this very often anymore and more than you know long for the days when this was the standard. Pick up the phone and call as well. You can portray a lot of personality through your voice alone, and if you can carry a conversation on the phone, you'll impress. Also, get your shoes shined, wear a suit, shave, and get a good haircut. This is a business.

3. Use Your Relationships- Roger Sterling leveraged a young attractive hookup to get in with a potential client. I leveraged a friend and fraternity brother to get a phone call with a managing director while the two of them were on a road trip. A few weeks ago, I again leveraged a connection I had with a company I applied to, and ultimately got rejected from, prior to this job - they are now potentially going to be one of the biggest clients my firm will have.

There is a group of people out there that think if you have help getting ahead you're somehow less deserving of success. These people look with scorn on those who utilize successful relatives, friends, or contacts you make bumping into each other randomly or bumping uglies regularly. These people are fools. Using your connections IS a skill, one that needs to be practiced and perfected to be done effectively and effortlessly. It is a great way to get a job and it is an even better way to get clients once you have a job.

4. Get In-Person Meetings As Soon As Possible - Your entire goal of the emails and letters and phone calls should be an in-person meeting. This is exactly how the process works as a broker and the brokers you'll be meeting with are used to this progression. It feels normal to them and it generally isn't out of their way to take a half hour to grab coffee or lunch. This is where you get to shine.

These in-person meetings are your pitch. Your pitch book is your resume, which you should have on you, but just like in a good presentation it should simply serve as a supplement. Your goal is to get the broker to talk. Ask him his story. Ask what he does. Ask how he got into the business. Ask what he thinks is the best way for you to get into the business. As a broker, you ask questions of clients and potential clients and try to find out what they really need and what their priorities are. As a job seeker, you're proving you can do this as you go.

5. Be Flexible - As a broker, clients are going to cancel on you, change around tours and meetings at a moment's notice, and generally ensure that your schedule, though meticulously planned in Outlook, will never actually go as scheduled. You'll have this same problem too with other brokers, both inside your office and at other firms, as things continuously get prioritized and re-prioritized. If an opportunity to make money comes up, you better believe that the broker will take that over coffee with a kid looking to get into the business. Be ready to be rescheduled and be gracious when it happens. If you can't roll with the punches now, you never will later even if you get the chance.

This heading also applies in another way. When breaking in, be flexible in what you're looking for. I networked, applied, and interviewed to be a broker. I ultimately got hired as a research analyst because I had little to no experience but they wanted to keep me in the company. I worked hard, impressed, made myself valuable, and eventually I was promoted and am in the process of moving to the front office, where I wanted to be originally. Had I turned down the low paying entry level gig, I never would have gotten to where I am. As a broker, you're going to pitch clients who won't let you take charge of everything right away. Sometimes you'll start with a piece and have to prove yourself. In a career that is almost all commission, results matter more than anything. Think short term pain for long term gain.

6. Seize the Moment - Bud Fox said, "Life all comes down to a few moments." Ultimately, you have to be ready at all times to "bag the elephant," so to say. One of the many times you call, you'll get through. One of the emails will get a response. When you least expect it your phone will ring and the person on the other side will be ready to go. Will you be?

No matter if the person on the other side is the managing director of the firm you're trying to get hired at or the potential client you've been dying to pitch, you are always on their schedule and don't get a re-do. When they are ready, you are ready - no questions asked.

It took me two months to get an interview via a phone call and then four and a half months to actually have the interview. A month after that, I got hired, but for a back office role instead of in brokerage like I wanted. Now, 6 months into the job, I am finally getting to where I wanted. It has taken over a year, but it was incredibly worth it.

If you get an offer for brokerage, chances are you already have what it takes. True, far more people burn out of the business than succeed in it (word is 70%-90%), but success in the industry truly is a matter of perfecting the skills you used in getting the job in the first place.

Best of luck to you.

For reference, you have my Ask Me Anything: Head Research Analyst (Commercial Real Estate), and if you have any questions about what I do day to day, there's my Day in the Life: Commercial Real Estate Head Research Analyst .