7/19/13

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 .

Comments (27)

5/6/13

great post CRE. I work in the field of structured real estate (not commercial) and housing so I always find your posts informative and interesting

5/6/13

Izzy:

great post CRE. I work in the field of structured real estate (not commercial) and housing so I always find your posts informative and interesting

Thanks man. Just trying to make the real estate community here as good as it is for banking and consulting. Feel free to make your own posts too. I know there are guys out there with REIT, REPE, REIB, and Development backgrounds too that always make good contributions.

Best Response
5/6/13

I have a few buddies in CRE that are brokers here in the Southeast. Almost all of them work for CBRE or JLL. I don't know what the landscape is up North or out West, but in the Southeast CRE is dominated by ex-fraternity types. I was fraterntiy brothers with most of these guys and it's definitely interesting to see the dichotomy between our careers paths. As the OP pointed out, this industry is dominated by networking easily more so than any other. Even high touch industries like PWM and Insurance Sales don't hold a candle to commercial brokerage. One of my friends is probably the smoothest talker I have ever run across. We're both 5 years out and I think he took home $300K last year. Not bad for a guy that is 50 lbs overweight and couldn't scare the 3.0 GPA mark in college. Technically, I can run circles around these guys, but it's the soft skills that matter in CRE.

Eventually I think CRE will become much more commoditized in the future. The residential real estate sector has been impacted by Zillow, Trulia, etc... and I think we'll see something similar hit CRE in the future. The amount of money some of these guys can make just for signing a tenant to a 100,000 sq ft lease is mind boggling. A lot of F500s have their own real estate groups, but I think this trend will continue to trickle down to a much smaller scale.

  • Anonymous Monkey
  •  11/29/15

Hey is your buddy doing investment sales or tenant rep/commercial leasing?

5/6/13

One of the most informative CRE posts I've ever read. You contribute a lot of top-notch RE content and this was just what I was looking for. Thanks man!

I had a flair for languages. But I soon discovered that what talks best is dollars, dinars, drachmas, rubles, rupees and pounds fucking sterling.

5/6/13

Udechukwu:

One of the most informative CRE posts I've ever read. You contribute a lot of top-notch RE content and this was just what I was looking for. Thanks man!

Incredibly nice of you to say. Thank you

5/6/13

In regards to your goal of improving the real estate community and resources on WSO, you've made a huge impact in my eyes. I have noticed the real estate posts to be rather lacking in number and certainly lacking in substance. You're making a remarkably successful effort to turn this around. Just some positive feedback and fuel for your fire, but I'm starting to feel brown-nosey so I digress.

Don't be surprised to find PMs from me in your inbox. One question I can leave open to the community though:

This fall I'll be transferring into a mid-western non-target as a junior. (I earned an Associates Degree while in the service). To pass the time until then I decided to pursue my real estate license. I'm concerned about getting a sponsor to just keep my license active. I know I can take the exams and pay the fees and keep it inactive, but I'd rather it be active even though I won't be using it. What are your thoughts?

When a plumber from Hoboken tells you he has a good feeling about a reverse iron condor spread on the Japanese Yen, you really have no choice. If you don't do it to him, somebody else surely will. -Eddie B.

5/7/13

SureThing:

In regards to your goal of improving the real estate community and resources on WSO, you've made a huge impact in my eyes. I have noticed the real estate posts to be rather lacking in number and certainly lacking in substance. You're making a remarkably successful effort to turn this around. Just some positive feedback and fuel for your fire, but I'm starting to feel brown-nosey so I digress.

Hah, no worries. Thanks a lot for the feedback.

SureThing:

Don't be surprised to find PMs from me in your inbox. One question I can leave open to the community though:

This fall I'll be transferring into a mid-western non-target as a junior. (I earned an Associates Degree while in the service). To pass the time until then I decided to pursue my real estate license. I'm concerned about getting a sponsor to just keep my license active. I know I can take the exams and pay the fees and keep it inactive, but I'd rather it be active even though I won't be using it. What are your thoughts?

If you're looking to get into real estate, having your license is always better than not. I didn't have mine when I interviewed (who knows what I was thinking) and I definitely regretted it for a while. Without a license, you can't get paid a commission. I've worked on deals as an analyst. I could have still recieved a percentage. I didn't.

I wouldn't worry about not having a sponsoring broker though. What you do want to consider though is where you'll be getting your license. If it's not where you want to work, either try to check on if the other state recognizes your state or think about doing an online class for another state's.

5/7/13

Not involved in RE at all but I've enjoyed the heck out of your last few posts.

This to all my hatin' folks seeing me getting guac right now..

5/7/13

Cruncharoo:

Not involved in RE at all but I've enjoyed the heck out of your last few posts.

Thanks! I really enjoy the feedback

5/11/13

CRE:
online filters for resume review kill more good candidates than Sirhan Sirhan.

This made me laugh, then feel sad.

Is there a formal "season" for applying out of undergrad for CRE roles? I've always had a lukewarm interest in RE, and your recent posts have made it sound a lot more interesting and prospective.

You stress that this industry is all about connections, how'd you first develop connections in the industry? Cold calls? Coffee chats?

5/11/13

Silicon Economist:

CRE:

online filters for resume review kill more good candidates than Sirhan Sirhan.

This made me laugh, then feel sad.

Typically how my relationships start, and then end, as well.

Silicon Economist:

Is there a formal "season" for applying out of undergrad for CRE roles?

Not particularly. In my experience at least, brokerage firms are never truly hiring. If they like you and think you have potential, they'll make a position for you. Sometimes they truly WON'T be hiring, but more likely than not if they like you they'll try to keep you engaged until they are.

By default, I'd say more people get hired either around may/june because of graduations and at the end of the year because the firm knows how well they did the past year.

Silicon Economist:
I've always had a lukewarm interest in RE, and your recent posts have made it sound a lot more interesting and prospective.

Make sure you look into it a ton more. It's one of those things you pretty much need a passion for to succeed. Interestingly enough, I didn't have that passion going in, but I certainly got it quickly. It's exciting stuff to me.

Silicon Economist:

You stress that this industry is all about connections, how'd you first develop connections in the industry? Cold calls? Coffee chats?

The good thing about CRE brokerage is that although it is all about connections, almost everyone in the industry is actively out looking for connections so connections are easy enough to make. Cold calls, coffee chats, snail mail letters, emails, etc. are all good.

Reach out too and see who is in the industry. An older brother in my fraternity was my key insider, so to say, when I was interviewing but after I got hired I realized that one of my dad's good friends' brother is a decently large developer in my city and one of the older brothers of a girl in my highschool circle of friends is a hotshot broker too. You never know who is out there until you look.

6/21/13

CRE:

Reach out too and see who is in the industry. An older brother in my fraternity was my key insider, so to say, when I was interviewing but after I got hired I realized that one of my dad's good friends' brother is a decently large developer in my city and one of the older brothers of a girl in my highschool circle of friends is a hotshot broker too. You never know who is out there until you look.

Perhaps a little late, but thanks for your insightful response, truly appreciate it!

7/16/13

Silicon Economist:

CRE:

Reach out too and see who is in the industry. An older brother in my fraternity was my key insider, so to say, when I was interviewing but after I got hired I realized that one of my dad's good friends' brother is a decently large developer in my city and one of the older brothers of a girl in my highschool circle of friends is a hotshot broker too. You never know who is out there until you look.

Perhaps a little late, but thanks for your insightful response, truly appreciate it!

I appreciate the thanks. I need to get back to writing blog posts.

7/18/13

Great article..I've only recently discovered this site and have been reading non stop since..especially your cre posts. I have a couple of questions though...

1.When your applying for jobs, who are you mailing your resume to? the general company or someone specific?

2. Is it hard to get a job with a company where you aren't physically at? If it is how do you overcome that?

Thanks again for your insightful articles...very personable and informative

7/18/13

Matt H.:

Great article..I've only recently discovered this site and have been reading non stop since..especially your cre posts. I have a couple of questions though...

1.When your applying for jobs, who are you mailing your resume to? the general company or someone specific?

2. Is it hard to get a job with a company where you aren't physically at? If it is how do you overcome that?

Thanks again for your insightful articles...very personable and informative

1. Always someone specific. Usually numerous people at the same company. (just don't use the same canned cover letter)

2. Do you mean a different city or what?

7/19/13

Yea, different city in another state

7/19/13

Matt H.:

Yea, different city in another state

Nah I wouldn't say it's hard - just more expensive. Even if you can pull off a Skype or phone interview for round 1, you're going to have to go there eventually at least once.

7/19/13

That's a good point, did you find a job close to where you were living or did you travel far from home?

7/19/13

Matt H.:

That's a good point, did you find a job close to where you were living or did you travel far from home?

Ugh.

I wanted to get away. I ended up in the nearest city.

7/20/13

Great post!

"It is better to have a friendship based on business, than a business based on friendship." - Rockefeller.

"Live fast, die hard. Leave a good looking body." - Navy SEAL

7/21/13

UTDFinanceGuy:

Great post!

Thanks!

7/22/13

Awesome content CRE. Its good that you took the time to shed some light on this. I am sure some monkeys are now thinking of commercial real estate as an alternative to what they might have planned.

PE is the new black.

7/25/13

Considering that I work in commercial banking with a focus on construction/real-estate financing, I'd say all of what was said definitely applies to the industry.

"The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it." - George Bernard Shaw

7/25/13

jmayhem:

Considering that I work in commercial banking with a focus on construction/real-estate financing, I'd say all of what was said definitely applies to the industry.

Thanks, man

  • Anonymous Monkey
  •  1/15/16
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