Moving from Construction to Development

Currently I am working in construction management in a west coast city for a very large multi-national GC. I have just over 2 years of experience and a degree in civil engineering, however I really want to break into development. Over the last year I have applied to all of the open development associate positions on LinkedIn and had no luck; almost all say they are going with someone with more experience or with more of a finance background. I have considered trying to take some courses or doing some learning by reading some textbooks, etc., but I fear that even with that hiring managers wont take me seriously as I wont have the credentials, so as of late I am considering going back to school and getting a MSRE. I could network more and try to work that angle more, but with the current market it seems like that might be a long shot. My question comes down to this: is it a lost cause to continue trying to break into development right now given my experience and the current market, or should I get the MSRE?

Appreciate any advice or experience those of you in the industry can share. 

Most Helpful

First, just a note that this type of question comes up often, search around for more thoughts/ideas. My quick take....

- Lots of people working in development started in CM for large GCs, so this is def a pathway, not to suggest its easy (tbh, getting a first job in development is pretty difficult in relative terms overall), but many have taken this path

- A lot of people with your exact background go to grad school for MBAs/MSREs/etc., so your "competition" out there is doing that, and if you want a direct very true real estate/finance type role, it might be the most expedient path (def not cheapest)

- Many people like you do shift to semi-'in-house' project/construction mngt roles at development firms (sometimes considered 'owner's rep' type roles), this can be still very pure construction, or somewhat hybrid (like with real estate/finance duties); this route is prob more efficient and you prob don't need grad school or much else to do it, but it may not be the clean break you are looking for. Maybe an intermediate step to the role you want.

- You can prob gain traction by doing online courses or even these certificate programs out there, as well as joining real estate organizations like NAIOP and ULI and networking there. Being very blunt.... I think the big thing you have to overcome is 'sounding' like you understand real estate development. If you can talk the talk during networking and interviews, this goes wayyy better. Yes, an MSRE will help big time with that, but tbh, other paths out there (and need to do as well for those in grad school).

- For these transitions, networking/direct connection is probably the best/easiest route. So, networking with developer clients of your current GC firm would be very very smart. Direct application (really for everyone) is tough! In any market! Developers can hire lots of people, so ones they know/get internal referrals have huge advantage (this is also why going to NAIOP/ULI/etc. events is useful). 

- Yes, the market sucks right now practically everywhere... so 2023 may not be the year for it to happen BUT, you need to be prepared and ready for rebound (I mean it's called a cycle for a reason), so really, doesn't change any part of your strategy. At least you have a job, so can do whatever in part-time or on your time. That said, if you wanted to quit your job to go full-time back to school, the opportunity cost is probably lower now than other times.

So, those are my generic thoughts. I'll observe that at my firm we have many who came from CM/GC land and in both the 'project mngt' jump over and went back to school for MSRE types, so like both those pathways work from my direct personal observation. I think a big part of the decision you have to make is how much you want to keep 'construction' as part of your value proposition to a development firm/team, the more you are willing to do so, the 'easier' this is. The more you want to ditch construction/engineering all together (and be like a finance centric person), the more routes like grad school are advisable. 


I'm currently in a similar position. I'm currently working as an APM at a large GC firm where I have been working at the last four years. I am also pursuing my MBA with a concentration in real estate/finance in the evenings at a nationally respected college. I anticipate completing my MBA in the fall of 2023. I have been applying to larger firms (AECOM, Greystar, Hines, etc.) for remote development manager positions but have had no luck. Unfortunately, I cannot relocate for a job right now because I'm still in school, and I want to avoid taking on a position as an intern at a local CRE firm because there would likely be a massive pay cut. However, I have taken a leadership position with my school's Real Estate Club to expand my network, and I am hopeful that that will aid me with some connections for potential future job leads. Should I quit my job now to work at a local CRE shop in some entry type of capacity to prepare for a role as a development manager once I graduate, or should I keep my job with the GC and look at transitioning after I graduate? I am looking at plotting the next steps in my transition journey and would appreciate any insight/advice if anyone has any.

Thanks in advance !


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