Transition from Project Manager to Development Manager

I graduated with a bachelors in Architectural Engineering and for the past 5 years have worked for a large GC as a PM. I'm really wanting to get into real estate development as I know I'm more interested in that side. I've followed general advice in this forum from networking and joining ULI. I've applied to 5 jobs and have had no luck. Any advice? Is there anything different you put on your resumes? I have a good template but I know with engineers they sometimes want other categories or similar. 

Comments (11)

Aug 2, 2022 - 1:07pm
Cadmonkey117, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I wouldn't call my experience a success story as much as a work in progress, but I was in your shoes 3 years ago. A licensed architect with 5 or so years of experience looking to make the jump to the ownership side. Got myself a masters in real estate, made some friends, applied to a random opening on indeed amongst several hundred others and now I'm a development manager at a small boutique family office. I'm making more than I was as an architect, but still less than what my colleagues would make; I am working on projects I am not thrilled about, and looking for other opportunities, but also happy I am in a role where I am learning how to be a good developer.

My advice to you would be:

  • network like crazy - as in, not give your card to people at conventions. Make friends who work at the companies you want to work for.
  • Demonstrate financial skills: this is where a masters degree comes in, but as a project manager, you can leverage keeping track of timelines and budgets.
  • Don't try to fit into a role you aren't good at - leverage what you know: you can add value to developers with knowledge of how things are built.
  • Don't give up: apply constantly, but make sure your applications are for roles where you can hit the ground running immediately. Most interviews only happen when you either have an in at a company or when you are the perfect candidate. I am applying constantly, and I got a couple interviews as a top candidate, but have not secured a new offer despite like 3+ months of trying.

Sounds like you are trying to work for a developer rather than go through a degree - so focus on roles at development firms like "construction associate" or "project manager"; being a project manager at Related is closer to your goal than being the same at an engineer's office. There are lots of developers out there that have in-house GC's do all their work for them. If you can get a foot in a small firm, you might be forced to wear several hats at once which is how you would get exposure to aspects of development beyond project management.

Hope this helps!

Aug 2, 2022 - 2:10pm
venessarachel, what's your opinion? Comment below:

That was super helpful. I was starting to feel down about it but the more I read it's obviously hard to get into and will take some work. I like the advice about a smaller firm having you wear more hats because I am wanting to expand my skill set. 

  • Manager in RE - Comm
Aug 4, 2022 - 9:29am

I did the old RE master's after 4 years of exp and it worked out. It's a big premium and years of your life but it increases your success rate quite a bit. It still takes a boatload of work/networking/prepping on your own but at least you're not working on projects at the same time.

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Aug 4, 2022 - 10:41am
manifestdensity, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I'm in the same boat as you, graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and have worked for a couple large GCs and now work as an APM at a developer with an in-house GC arm. 

Trying to make the pivot to a Development Associate / Development Manager role, and I think networking is probably the best option at this point. An MRED / MBA would make me a shoe-in for any of those roles, but I think that the opportunity cost is pretty high as I feel pretty well compensated right now.

I'm trying to figure out how to 1) Grow / Demonstrate my financial skills to a development shop 2) Understand the legal / public policy aspects of zoning / entitlements / permitting better.

Most Helpful
Aug 4, 2022 - 1:55pm
jarstar1, what's your opinion? Comment below:

The big problem is that to be a development manager you need to know more than just managing a project. Ultimately, that's your responsibility, but you need to understand the underlying finance well to be a good developer. Understanding and managing the proforma on a development job is a very different exercise than managing the P/L of a construction project. Construction budgets are relatively straightforward, spend less than you promise and you can split some of the savings, spend more and your fee takes the hit. Financial proformas for development jobs are more complicated because they take into account the time value of money and are levered projects. So suddenly you have to think about your schedule, not from a contractual perspective the way you do in construction, but from a time value of money way. You need to understand IRR, equity multiples, interest rate curves, cash flow timing, waterfalls and splits, and how the business model (actually building the building) affects all of those. It's not just enough to know if you are overbudget on concrete you can take the hit or issue a change order, you need to think about how overages might require you to issue a capital call and how that affects your LPs pref and accrual, and how that in turn hits your own returns. 

I say all of this to make the point that there are profound differences in the knowledge underlying a development job from a construction job, and it can very difficult to make the transition without additional education. I personally made the jump with an MBA and everyone I've worked with that has made a similar jump got a masters of some sort. I don't mean to discourage you or say you can't do it, but I think it's important to understand what a developer thinks about so you can position yourself better. Maybe take a few economics/underwriting classes to familiarize yourself with the concepts so you can speak to them in an interview. Just going in and saying "I know construction, I know how to manage a team" isn't enough for a developer, unfortunately. 

Aug 4, 2022 - 5:12pm
venessarachel, what's your opinion? Comment below:

No thank you! It's not discouraging it just is what it is. I was able to network with a CRE broker who is connecting me with 3 companies to go get drinks. Hoping for the best and he really liked that I have rental properties, did a flip outside my job, and am apart of local REI groups…. I never wanted to bring up my outside projects to a job and my current GC hardly anyone knows I've done that because they would hate it. But he actually really liked that, I think it helped him understand why I am interested in development. Would my outside projects be bad to bring up in an interview? 

Aug 5, 2022 - 10:47am
jarstar1, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I can't imagine it would look bad (unless you imply it's going to take time away from your primary job) but I'm not someone who interviews people regularly, so take any interview comments from me with a grain of salt. GCs are funny creatures, when I worked for one it seemed like everyone around me couldn't care less about real estate or buildings, all they cared about was doing the job and getting it on time and under budget. I got a cold shoulder every time I brought up anything relating to design, architecture, urban planning, real estate economics, etc., and it was quite discouraging to stay in that environment. My boss used to tell people he was color blind so they would never ask him any questions about interior or building design. 

I would assume showing your passion for real estate through professional groups and side projects would speak positively. I would take these conversations as a way to not only introduce yourself but also to ask them what they look for and what their needs are. Some of them might want someone with a construction background and are willing to train you up on the finance, it's not outside the realm of possibility, so I'd approach it as half selling yourself and half investigative. I hope that helps. 

Aug 4, 2022 - 2:40pm
redever, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I'll chime in on this one since I work for a devco that has hired a lot of people from GC-CM and architectural world (I'm a finance background dude just for full disclosure). I will say, there are a lot of people working for GCs and architectural firms looking to make this sort of move, so the competition is fierce for this "silo" of people. I'll pretty much just "ditto" what people have said in comments above...... Network with devcos directly, get some legit finance/real estate education (an MSRE/MRED/MBA would be "top", but even some professional ed coursework and even online finance modeling courses would be a boost), and try to frame yourself as a legit "real estate" person. 

I think the biggest boundary is proving you are really "real estate" capable and not just a Proj. Mngr type from CM world. Some investment in something (the ULI membership is legit good step) to prove your interest and ability is probably required, exactly what is tbh, but it's what your "competitors" are looking to do.

I will say, there are firms (some with in-house GC) that do legit have "CM" types fixed onto their legit development teams and allow people to cross-train and effectively swap roles over time. You can also find yourself right back as an "in-house CM" (sometimes called owner's rep or something like that) and still be on the outside of development/real real estate. Personally, I'd think such moves do move you closer, but I'm not totally sure. Sometimes it's best to just jump big or don't jump at all! 

Aug 4, 2022 - 5:39pm
P Architect, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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