How do you get comfortable specializing?

I work as a generalist on the sell side and I'm trying to move to equity side.

I've been getting good opportunities but all of them are specialized in some way: multifamily only, healthcare only, preferred equity only, etc.

I find myself dropping out of processes even when they pay well (eg $200k with 4 years experience), because I don't want to become just a "multifamily guy" or a "healthcare guy"  - do any of you have this problem?

I always envisioned myself joining a generalist fund and doing a bit of everything, but I'm either not landing those jobs or being forced to take a title cut and a $75k pay cut.

Anyone just a multifamily or industrial guy and totally happy with it? Idk why this is so hard for me to get over, but I like doing everything

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Comments (9)

Most Helpful
Jun 10, 2021 - 6:30pm

If you want to move up you're almost certainly going to have to specialize in something. There are some shops where you might cover a few product types, but almost everyone starts to specialize as they get more experience. If you don't, you'll find that your future compensation is likely capped and you'll be passed over for roles that require X years of experience in X product type.

For the record, I'm strictly multifamily and ok with it. i sometimes think about branching out, but it would be tough.

  • Investment Analyst in RE - Comm
Jun 11, 2021 - 2:48pm

Username checks out

Agree with everything M4L said, which is especially true at larger, more institutional shops. At every name brand shop I've worked at, the Directors / MDs have focused on 1-2 asset types for the most part. You might get a taste of everything at a smaller more entrepreneurial company, but very few senior folks at a PERE 50 type shop are true generalists

Jun 11, 2021 - 4:01pm

It's pretty common to specialize. I started at a big institution where no one was a specialist and I never thought anything of it until new senior people joined the platform and explained how at most firms, people begin to specialize. If you don't want to specialize, that's fine, but you'll probably want to focus on firms that do multiple asset classes and are a little smaller - that way they can't afford to have people specialize and you do a bit of everything. These firms exist, but they are rare. There are a few institutions out there where you won't specialize. 

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Jun 11, 2021 - 10:07pm

frankly, if you don't specialize at some point, you will become unless at senior ranks, at least on the buy side. I do know that some low tier brokers can remain generalists and do deals for a range of clients by specializing in a certain geography. But, top tier brokers will never generalize (I mean, a top tier client isn't going to hire a generalist broker......)

Still, people to switch and cross over "specializations" or have dual-focus tracks from time to time. Some people specialize in an asset class, some in a process/specialty, but ultimately in career you need to be really really good at something to make a lot of money doing it. 

In fact, I think the most common track is to start specialized and then diversify over time, that is far more in keeping with the bios in my head. Clearly, tons of paths/tracks, but the average person gets hired to do a function for a specialized team most of the time. 

So, bottom line, if you are "dropping out of processes" because of this fear, that sounds a lot like a form of career sabotage. Not suggesting you just apply for any and all jobs, but if you otherwise like the pay/position/firm and this is only thing holding you back, then you just need to ask yourself if you really want to make a career change or not at this point in time. 

  • Associate 1 in RE - Comm
Jun 11, 2021 - 10:41pm

It's very common on the PE side to start as a generalist (either in property type or transaction type) and then find your niche on the way up the corporate ladder. My worry is that it will be harder to find a "spot" higher in the corporate ladder if you're already in a niche.

EG if I have deal experience in senior housing, multifamily, medical office, self storage, and industrial. I'm a viable candidate for a VP position for every one of those property types (assuming 7-10 years of experience working with these property types). But if I spend 7-10 years working in senior housing… I'm a Vp candidate for senior housing roles only. That job market is much smaller.

That's my concern. I know there are a lot of different areas of RE, but at most the large PE funds, you start as a generalist and then specialize as you move up. So basically the opposite of what you're describing

Jun 11, 2021 - 10:47pm

I should clarify, what I mean by "specialist".... you do a certain task/role with focus. Being an analyst in a PE firm is very specialist, you are analyzing/modeling (and usually narrow focus in responsibility), not running deals. In fact, the type of investments most traditional PE firms make, are a form of specialization in deal type (like JV/LP type with operator as partner), not that different from lender world. You are specializing in the deal/transaction, but not necessarily property/asset type. 

You are correct, if you are looking to stay in the investment/LP world, having mixed asset type experience is good. But alas... that is a specialization....

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