The Search for CRE Talent: Q&A with RETS Associates’ Kent Elliott
September 2022’s Bureau of Labor Statistics’ national job numbers reported unemployment at 3.5%. The search for talent is on throughout many industries, and commercial real estate is no different. Connect CRE recently talked with RETS Associates’ Principal Kent Elliott about trends and talent challenges the industry is facing.
Connect CRE: Let’s start with a broad question. What’s been going on during the past five years or so with commercial real estate talent recruitment and retention?
Kent Elliott: We had a largely bull market on hiring from 2012 to 2020. We came out of the Great Recession in 2008, it took a couple of years to flush through, then wow. Hiring just came back. But from February 2020-March 2020, the world came to an end with COVID-19 going on out there. Fast-forwarding to January 2021, CRE employees were back. They said “We’ve got a lot of capital, we want to put it out to work. We didn’t hire in 2020 because we didn’t know what was going on. So we’re going to triple that and hire for 2020 AND 2021.” That’s the run-up we saw from January 2021 to May 2022.
Then came the interest rate increases and uncertainty. People on the investment side started freaking out, and deals weren’t getting done. So, the reaction from real estate firms was the emoji “hands up.” They went on vacation and waited for the capital markets to settle.
Now, summer time is a typical slowdown in hiring. So is Thanksgiving through the first week of January. But this year, demand for hiring came back the day after Labor Day. This is where we are now. We’ve seen steady hiring demand. It’s not as manic as it was in 2021-2022, but we’re cruising along and doing fine.
Connect CRE: Whose hiring these days?
Kent Elliott: Companies with capital are hiring. Private equity firms are always hiring. REITs are hiring, developers are hiring, so are operating companies and so on. From an asset standpoint, industrial is hiring and so is retail. Office hiring is softer because of the uncertainty surrounding that area.
Breaking this down into functions, there isn’t really a personnel shortage in accounting, acquisitions or financial analyst positions. Construction and development, yes and property management, yes. There always has and always will be a huge demand for property management professionals.
Connect CRE: What should CRE companies do to attract and retain talent?
Kent Elliott: Define what you need and be very clear about what it is you want. “This is the type of candidate I’m seeking, the experience I want, the comp range I offer.” The compensation has to match the title and the title has to match the experience. If any of those are out of synch, you need to readjust.
Second, you need to have an efficient hiring process. You don’t want to marry the first boy or girl you kiss. You don’t want to hire the first person you interview. But don’t expect to be looking for perfection. That’s a mistake a lot of clients make – they want to see what else is out there. But when they go back to their original candidates, those candidates are long gone.
Also, be sure not to extend the overall process. The last thing you want is to keep bringing that candidate back in for yet another round of interviews. If you have that type of extended process, someone else might swoop in and grab that person.
Connect CRE: What about those looking for new job opportunities in the industry?
Kent Elliott: Do your research. This is your career. You don’t want to be a job-hopper in this industry; it doesn’t look good on your resume, especially if you’ve been at eight jobs in the past 11 years. Also keep in mind that commercial real estate is a highly social industry. Everyone likes the work-from-home component of the past few years, but your career won’t go very far if you’re hiding behind a computer. If you’re at the start of your career as an analyst, you have to be in the office, because of the water-cooler effect. But this isn’t necessary one-size-fits-all. A great deal depends on your job function, position, level of experience and company tenure.
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