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Career opportunities in commercial real estate are thriving

As students head back to college campuses, they’ll likely be thinking about how much the approaching on-campus experience will differ from the previous year, when online classes and physical distancing were the norm. This in addition to the usual things on their minds – selecting classes, checking out extracurricular activities, choosing majors – often with the goal of building their resumés.

As they focus on preparing for their future careers, how many of these students will consider property management or, more broadly, commercial real estate? Are they even aware of the career opportunities commercial real estate has to offer? And if they are, what’s their perception?

Ask most laypeople what they think someone working in real estate does, and more than likely their answers will have something to do with selling houses. IREM® members and other professionals know that the industry is so much more. Yet, ask most property managers how they got into the business, and more than likely their answers will be something like this: “I stumbled into it.” This is what Kaci Hancock, CPM®, ACoM, of Houston said during a recent IREM webinar directed to college students. According to Kaci, it wasn’t a career path that she sought; rather, it “fell into my lap.” Her journey began 23 years ago when she took a temporary administrative job at a property management company, which became a fulltime position, and ultimately turned into the job she holds today as operations director at REIS Associates and president of IREM’s Houston Chapter. It all began, she said, when she was “bitten by the bug” after shadowing a property manager.

It doesn’t have to be this way. During an IREM webinar for AMO® companies earlier this year that focused on the future of work, a clear consensus emerged that what’s needed is a rebranding of property management. Leo Turley, chief executive officer at H Two National, an executive search firm, was one of the panelists. He said that careers in real estate are still under the radar and we need to be raising awareness and asking the question: “How do we motivate people to choose our industry?”

Agreeing vehemently was fellow panelist Topher Olsen, vice president of learning and development at Roscoe Property Management, AMO®. “It comes down to branding,” he said. If you ask someone if they want to be an apartment manager, it might not sound very appealing, said Olsen. But if you rephrase the question and ask, “Do you want to manage a multimillion-dollar asset?” – the answer will be “Wow! Yes!” Rebranding is about changing the messaging, said Olsen, showing people how they can gain the skills to move up the career ladder and positioning property management as a “noble profession.” We need to focus less on recruiting for ourselves, continued Olsen, and more on recruiting for the industry. We can’t continue to sabotage and steal from each other, he said. If we’re not collectively looking outside of our organizations and attracting newcomers to the industry, we’ll all do ourselves a disservice, according to Olsen.

Agreeing with this sentiment was the third webinar panelist, Annette Fionda, senior director of inclusion and engagement at The RMR Group. She stressed the importance of making inroads in the academic community, of getting on campus and finding talent for the industry. The RMR Group has a very strong internship program, she said, and sees it as a pipeline for talent by converting the interns into employees, as well as a pipeline to future leadership.

IREM shares this enthusiasm for making property management a career of choice, not chance, and reaching into the academic community to recruit talent for the industry. We applaud schools that recognize property management as an academic discipline and have established degree programs which position its graduates to succeed. Among these are programs at University of Wisconsin Stout, University of Alaska Anchorage, Virginia Tech, Ball State University, University of North Texas, Brigham Young University, North Seattle College, University of Georgia, Valencia College, and Drexel University.

In addition, IREM actively engages with students and others entering the workforce, arming them with information about property management, the career opportunities it presents, and the impact it can have on communities. One example of this engagement is the recent webinar directed to students and young professionals where a team of experienced practitioners provided real-world advice on being ready when the time comes to enter the job market. Among their suggestions:

  • Enroll in any real estate and property management courses you can find, either while you’re in college or through IREM and similar organizations
  • Take advantage of all opportunities to gain transferrable skills – e.g., leadership skills, organizational skills, communication skills – available from extracurricular activities as well as the classroom
  • Conduct informational interviews to learn more about the industry and all of its sectors
  • Build a network of real estate professionals – a board of trusted advisors – comprising both industry veterans and industry newcomers who can give you a well-rounded view of the profession and become your sounding board
  • Take advantage of internship opportunities or relevant part-time jobs – e.g., doing lawn care or shoveling driveways – anything that gives you experience on a property level
  • Learn to be adaptable – in this business it’s not unusual to find yourself in a C-suite meeting in the morning and dealing with a sewage problem in the afternoon  

These suggestions and other nuggets of advice came from these panelists: Anshu Bera, CPM®, of The RMR Group in Naperville, IL; Dr. Debbie Phillips, CPM®, of The Quadrillion in Atlanta; Jared Fink, CPM®, ARM®, of Goldfinch Management in Green Bay, WI; and Kaci Hancock, mentioned earlier. The webinar was sponsored by IREM’s Student and Academic Advisory Board.


Thanks for the great insight: Anshu Bera, CPM®, of The RMR Group in Naperville, IL; Dr. Debbie Phillips, CPM®, of The Quadrillion in Atlanta; Jared Fink, CPM®, ARM®, of Goldfinch Management in Green Bay, WI; and Kaci Hancock,


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