How To Find a Commercial Real Estate Mentor
When I first got into the real estate industry, I knew pretty much…nothing.
But what I did know is that there were people out there that knew a lot more than me that I could learn from, and because of this, I spent a lot of time and effort trying to meet these people and soak up their years of experience that I just didn’t have yet.
The process was not easy, but it was very, very worth it.
And unfortunately, what I’ve found through working with Break Into CRE Academy members over the last few years is that a lot of people are running into the same problems I did when I was just starting out, not knowing how to find these mentors that can help guide them in their career, and understandably feeling intimidated by the entire process of trying to connect with successful people to ask advice.
So, to help you with that process if you’re struggling to find a mentor and someone to help guide you through those first few steps in your commercial real estate career, in this article, we’ll walk through my three most important lessons I’ve learned about finding (and keeping) mentors in the industry, and how you can apply these lessons to build a stronger network of successful industry professionals (and make better career decisions as a result).
If video is more your thing, you can watch the video version of this article here.
My Commercial Real Estate Mentor Search Experience
When I was in business school, I set a goal to connect with two new people in the real estate industry every single week throughout the entire 21 months of my MBA program.
And getting in front of 168 people in two years isn’t easy. But through that process, I learned a lot of important lessons about how to be efficient with my time, what makes a mentor/mentee relationship more likely to be successful (versus more likely to fail), and how to find the right people to connect with (to be as efficient as possible with your time).
This is what I learned.
Build Your Own “Board of Directors”
The first thing I’d recommend, really above anything else, is to start by stepping back and changing the way you view finding a mentor in the first place.
Instead of trying to find one single person that will take you under their wing and teach you everything you need to know, I’d recommend shifting that goal to building your own personal “Board of Directors” that can each help guide you in specific individual components of your work life, instead.
We all want to believe that superman is out there, ready to guide us and tell us everything we need to do to be successful. But in reality, I’ve almost always found that people I’ve looked up to in certain areas of life had other aspects of their lives that I didn’t admire at all, and sometimes even wanted to avoid completely.
Success in the corporate world doesn’t necessarily mean success in entrepreneurship, and success in entrepreneurship doesn’t necessarily mean someone has the ability to have a great family life, and a great family life doesn’t necessarily mean someone has experienced career success.
If you look for one single person to model your entire career and personal life after, you’re probably going to end up disappointed when certain characteristics of that person don’t align with what you want to do and who you want to be. And with that, if you make the goal to find multiple people that you admire for specific aspects of their work lives or careers, and then rely on those people for information or feedback on only those characteristics, you’re likely going to receive much more relevant and useful advice to get the results you’re looking for.
This means that if you want to be a successful entrepreneur with a great family life doing triathlons in your 60s, you do not have to find someone that does all of those things perfectly. Instead, you can focus your energy on finding three different people in the industry, each of which do one of those things in a way that you admire.
Don’t put so much pressure on one person to be your perfect picture of who you want to become, because usually, it turns out that you won’t want to become every piece of who they are.
Modeling specific aspects of the work lives of several people, rather than the entire life of one person, will get you much closer to putting together the kind of work and personal life you want to have in the future.
Avoid The Question, “Will You Be My Mentor?”
Once you’ve decided to build your board of directors, the next step in the mentor search process is to find the people you’re going to add to that board. And this leads me to my second point, which is that, when looking for people to help guide you in your career, do not directly ask someone, “Will you be my mentor?”
People hate this question, and this puts a ridiculous amount of pressure on both you and the person you’re connecting with. For someone who already probably has a ton of work and family commitments, a really quick way to get them to stop answering your phone calls or emails is to add the pressure of an indefinite future commitment of energy and time devoted to guiding you on your career path.
You don’t need to put a formal title on someone to have them mentor you, and if you want someone to help guide you throughout your career, it’s your responsibility to make that happen.
You can do this through regularly following up, keeping that person updated on the things you’re working on, and adding value to their life and/or career in the process (this last piece is important).
The “adding value” part is something I’ve found people really struggle with, because the logical question that comes up here is, “How do I add value to someone’s life or career when I’m just starting out and have nothing to offer, and they’re already wealthy and successful?”
In my experience, the answer to this question is actually pretty simple – follow through on what you say you’ll do, and do the work to actually implement the advice your mentors give you (when you feel it’s appropriate).
When you meet with or connect on the phone with someone for the first time, and you ask for their feedback or input on things you can do to get closer to your goals, that person is going to want to know that conversation has helped you in some way. And on that note, one of the best ways to build a long-term, real relationship with that person is to follow up three to six months later and let them know you took action on something they recommended, and to share the success or achievement you accomplished because of implementing that advice.
For people at the peak of their careers, time is extremely valuable, and the last thing they want to do is waste that time on a conversation that won’t result in any action taken. If you hit a new career milestone like landing an internship, or receiving a full-time job offer, or closing on your first deal, reach out to these people to let them know how you implemented their advice, and thank them for the insight they gave you.
This goes an incredibly long way in making you stand out as someone that takes action, does what they say they’re going to do, and is grateful and appreciative of the time and help from others.
And when you do this, as an added bonus, that person is also likely going to be much more willing to help you the next time you have a situation you need guidance on.
Treat your networking like building real relationships with real people, because that’s exactly what you’re doing.
The less transactional you make these connections, and the more you show humility and gratitude, the more successful you’ll be in building these relationships (even if you’re not wealthy and wildly successful yourself just quite yet).
Be Open To Mentors Just a Few Steps Ahead of You
Last up on this list, the final big lesson I learned throughout this process is one that tends to be missed by a lot of people when they’re first starting out, and that is to be open to mentors that are just one or two steps ahead of you in the industry.
Most people think of a real estate industry mentor as someone who has accomplished massive amounts career success already, but some of the most valuable people to learn from are still relatively early on in their own careers, and may not have accomplished all of their own goals just yet.
Very successful people who have been in the industry for several decades definitely have helpful perspectives, but it’s also been a very, very long time since these people have encountered the kinds of challenges you’re going to be going up against when you’re first trying to break into commercial real estate or trudging through the first few years of your career.
Connecting with people who just went through the process of what you’re looking to do next allows you to talk to someone that really “gets it” right now, and these people can also give you more relevant, timely, and tactical real-time advice based on an experience they had just a few years ago.
As an added bonus, building these relationships also gives you the benefit of creating connections with people who you’ll actually do deals with in the future.
And while someone with 2-3 years of experience on you in your early 20s might seem like they’re miles ahead, when you’re in your 30s and 40s and in the prime of your careers, those people will have become your peers and the people you’ll be working with directly to make transactions happen.
Anyone that has walked a path that you want to walk can be a helpful guide towards building the career you’re setting out to build. And even if that person hasn’t accomplished everything on their own career bucket-list quite yet, the input from a younger industry professional early on in their career can sometimes be even more valuable than the input from someone who has already “won the game” and may not even remember what it was like to be in your shoes.
How To Find Your Own Commercial Real Estate Board of Directors
To sum all of this up, if you build your board of directors in specific aspects of your work and personal life, you guide your actions around fostering real relationships with real people, and you recruit the help of industry professionals just a few steps ahead of where you are today, this a great overall strategy for creating a network of people you can rely on to help you navigate through the real estate industry as you progress throughout your career.
Personally, I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am today without the mentors I’ve had in my own career.
Even though it can be intimidating and time consuming to go through this process, making the effort to build your own board of directors will go a long way in helping you take your career in the direction you want it to go, and will allow you to build a team of allies for the times when you really need it most.
And if you’re looking to break into the commercial real estate industry and want some additional help jumpstarting the process, make sure to check out our premium training platform, Break Into CRE Academy.
A membership to the Academy includes private, members-only, email-based career coaching, so you can ask questions and get feedback on your own unique situation, and you’ll also get instant access to our complete library of video courses on real estate financial modeling and analysis, so you can build the technical skill sets you’ll need to land a job at a top real estate private equity, brokerage, or lending firm.
If you’re looking for mentors in commercial real estate, I hope you found this helpful in reframing that approach, and creating a game plan for where you might want to head next.