How To Switch Careers into Commercial Real Estate

Preparing for a major career switch can be intimidating (to put it lightly).

There are so many unknowns in the process, and without the context of years of experience in the industry you’re looking to land within, it’s hard to know if you’re doing the right things to set yourself up for success.

So, if you want to switch careers into commercial real estate after spending years in another industry, how do you make that happen, and how do you know where to start?

Whether you’re an engineer, attorney, architect, salesperson, basket weaver, or anything else not directly tied to the real estate industry, in this article, we’ll cover three key things you can do to set yourself apart from the competition, and make your transition into the real estate business as smooth (and painless) as possible.

If video is more your thing, you can watch the video version of this article here.

Update Your Resume

How you presented yourself on paper to land your current role in your current industry is (unfortunately) very unlikely to translate directly to that same success in CRE.

Commercial real estate employers are looking for analyst and associate candidates that have the specific, technical skill-sets required to perform the job. And even if you don’t have direct on-the-job experience just yet, here’s how I’d recommend showing that you do have the skill sets to add value in a real estate position, from day one on the job.

Tailor Your Work Experience To Apply To CRE Roles

This one can take some creativity if you’re coming from an industry far outside of real estate, but the goal here is to find where your past experiences (and ideally, successes) would be applicable and helpful in your success in a CRE role.

For example, if you’re looking to transition into an acquisitions analyst position at a private equity real estate shop, what have you done in the past that could be applied directly to what you’ll be doing on a day-to-day basis in that position?

If you have experience in Excel, even if unrelated to real estate directly, this is an excellent opportunity for you to highlight different projects you’ve completed in the past that showcase your expertise in the software, and what you could bring to the table in an analytical position (where you’ll be required to use Excel every day).

If you have experience reading legal documents, this is also an excellent opportunity for you to highlight this type of skill set, and how your experience here could be applicable to reviewing things like leases, purchase and sale agreements, or JV operating agreements in a CRE context.

The goal here is to tie your past experience into what you’d be doing on the job, even if you might feel on the surface that your previous career was mostly unrelated to commercial real estate itself.

Highlight Education, Training, & Certifications That Show You’re Serious About The Career Switch

Hiring has a tremendous cost associated with it for companies, and if you appear to be just dipping your toes in the water of this whole “CRE” thing and might leave after 3-6 months once things get hard, employers likely aren’t going to take you seriously for a position they’re looking to fill.

And to get around this, you’ll need to show commitment to the industry long-term, and that you’ve dedicated your own time, energy, and money into building the skill sets you’ll need to be a valuable member of the team from day one on the job.

If you’re looking for analyst or associate roles, this comes down to mastering Excel, real estate finance, and ideally, how to bring those two concepts together to build (and work within) real estate financial models to analyze deals.

Adding real estate financial modeling and analysis coursework you’ve taken on your own dime, including Break Into CRE coursework, other general Excel training courses, or even an ARGUS Certification course to your resume are all extremely helpful things to include, and show your work ethic, drive, and commitment to the industry.

Tell Your Career Transition Story in a Concise Summary

If you’re trying to break into CRE from an unrelated industry, just presenting your resume with years of experience outside of the real estate business can often throw a potential employer off at first glance.

And with that, to make sure you get ahead of any confusion that might arise when a hiring manager starts scanning your resume, I would highly recommend including a concise, 1-2 sentence summary section at the top of your resume which explains the related skill sets you’re bringing to the table, what you’re looking to achieve, and how your background makes you uniquely qualified for the role you’re applying for.

For example, let’s say you’re looking to land a job as an investment sales analyst at a top CRE brokerage firm, you’re coming from a financial analyst background at a consumer goods company, and you also have a Bachelor’s degree in marketing.

In this scenario, you could blend all of these things together to paint the picture of who you are and where you’re looking to go, and your summary section on your resume could look something along the lines of:

Experienced finance professional seeking to leverage strong skill set in financial modeling and analysis in Excel and background in marketing to add value to a real estate investment sales team.”

This is meant to be a quick, simple statement that describes your background and what you’d bring to the role, and why you’re a natural (and unique) fit for the position you’re applying for.

Network, Network, Network

Especially when you’re trying to break into the industry from a non-traditional background, having warm leads into potential job opportunities is huge in getting your foot in the door for that first position in CRE, and a network will help you make that happen.

Fortunately, one major (often overlooked) benefit you’ll have as a career switcher is that, when trying to build your network and connect with commercial real estate professionals, asking for 15-20 minutes for an informational interview makes a ton of sense, and LinkedIn can be a great place to find CRE professionals and reach out to those in positions you admire.

If you’re coming from an unrelated background and really trying to get an understanding of what life is like working in commercial real estate, and you communicate that with the people you’re trying to connect with, this is a very non-threatening request and generally doesn’t come off like you’re trying to “get” anything from the other person.

Asking for a quick phone call to learn more about someone’s career path and what they do on a day-to-day basis shows that you’re exploring the industry and doing your due diligence. And since you aren’t in the industry already, the person you’re reaching out to is much less likely to think you’ll be looking for a job offer the minute they say yes to a coffee meeting.

Reach out to people, express genuine curiosity and admiration for their success, and be honest about your intentions, and you’ll likely see more success than you might think you would when trying to build relationships with real estate professionals already in the industry.

Start With Friends & Family

If at all possible, I’d highly recommended starting the networking process with friends and family that already work in the business, or are in an industry that is closely related to CRE in some way.

If you know anyone that falls into this category, ask them if they’d be up for a quick coffee or lunch meeting so you can learn more about what they do on a daily basis, to kickstart the networking process in an easy, low-pressure way.

Once you have an initial connection or two established, you’ll start to anticipate how these conversations might play out in the future. And with that, you can start to prepare more intentionally for future meetings with more distant connections, so you can make sure to line up your questions about the details of a CRE career you’re most curious about.

To get the ball rolling and to get connected with others, at the end of these conversations, one huge trick I’ve found to almost exponentially grow your network is to make sure to ask the question, “Based on what I’m looking to do, is there anyone else in your network that you think would be helpful for me to connect with?”

Just by asking this, you’ll often get set up with one or two more people (from a very warm lead), and from there, this tends to snowball as your connections connect you to their connections over time.

Master The Technical Skills

With how competitive the commercial real estate industry is today, knowing the basics of CRE finance is a prerequisite for any CRE role. If you’re serious about making the switch, mastering Excel and real estate financial modeling is key to having a shot at the positions you’re targeting at top CRE investment firms, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

When you’re first trying to break into the industry, you need to be able to demonstrate that you can add value to the firm you’re applying to work for, without the company itself having to teach you everything you’ll need to know.

And since you don’t have years of experience in the business already, you’re not going to have a network of brokers or property owners that you can source deals from, and you likely won’t have access to capital, so the best way you can add value when just starting out is by being the firm’s “resident expert” in real estate financial modeling and analysis in Excel, and someone your employer can trust to run that process from start to finish.

The goal is to be able to take the complex financial modeling and deal analysis off the plate of your hiring manager or other analysts or associates on the team, and the more you can show you can be trusted to do that (without a significant amount of hand-holding), the more attractive you’re going to be to employers.

And to demonstrate that you have taken the time and initiative to master these skills, even without a real estate background, this is where your self-study really comes into play.

Companies are going to want to see specific skill sets, including things like real estate pro forma modeling, real estate development modeling, real estate acquisition analysis and valuation, and real estate equity waterfall modeling in potential analyst candidates, and you need to be able to demonstrate you can do those things (on paper).

Adding these skill sets themselves as bullet points on your resume can be very helpful, but adding coursework you’ve taken that specifically covers how to build these types of models and run these analyses will make an even stronger case for the knowledge you have.

Break into CRE courses like The Real Estate Financial Modeling Bootcamp, The Real Estate Pro Forma Modeling Master Class, The Real Estate Development Modeling Master Class, and The Real Estate Equity Waterfall Modeling Master Class are all great educational materials to add to a resume, and each showcase a specific skill set that an employer would be looking for in a real estate analyst or associate candidate.

Where To Go From Here

Breaking into the commercial real estate industry is hard, and can often be even more difficult when you’re coming from a non-traditional career path.

And if you’re trying to make the switch, but running into some road blocks and not seeing the kind of progress you’d like, I’d highly recommend taking a look at our Break Into CRE Academy membership.

A membership to the Academy will give you instant access to all Break Into CRE courses on real estate financial modeling and analysis, access to sample case studies and practice Excel interview exams, and resume templates and video training to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward during the application process.

And as an Academy member, you’ll also have access to private, one-on-one, email-based career coaching support, so you can get feedback on your own unique situation and how to best position yourself to make the transition into CRE.

Good luck!

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