The Fastest Ways To Advance Your Career in Commercial Real Estate

The term “pay your dues” was a phrase I heard over and over again at the start of my career, and to be honest, these words always rubbed me the wrong way.

Career growth is not linear and definitely isn’t the same for everyone, and having a certain number of years of experience under your belt isn’t necessarily indicative of what you know or what you can do.

The people I started out with in the industry in 2012 have all experienced very different levels of success, and the progression of each of their careers has been heavily influenced by the actions that each person has taken during this time, rather than just the fact that they’ve stuck around for this long.

So if you want to proactively do the things necessary to accelerate your career growth, this article walks through three things that can help you (significantly) outperform your peers, in a very short period of time.

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

Start in a Gateway Market

New York and Los Angeles are two of the biggest and most active real estate markets in the entire United States, with the vast majority of major investment, development, brokerage, and lending firms having an office presence in one or both of these cities.

These metros are home to some of the largest and most valuable commercial properties in the country, and also home to some of the largest private equity firms and institutions that serve as major funding sources for commercial real estate deals.

And because of the availability of capital and the amount of transaction volume that occurs in these markets, the best and brightest in the industry tend to gravitate towards these cities to maximize their earning potential and build their careers.

When top talent comes together like this to compete for jobs and win new business, this ends up raising the bar for everyone in the market. This also makes the expectations when you’re working in cities like these significantly higher, and the pace of work significantly faster than what you’d experience in other parts of the country.

By learning from and competing with the best of the best in the industry, you’ll also automatically pick up best practices related to things like sourcing off-market deals and raising institutional capital, and you can often leverage experience in a major market to land opportunities outside the area if you choose to leave the city.

If New York or Los Angeles aren’t where you want to be, other major metros like San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and Washington, D.C. can also be great places to start your career, since these cities also tend to be talent hubs for people looking to get ahead.

Move Towards Long Workweeks Early in Your Career

I’ll be the first to admit that working 80-hour weeks is not fun, and this type of pace isn’t sustainable forever.

However, if you can do this even for a short period of time when you’re first getting started in the industry, you can end up drastically ahead of your peers by the time you’re just a handful of years into your career.

And to use my own experience as an example, I briefly worked for a company called HFF (which was acquired by JLL in 2019), which was very well-known for its long workweeks among analysts across the firm.

This was especially true in the New York and Los Angeles offices, and while this wasn’t an easy environment to succeed in, the people that made it through the time commitment required at the analyst level ended up significantly further ahead than the vast majority of their peers.

In many cases, these people were making $200K+ just 3-5 years into their careers, and if they decided brokerage wasn’t the right fit, they were often able to leverage their experience into a more senior-level role on the principal side of the business.

For most people, the early years of your career (between the ages of roughly 22 and 26) represent a time when you likely have the least amount of non-work-related responsibilities you’ll have throughout your entire working life, and if you’re serious about your career, this is the time to get ahead.

Talking to someone who has put in 80 hour weeks for two years at an institutional firm is significantly different than talking to someone who has put in 40 hour weeks over that same time period, and this really just comes down to a difference in time on task.

But while time on task is linear, skill progression compounds, and the person putting in long hours is also learning to do things faster, more efficiently, and more accurately every day.

If this person is effectively getting two workdays in for every one of their peer’s, and each person improves their skill set by just 0.1% per day, at the end of a two-year period, the person putting in 80 hour weeks will be more than twelve times more skilled than someone putting in 40 hour weeks.

Join Founders With Institutional Experience

The last point on this list is often harder to do than the first two things we talked about, and this is to join a firm that’s small, growing quickly, and run by experienced real estate professionals with institutional backgrounds.

Small shops allow you to get involved with pretty much everything from day one on the job, which will give you a huge amount of hands-on experience in a very short period of time.

These types of opportunities are also very likely to exist in markets like New York and Los Angeles, since many experienced real estate professionals with institutional backgrounds who choose to start their own firms will stay local, often to leverage existing relationships and stay close to family.

My peers in the industry who progressed most quickly in their twenties followed this exact strategy, by either joining a small company as their first non-partner level hire, joining a growing startup alongside a founder with leadership experience at a major institutional firm, or even joining a new business line within an established organization that allowed them to take on a significant amount of responsibility early on in their career.

This point is especially relevant if you’re looking to start your own shop in the future, since this type of experience will require you to work on many of the tasks you’ll have to take on as a founder of a company.

Even if you don’t plan to go out on your own long-term, progression within these organizations also tends to be significantly faster than what you’d experience within a more established company, which also often allows you to get early access to things like fee and promoted interest participation on the deals you work on.

The goal here is to put yourself in a position where you’re working for and learning from people who know what they’re doing within a company or department that’s small and looking to grow quickly, ideally with access to capital to make that growth a reality.

How To Break Into Commercial Real Estate

If you want to make sure you have what it takes to land roles at top real estate firms in cities like New York and Los Angeles, make sure to check out our all-in-one membership training platform, Break Into CRE Academy.

A membership to the Academy will give you instant access to over 120 hours of video training on real estate financial modeling and analysis, you’ll get access to hundreds of practice Excel interview exam questions, sample acquisition case studies, and you’ll also get access to the Break Into CRE Analyst Certification Exam. This exam covers topics like real estate pro forma and development modeling, commercial real estate lease modeling, equity waterfall modeling, and many other real estate financial analysis concepts that will help you prove to employers that you have what it takes to tackle the responsibilities of an analyst or associate at a top real estate firm.

As always, thanks so much for reading, and make sure to check out the Break Into CRE YouTube channel for more content that can help you take the next step in your real estate career.

Grab The Free Real Estate Financial Modeling Crash Course

Learn The Three Pillars of Real Estate Financial Modeling & How To Build Models on Autopilot