Equity's Jamie Preski on Hiring the Right People Today for Tomorrow
Hiring has become one of the most critical factors in separating great apartment communities from merely good ones. The right personnel in place not only eases apartment owners' anxieties with regards to day-to-day operations, but it also makes for a generally more positive experience for residents. That translates into longer-term leases and a better reputation. One person who is an expert at putting the right people in the right positions in our industry is Jamie Preski, a Recruiter for Equity Residential in the Washington, D.C., metro area. She sat down with us recently to discuss hiring trends in apartments and where the sector is headed with regards to employment practices.
What follows is our chat:
NATIONAL APARTMENT ASSOCIATION: Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
JAMIE PRESKI: I've been with Equity for a little over eight years now. I started with the company straight out of college. I was looking for my first real job and kind of fell into the property management industry. I started as a leasing consultant in Northern Virginia and immediately got hooked. I worked with great people and was able to move my way up the ladder quickly. I was promoted to a leasing manager after about a year, then a business manager less than a year after that, and then a community manager just months after that. I then got interested in the idea of recruiting and took a step away from the company to gain some experience. But I was back within a year when a recruiter position opened up here. It was a dream come true, because I always have loved this company and I love recruiting. It was a perfect match for me, and I've been in the recruiter role now for about five years. I'm always out there looking for candidates for positions in our D.C. metro portfolio, which is 54 properties.
NAA: With regards to hiring in the multifamily industry, what has been the big trend recently?
JP: What we are seeing at Equity and in the industry, in general, and going forward in the next couple of years, is that it's going to be challenging on the hiring front because there is just so much competition in the market. We've hit another period of time where there are just thousands upon thousands of units being delivered every year. These new developments create exciting opportunities for people considering the industry, as well as those already working in it. Companies are coming in and essentially looking to poach great employees from other well-established companies. They're looking for someone who already has a great background in the industry, and they are getting big offers and the opportunity to work in exciting, brand-new buildings. So, we need to make sure we are working hard to keep people engaged, feeling appreciated, and feeling compensated. We're definitely feeling that a lot more now than in years' past.
NAA: What is Equity looking for in its new hires?
JP: People who are really successful here at Equity are those who are really ambitious and look at being here as a long-time career for themselves. I see an ongoing need for strong leaders, those with the competencies to move up the ladder and into management positions. These are people who come in and learn the company, learn the ropes from the ground level and work their way up. We are looking for people who are really driven and ambitious, but at the same time patient to learn everything that they need to know to be successful. In general, what we are always looking for whether it's a leasing consultant position or a maintenance technician position -- our two most frequent hiring needs -- is work ethic. We are willing to train for skill if you just have the attitude and personality that is going to be a fit for the industry.
NAA: In terms of changes, what are some things in new hires that you are looking for now that you weren't necessarily looking for five years ago?
JP: One thing that has evolved a lot for our industry and our company, in particular, is how sophisticated we've all become with technology and programs that are offered for employees and residents alike. Also these days, we're not just looking for someone who is a tour guide as a Leasing Consultant. Our company has evolved to be more sales-oriented. It used to be all about customer service. While that is still a major focus, now we look for people on the leasing side who are more competent salespeople, who know how to navigate through that process without being pushy, but at the same time are comfortable in asking for the sale and moving things forward. Finally, we're looking for someone who is really business savvy and who understands numbers and financial reporting so they can move into a management position.
NAA: And on the maintenance side?
JP: On the maintenance side, you have to be able to do much more than just turn a wrench. You have to be professional, a good communicator, and computer literate. You have to understand our property management software, and you have to be able to correspond with our residents over email. The push for the technology side of the business has definitely changed the type of candidates who will be a success here.
NAA: Equity Residential has a partnership with an especially intriguing program at Montgomery College in suburban Maryland called MI-BEST. Can you provide some details on it for our readers?
JP: That is the Certified Apartment Maintenance Technician program. We have been partnering with Montgomery College since about 2010. This program is a great recruiting tool for us, because it's teaching people the technical basics of apartment maintenance along with career readiness, communication, and professional development in a classroom setting. We have hired a total of nine graduates of the program since 2010, and several of them have been promoted with us in that time. A lot of times, they are individuals who are coming from completely different backgrounds and this is new to them. Or, maybe they have had experience in one technical trade, but they need to broaden their skills. What I love about finding candidates from a program like this is you just know they are motivated! These are individuals who have taken the initiative to invest their time and funds in a program that will help them achieve a specific career. As an employer, what more could you ask for?
NAA: Studies have shown that there are certain colors that you can wear for interviews that say different things about your personality. Do you have any goofy, out-of-the-box tips that you've been able to glean over the years that would help job applicants stand out with recruiters and potential employers?
JP: I love when someone shows up looking polished and professional no matter what position they are interviewing for. When in doubt, you always want to be over-dressed instead of under-dressed. For a company like Equity, we do have a professional dress code, but we don't necessarily mandate colors. We do like people to express some personal style as long as it's not loud and over-the-top.
NAA: Where do you see your job specifically and recruiting for the apartment sector, in general, headed in the years to come?
JP: I do think the industry is going to continue to evolve as far as the sophistication of the technology involved. I think the industry will continue to become a lot more recognized and desirable to candidates who may not have previously considered it. More and more graduating college students will be looking at it as a long-term career path, and I think we're going to continue seeing a higher quality of candidates interested in property management, especially when they realize you can go really far with it.
By Teddy Durgin