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Diving Into the School’s Talent Pool

School’s Talent Pool
April 2018

In today’s tight labor market, on-campus recruiting offers the potential to fill onsite positions with future leaders. But the industry needs to know how and where to communicate its value proposition to those students.

As the employment market continues to tighten, apartment operators are searching even harder for onsite talent. For many, that means going back to school.

“Right now, everyone is stealing from everyone else,” says Bob Kettler, Chief Executive Officer and owner of Kettler. “There are just no qualified people. So, we think you are going to have to create those people. We are ramping up recruiting and going out on college campuses.”

Finding talent on college campuses is not new. Apartment management firms have recruited at Virginia Tech, Ball State, Drexel, University of North Texas, Georgia Tech, University of Georgia, University of Alaska-Anchorage, Stout University of Wisconsin and Valencia College that have offered property management degrees for many years. 

“College recruiting has always been a big part of our strategy and has continued to be something we have emphasized in recent years,” says Jamie Preski, PHR, SHRM-CP, Recruiting Manager for Equity Residential.

As competition for employees has intensified, the industry is pushing harder into colleges, courting students who earn degrees outside of the traditional property management track. And firms are finding new ways to reach those students and absorbing them into their organizations.

A Sense of Hospitality

Tampa-based firm Avesta has an aggressive growth plan for 2018 and has visited more than a dozen schools to recruit quality candidates.

“We look for candidates who are purpose-driven, entrepreneurial and exhibit values that align with Avesta,” says Neal Herman, Senior Director at Avesta. “We always look to hire virtue first, then we make sure we hire the most talented team. We target energetic, team-oriented individuals who have a desire to serve.”

Avesta is not alone. Three years ago, WinnResidential formed a centralized recruiting team called the Talent Acquisition Group to find new associates. “Colleges are a big focus for us,” says Latoya Francisco, Talent Acquisition Manager for Winn Companies.

Preski admits that most onsite positions do not necessarily require a college degree. However, as the market gets more challenging and consumers become more informed and educated (especially in the high-barrier markets where Equity Residential owns apartments), a degree is helpful.

“We look for the best and brightest to run our properties from the leasing consultant level on up,” Preski says. “So, we have really been trying to recruit from colleges for internships, of course, but also for leasing associates and, on occasion, an entry-level corporate role.”

WinnResidential adds employees with degrees in hospitality as leasing consultants. The challenge is letting those students know that there are careers in the apartment business.

“Students in those programs might be thinking they want to go into hotels or events or the food and beverage industry,” Preski says. “A lot of them have not really considered property management.”

Preski says apartment owners can sell students who studied hospitality on a career in the multifamily housing industry by stressing the more conventional schedule in rental management over hotel management or restaurants.

“[When they work for us], it is not like they are camping out in a leasing office in the middle of nowhere,” Preski says. “By working for Equity, they are in an exciting city with retail and entertainment. They have an opportunity to partner with local businesses and offer events and services for their residents.”

Equity has found that it can better serve its customers in upscale buildings by hiring those who studied hospitality.

“When people live in these high-end, high rent buildings, they expect high-end service, so that’s another reason we like that hospitality mindset,” Preski says. “We want that same level of service that someone who is thinking of working for a Ritz-Carlton can provide.”

Preski says that one hurdle for apartment firms who want to reach hospitality majors is that schools with hospitality programs are reluctant to let their students earn college credit for internships with apartment firms.

“We are convinced that we are hospitality but we have to convince the rest of the world,” Preski says.

Sarah A. Levine, Director of Workforce Development for the NAA Education Institute, says the industry has been able to overcome this barrier on campuses where Residential Property Management (RPM) degree programs exist and students from a wide variety of majors under the business schools, including hospitality, have been given exposure to introductory property management courses.

“As a result, some students opt to minor, declare their major if they had previously been undecided or change their major to RPM,” Levine says. “Working directly with the Deans and faculty to showcase the similarities between the industries, as well as the vast opportunities for their students in RPM, has also helped tremendously.”

Advanced Degree

Reaching college students - whether they are in property management, hospitality or any other program - is only part of the battle. Keeping them might be the most difficult.

“We have to give them training on a ‘conveyor belt’ to get from sales to property management to regional management to Vice President or some may move into merchandising, marketing or market research,” Kettler says.

While Avesta wants new hires to embrace its culture and provide its residents with the highest quality service, these new employees need to grow in the process. The company puts a strong emphasis on training through its business training program, which it says is a rigorous two-year program for recent college graduates.

“It has really helped us scale our organizational culture, improve internal processes and develop future leaders in our company,” Herman says. “The training program focuses primarily on helping associates discover how to think about leadership, business and life while serving our residents.”

Avesta’s program is designed to help associates discover their own way of thinking about life, business and leadership. Associates in the training program will have completed three core rotations to deepen their understanding of real estate and give them an opportunity to be in a leadership role. The company also provides them with two or three operational rotations to provide diverse experiences and help employees understand how various facets of the business integrate.

The possible rotations are leasing consultant, assistant manager, community manager, procurement, accounting, asset management, deal analyst, construction manager and project associate.

“These rotations allow participants to gain broad exposure to the operational and managerial side of both real estate and business in general,” Herman says.

At Equity Residential, Preski says most recent college grads begin as leasing associates, although sometimes interns will start in full-time roles as senior leasing consultants as a nod to their previous experience and to encourage them to continue to move up the ladder.

“Leasing associate is the best fundamental starting role,” Preski says. “If you are going to be a manager in the future, we want you learn leasing and understand the sales dynamic of the role.”

Preski says Equity Residential does not have a designated management trainee program and the career trajectory at the firm is “pretty self-paced.”

“We do have a curriculum for transitioning our highest-performing leasing consultants into management positions,” Preski says. “For anyone who is interested in fast-tracking their career, this appeals to them.”

Enticing those students and then retaining them is critically important in this labor market because once you lose someone, they are not easy to replace. 

“It is very, very challenging,” Kettler says. “All of that recruiting and talent acquisition is expensive to manage.”

New Ways to Connect with Job Candidates

Technology is helping apartment firms expand their hiring pools beyond the traditional schools that offer property management or hospitality degrees.

With Handshake, an online career network that connects more than 200,000 employers with more than 8 million students from 475 schools, companies like Equity Residential can connect with students that it may want to bring onboard. Preski calls it a “LinkedIn for college students.”

“Handshake brings together those who choose to be part of the network,” Preski says. “Students can reach a wider range of employers and employers can reach a wider range of students. We can target real estate majors and hospitality majors. We can send messages to students and plan events and establish a presence on campus before we even get there.”

While Handshake can serve as a great specialized tool to reach students, conventional social media also is a valuable way to reach new associates.

“Within today’s talent market, a lot of conversations that had happened in person are now happening online,” Forde says. “We have made a concerted effort to harness the power of social media and social recruiting and are building up our capabilities to support that.”

One focus of WinnResidential’s Talent Acquisition Group is reaching out to college students online. Another is encouraging its current associates to be an extension of the company’s brand.

“Doing this personalizes us as an employer and it helps us to show candidates what it is like to work for us,” Forde says. “We had a social media competition that asked our employees nationally why they work with Winn. We are working with partners to amplify our social media presence.”

At Village Green, the company goes beyond social channels such as Facebook and Instagram to communicate what is happening within their ranks. Village Green encourages employees to get involved in the process: Posting videos on YouTube and on their personal social media channels that promote the company is encouraged.

“We use the Glassdoor recruiting channel to create a greater connection with our brand,” says Diane Batayeh, CEO of Village Green. “Personally, I enjoy that we use our own social media channels where our people show prospective new employees what ‘Life in the Green’ is like. It shows the best of what Village Green represents.”