When recruiting talent in real estate, it’s important to ensure a culture match between the candidate and the firm regardless of a candidate’s skillsets to create a long-lasting employment relationship will last. Identification of this match during the interview and vetting processes will save companies time and money.

In this Executive Q&A, Kent Elliott, principal at RETS Associates, a leading search and staffing firm that focuses specifically on the real estate industry, and Martin Pupil, president of the western division at Colliers International, discuss their insights and observations on the role that networking plays during the interview process.

Kent Elliott (KE): You recently hired a Managing Director that you had met at various networking events. Please discuss the differences between engaging prospective employees whom you’ve met versus ones whom you haven’t.

Martin Pupil (MP): The major difference between engaging prospective employees whom I’ve met before and those whom I haven’t is that with those that I’ve networked with in the past, I’m already familiar with their personalities and demeanors. In this particular case, through the interview process, we focused on assessing the candidate’s skill set, primarily because I was already familiar with how he conducted himself, which made it easier to answer the question ‘is he going to be a culture fit?’

Many people don’t realize how important networking and personal interaction outside of an interview setting can be in showing how you may fit into a particular workplace culture. It’s such a big advantage. I’ve found that if you do not have the opportunity to network or get to know someone outside of the interview room, the process takes longer. Skillsets are tangible and can be easily identified in the interview process; it is the intangible factors that are the most important and most difficult to identify. When you see people in a social setting where employment is not the main objective, you get to know them, their character and how they conduct themselves organically.

Interviewing a candidate with whom I’ve already had that social connection gave me a sense of comfort and helped me to better determine if he was going to be a cultural fit or not. This made the process much faster because we were able to eliminate the “intangible” questions.

KE: What criteria did you prioritize for the ideal candidate to fit your culture?

MP: At Colliers, we are looking for people who are “builders,” who are entrepreneurial and who are enterprising. In an organization, operators keep existing things moving smoothly, but builders will delve deep to create something new. We were in search of talent that doesn’t mind rolling up their sleeves and to help build our organization, businesses and service lines.

In this search, it was not only imperative to find a candidate that was a “builder,” but also someone that understands what it means to be a builder and how to fulfill that role.

KE: Given the current market, there are many senior and executive position openings at CRE companies. What advice would you give to professionals who are considering a move to a new position?

MP: My biggest piece of advice is to make sure that it’s the right fit. In the current state of the market, there are a lot of opportunities available. I have seen many employees leave a firm solely to get that next great title or position on their run up the ladder. Even people that have left our firm have looked at title and growth opportunities more than the organization and culture fit. Unfortunately, a move like that doesn’t always work out because eventually you recognize a misalignment in the culture, resulting in a waste of time and money for both the employer and employee.

When assessing a new opportunity as a potential employee, it’s important to be sure that the next opportunity is not only the job that you want, but that it’s at an organization that you want to be a part of and that values the skillsets you have.

For example, at Colliers we are currently looking to build our team with the entrepreneurial, builder types. However there might be a time down the road when we no longer need builders, but instead need operators – and those are two very different roles. If you are a builder going into an operator role, or vice versa, I believe it will be a mismatch, regardless of how good you are at your job.

KE: How did your recruiter help manage the recruiting and hiring process?

MP:  The team at RETS Associates was great throughout the process and saved us a lot of time and energy. RETS sourced the candidates, selected the top several candidates and conducted initial interviews prior to my meetings with the top three prospects. RETS coordinated all of the scheduling and began the negotiating process so that once we made a decision, we already agreed on the compensation package, perks, etc. This enabled us to close the deal within a week, eliminating a big lag between the decision and closing time. From my experience, there is often a delay in this last phase of the process without a good recruiter in place.

KE: Did anything occur during the process that surprised you or that you will carry over to future recruiting efforts?

MP: Working with the team at RETS helped me to identify and define the type of person for which we were looking, primarily because RETS understood our needs and our industry. As a result of this process, I was able to recognize the difference between recruiters that specialize in real estate and those that are generalists, and the great benefit that a recruiter than specializes in your industry can provide. RETS knows real estate and real estate people, which enabled them to source the best possible candidates for the position. Moving forward, I will continue to work with specialized recruiters: they know the people better, and it saves more time and energy than you could have anticipated.