Jobseeking Advice for Real Estate MBAs

by Vault Careers | March 31, 2009

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This article is excerpted from the Vault Real Estate Career Guide.
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Joseph Pagliari, a clinical assistant professor and director of the Real Estate Center at the Kellogg School of Management, says, "There are host of opportunities in real estate for MBAs, the issue is identifying the best fit for the candidate. Positions that are good fits for MBAs are with the firms that are supplying the capital to the industry. Typically these are large sophisticated financially oriented firms. MBAs should identify these institutions and aggressively pursue them for employment. In today's marketplace, this means looking at REITs, mezzanine funds and private equity firms.

"In general the high profile real estate positions and financially rewarding jobs are on the capital side," adds Pagliari, who is also a principal of a real estate investment firm. "These jobs are almost self-selecting because they are tough to get and you have to be smart and aggressive to succeed. Given that positions in the capital side of the business are reserved for the elite, MBAs should pursue these positions because many MBAs possess these qualities."

Employers look for different skill sets. "It is difficult to narrow it to just a few things.," he says. "Some positions are very quantitative while others emphasize strong interpersonal skills. Having a combination of both is a competitive advantage. In general, I tell all my students to look for roles that speak to their skill sets. It is going to be hard enough to get the interview, so don't blow it by going after a job that probably doesn't fit your background. MBAs should do their homework on the types of roles out there and match your background and interest with the best fit. However, you still want to shoot for the sky and leverage your MBA."

Job seekers shouldn't be shy about using their contacts "This industry is very tough for outsiders or newcomers to break into and students should be ready to accept that," he advises. "Get in the hunt as soon as possible and network, network, network. Using alums or anyone else you know in the industry is something I always recommend." When you have the interview, be prepared to talk about the local market or any in which the company operates. If it's a public firm, check Wall Street for the scuttlebutt. Also, be certain they'll welcome your MBA.

"In the interview you will most likely be asked about why you are interested in real estate and a few technical questions," Pagliari warns. "Be ready to describe a cap rate and market specifics like rental rates and general economic conditions."

To those MBAs just starting a real estate program who know they want to enter the industry, he stresses, "Don't rely on simply taking real estate classes, especially if you have no prior real estate experience." You need to demonstrate passion by joining a real estate club or getting active in real estate-related activities at school. "Do whatever it takes to be able to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the industry," he adds. " If it takes starting a real estate club or being the driving force behind an event, then so be it."

The professor also offered advice to individuals who are evaluating MBA programs that offer real estate curriculums: make sure that the real estate professors have some practical experience, that the curriculum will give you a skill set that will meet your end goal, and don't sacrifice the overall MBA experience for a school that simply offers a strong real estate curriculum and lacks in other areas.

For those MBAs that are interested in real estate but whose MBA programs do not offer real estate classes, Pagliari offers a solution. "Classes related to finance and economic principles that help you price risks are very useful," he says. The ability to price risk will separate you from other candidates. "Also, when possible, take some business law classes." Because there are many legal issues involved, these will be helpful. "Which is why you should not be surprised to find so many attorneys in the business," Pagliari says.

"I was a career switcher and was repeatedly asked in interviews about why I was interested in real estate," says Rich Monopoli, a recent graduate from business school. "Many of the interviewers wanted an explanation of how my background tied to my interest in real estate. I can't emphasize enough how important it is to be prepared to answer the question of why you are interested in real estate."

This article is excerpted from the Vault Real Estate Career Guide.
Read more excerpts or purchase the guide
Discuss real estate careers at the Real Estate Career Message Board
Find top positions at the Vault Job Board

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