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Targeting new talent

By Staff Reporter
20 March 2013 | 19 minute read

With property management jobs overflowing, why does there seem to be a lack of quality candidates? And what can you do to ensure you nab the best recruit before they go down the street? Residential Property Manager investigates

Type the phrase ‘property manager’ into one of Australia’s biggest job websites and, at the time of writing this feature, you would have been confronted by 2,623 advertisements for property managers of all abilities.

Some ads ask for experience, others are looking for those willing to learn. Some are boasting generous salaries with extra superannuation, while others are a bit more discreet.

Page after page shows principals and business owners across Australia looking for property managers to join their teams. As Joel Barbuto, managing director at Gough Recruitment puts it, “It’s a candidate’s market”.

According to Mr Barbuto, he has at least 50 vacant property management positions available per state at any time, and this has been the case for the last 10 years.

Good property managers are hard to find, but it’s not because they’re not out there.

Sean Green, Raine & Horne’s national operations manager, says it’s because older principals do not know how to communicate with a younger generation of potential candidates. He says principals often go about marketing to young property managers in the wrong way.

“You often have 40 or 50 year-old principals trying to communicate with school leavers and young adults,” he tells Residential Property Manager.

“You are looking for a mature head on young shoulders, and they are not easy to find – you need to communicate what you need and be flexible with their expectations.”

Mr Barbuto says a lack of remuneration is partly to blame for a lull in quality property managers applying for jobs.

“Property management is really a thankless job,” he says. “I worked as a property manager for a number of years and I know the burnout rate is high.

“Property managers will earn anywhere between $40,000 and $50,000, while some good receptionists get that and they are not beat up every day by tenants and landlords.”

According to Sam Nokes, head of department, property management at Biggin & Scott Prahran, showing a property manager there is room to grow or progress their career is the key to finding and keeping good staff.

“Property managers are not very well paid ... and many don’t see where they can go from the position they are in,” he explains.

Amanda Kohler, national property manager at First National Real Estate, agrees and says that many property managers are not recognised for the work they do.

“Experienced property managers are multi-talented experts and they should be acknowledged for the tremendous work they do, growing and maintaining the rent roll asset they manage,” she says.

Preparation is the best technique for interviewing potential staff members, according to Sharon Bennie, director at Sharon Bennie Specialist Property Recruitment in Sydney.

Ms Bennie believes in order to get the most out of a candidate a principal should be well prepared before the interview takes place.

“Be prepared, have a thorough job description and know what criteria each of the applicants are being judged against,” she says.

“Ask specific questions that will draw out their ability in each of those areas and don’t be afraid to ask tough questions to see how they react.”

Mr Barbuto believes the first interview is an opportunity for a principal to put their best foot forward.

“Because there is a lack of candidates, it is actually the candidate interviewing the principal to see whether they want to work in that culture,” he says.

“Principals need to be able to sell their own business. Long gone are the days of people begging for any job.

Our candidates are specific in what they are looking for.”

Mr Barbuto says a candidate should be punctual and well presented, but so should the principal.

Coffee meetings or lunches are far more effective in the first round interview process than office-based interrogations, advises Mr Nokes.

When interviewing for new recruits the key is to make them feel comfortable in order to achieve real and organic answers, he says.

“I always do the first interview at a coffee shop or over lunch because it is a much more relaxed atmosphere,” he explains.

“If someone is waiting in reception nervously, they come into the interview process guarded and with their shield up. They are prepared to answer every question perfectly and this may not truly represent their personality.”

Mr Nokes was recently looking to hire two new property managers but admits personality and the candidates’ ability to fit in with the office culture are paramount in their success.

“Skills are really irrelevant, I can teach them that stuff,” he says.

“It is their personality, enthusiasm and their ability and desire to learn, that is most important.

“That is why the less formal first interview is so important in really finding out what they are like as a person.”

However, if a candidate is successful in the first interview, Mr Nokes will always conduct the second interview in a professional setting with formal questioning.

“The formal meeting is important as you get a better idea of how they deal in a professional setting,” he explains.

“As an interviewer you really need to create that balance in order to see the person’s personality as well as their professionalism.”

Ms Bennie believes the office is the best location for an interview.

“Someone coming into the business has to feel comfortable with the environment they will be working in, and they can achieve this better if the interview is in the office,” she says.

Ms Bennie also cautions principals not to rush into their decision when hiring staff. Depending on the time frame, an employee should conduct certain tests to determine if the candidate suits the role and the business.

“If time is on your side, I believe that all potential candidates should be put through a tele-screen against a set criterion and grade, initial interviews … reference check, psychometric test and then the final offer,” she explains.

It’s also a good idea to invite existing staff to be a part of the interviewing process, according to Ms Kohler.

“I’m in favour of two or three existing senior staff members being involved in the initial interview process. This gives them exposure to learn additional skills and responsibility, and shows their input is valued,” she says.

But what should a principal be looking for in a candidate?

According to Mr Barbuto, candidates who will last the longest are easily picked in an interview, if you spend enough time with them.

“You should be aiming for hour long interviews,” he suggests.

“A principal really needs to get to know their potential employee and only then will they be sure they are the right fit for their office.”

A principal should also look for job stability on their resume.

“I think it is OK to move around jobs every two years,” Mr Barbuto says. “Anymore than that and red flags should be going off.”

Presentation is often mentioned when it comes to interviews, and Mr Barbuto says it is an old adage that will never die.

“You can tell a lot from a person by the way they present themselves,” he admits.

Of course, checking references is also a vital part of employing the right person.

“You want to call at least two of their references, ensuring they are not friends but were direct hiring managers who the candidate reported to,” Mr Barbuto says.

If you are thinking of hiring someone outside the industry, their job history will help determine if they can survive in the often stressful career as a property manager. “I’d be looking for people who are very service-driven and who have worked in hospitality and customer service-focused businesses in the past,” he explains.

Ms Kohler looks for four specific characteristics when hiring outside the industry.

“The most important factor when hiring from outside the industry is to ensure candidates have the right interpersonal skills to fit into the agency’s culture. Skills such as a willingness to learn, listening and communication, a positive and proactive mindset, and organisational skills,” she says.

To those candidates who weren’t quite right, it is important for a principal to treat them with respect, Ms Kohler emphasises.

“If you’re passionate about your industry, you should be passionate about ensuring cadets and trainees coming through the ranks are given every opportunity to learn and improve their skills,” she says.

“As seniors in the industry I believe we have an obligation to candidates to guide them in the right direction by suggesting training and self development opportunities.”

According to Ms Bennie, 25 per cent of new staff decide in the first week if they want to stay or not, and 58 per cent in the first month. This proves the initial stages of employment are paramount to the success of a candidate.

“The most critical factor in retaining your staff is to have a well structured induction and regular follow-up system,” Ms Bennie says.

Equally, Mr Green believes the right encouragement and training will offer a positive first experience to a new candidate.

“At Raine & Horne we try to put on events so staff can mix between offices,” he says. “Often a new member of staff may be embarrassed to ask a colleague a question, so knowing someone from another office means they can just shoot them an email or give them a call for that extra support.”

Ms Kohler advises a structured orientation is the key to making a new staff member feel welcome.

“Show your genuine interest in their development and consider what progression you can offer them in the future,” she suggests.

“Create a personal development strategy together with your new employee, spelling out a 12-month plan highlighting internal and external training, mentoring, industry events and networking opportunities, as well as regular reviews and feedback on their progress.”

Certain personality traits are suited to different property management jobs. Here are the best qualities to look for in a property manager, BDM and head of department

Property managers
Positive attitude, systematic, determined, honest, reliable, self-disciplined, organised, cooperative, emphatic, level headed, methodical, good ability to negotiate, problem solver, good attention to detail, good listener, approachable, level temperament, calm and assertive

Business development managers
Enthusiastic, persistent, self-confident, mature, hard working, passionate, aggressive, sales-driven, able to adapt to changing situations, urgency with killer instinct

Head of department
Strong industry knowledge, natural leadership qualities, empathetic nature, management skills, natural charisma, trustworthiness, ability to think outside the box and to plan ahead

DAMIAN MOORE, principal at Ray White Glen Waverley in Melbourne, knows it is a candidate tight market. That’s why he invests time and money in finding the right candidate.

Mr Moore’s property management recruitment process has three stages.

“Twice a year I hold a recruitment night at a local hotel,” he says. “We publicise the careers night around town and last December we had over 60 people turn up.”

Of those people, 25 submitted a registration form.

Mr Moore then conducted 25 over-the-phone interviews lasting between three to five minutes long.

“I spoke to them all individually about their registration form and their resumes,” he says. “We then cut that down to six applicants, who we saw for formal interviews.”

From those applicants Mr Moore hired one rental administrator who has experience and can start straight away.

“It is a very candidate short market at the moment, which is why our recruitment process is so important,” he explains. “There needs to be a very clear passage for a new recruit to follow coming into the business.”

Karen, their newest recruit, will be greeted on Monday with an office induction.

“On her first day she will be presented with our office policy, procedures manual and work place agreement forms,” he says. “She will be run through the office with everything explained to her.

“For the first day our head of property management will sit with her and explain everything and then we will let her fly on her own a little bit, because she has experience and it is good to see how they go on their own.”

Mr Moore also enlists the help of a local recruitment agency to find the right candidate and is always interested to follow the careers of young people in the area.

The first two weeks of a new job can be the difference between keeping a staff member and losing them, Leah Calnan, director at Metro Property Management blogged recently

THE CONSTANT turnover within the property management industry would have to be one of owners’ and tenants’ biggest gripes, wouldn’t you say?

So why is there such high turnover?

Perhaps one reason is because their first day goes something like this: “Hi, welcome aboard. So there is your desk, here is your phone, my office is down the hall so let me know if anything urgent comes up.”

I remember several experiences where learning to keep my head above water should have been part of the job description. Here I was managing millions of dollars worth of property and no one showed any interest in how I was doing or, more importantly, if I was doing it right?

The point I am getting to is one of the areas of employment within the industry that needs immediate change is that of a new team member’s induction.

Here is a list of five ideas I’ve used in my business to get staff settled;

1. Give them a list of the staff (including photos). Detail both their job title and give a brief explanation of what they do
2. In the first two weeks of employment, have them sit with every team member. This will enable them to learn one-on-one about their specific role and get to know their colleagues at the same time
3. Have a catch up at the end of each week for the first two months. Find out what they are enjoying. Find out what they are learning and any areas they need further training on
4. Set tasks for them to complete so they understand your processes and procedures for things like leasing a property, the tenant sign up, preparing lease renewals, attending to rent arrears, and conducting open for inspections
5. Allow the team member at least two weeks to settle in and have a good understanding of the business before they begin taking or making telephone calls

Yes I know, imagine that – no calls for the first two weeks!

The reason for this is I want my new team members to know what they are talking about before they start speaking to my clients. I don’t want to hear them say, “Oh, I don’t know, I am new here!”

That said, don’t take my word for it – give it a go; what do you really have to lose?

The following are key questions that a number of experienced industry professionals like to ask prospective employees

1. Amanda Kohler, national property manager at First National Real Estate

QUESTION: What was the hardest decision you have made recently at work on behalf of a landlord? Why and how did you communicate this back to the client?

BENEFIT: This tests decision making. Principals should ask for specific examples of scenarios where the candidate used their skills in order to solve situations.

2. Sam Nokes, head of department, property management at Biggin & Scott Prahran

QUESTION: Tell me about the last time you had a conflict with a colleague or client. How did that make you feel and how did you get it resolve?

BENEFIT: This will show how the candidate works with management. In my evaluation, I judge them on openness to constructive criticism, demonstration of leadership, verbal communication and being able to recognise potential problems.

3. Joel Barbuto, managing director at Gough Recruitment

QUESTION: What happens if a tenant is under a fixed term agreement and the landlord wants the tenant to move out ‘without grounds’?

BENEFIT: This question will show how the candidate can think on their feet, deal with a client and their knowledge of legislation.

Do you have an industry update?