6 ways real estate brokers can recruit like a tech startup

In the battle for top real estate talent, a healthy commission split and great training simply aren’t enough.

As a real estate agent-turned-tech entrepreneur, I’ve noticed some surprising parallels between recruiting software engineers and attracting real estate agents — both equally crowded and competitive industries. It all comes down to what Seth Godin, award-winning author, marketer and entrepreneur, said in “Linchpin,” which is that people want to feel indispensable.

At RealScout, hiring is a companywide project. All team members are responsible for contributing to the storytelling and advocacy required to sign excellent candidates. This commitment and our six recruiting strategies have enabled us to hire some of the best talent in the real estate technology space.

As a way to share our success with the real estate community, here’s the six ways brokers can recruit like a tech startup:

1. Track your recruiting efforts like a marketing campaign.

Before you start running ads or making phone calls, the most important thing you can do is to set up a tracking system that measures your recruiting performance. At RealScout, we treat recruiting exactly the same way we treat our marketing campaigns — we track everything and constantly optimize.

In fact, we use a tool called Lever to track every recruiting activity we conduct: phone screens, in-person interviews and offers made. Week by week, our team meets to review and improve our process, looking at each conversion to assess why something is trending up or down.

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2. Use culture to convey your value proposition.

Now that the infrastructure is set up, the first step is broadcasting your company’s brand and mission to your candidates. As it turns out, small and medium brokerages, as well as franchises, have an unique advantage over big brands. I’ve found that behemoths in tech (Facebook, Google, Apple, etc.), as well as real estate (Re/Max, Century 21, Coldwell Banker, etc.), are too big to embody a focused value proposition to candidates. Independent brokerages/franchises, on the other hand, have the ability to build a focused brand that cuts through the noise created by big brands.

One fun but important way we accomplish this at RealScout is by brewing our own beer and spreading the word about it. We brew beer not because we’re all beer drinkers, but because we want to attract the kind of people who enjoy brewing beer with their co-workers. Brewing beer as a company brings people from across departments together to celebrate milestones and commemorate achievements — such as our RealStout 1,000, pictured below, which commemorated our 1,000th customer in late 2013.

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We won’t attract every candidate with this strategy, but critically, we attract the type of candidate we ultimately want on our team. Google and Facebook might have brand recognition and all the amenities in the world, but unique culture is a place where small and medium companies can excel. Whether your brokerage brews beer or plays softball, communicate what it is that makes your company unique by weaving these stories into your company blog and onto your careers page.

3. Don’t be boxed in by job boards or LinkedIn.

Once you’ve defined your company’s value proposition, it’s time to identify some candidates. According to a survey by Capterra Talent Management, though 94 percent of recruiters are active on LinkedIn, only 36 percent of candidates are active. If you use nontraditional channels to find, reach out to and stay in touch with desirable candidates, you will stand out from your competitors and showcase your company’s creativity.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the hiring process, the norm is one-sided: person needing job finds company, or company needing headcount finds person. Why can’t it be like a romantic courtship in which the two parties choose to get to know each other?

That’s the way it works at RealScout. We host hackathons, expert speakers and industry social events where we meet like-minded individuals, and they meet RealScout. This might not attract active job-seekers, but remember that almost by definition, the best potential employees are probably being retained aggressively by their current employers. By providing a context where the courtship process begins on equal footing, you can naturally get access to a unique candidate pool that’s either awkward or difficult to engage on LinkedIn. So stop being a job board stalker, and start being every candidate’s crush.

4. Listen, care and deliver at the personal level.

Once you get a candidate through the door, the real selling begins. How do you build rapport with a candidate with limited opportunities to interact?

When you think about the best gift you’ve ever given a friend, there’s a good chance you came up with that idea by listening to your friend’s interests or desires and then giving them something they wanted but couldn’t or wouldn’t get for themselves.

“I tailor everything about our recruiting process to demonstrate a genuine interest in each and every candidate as a real person, not a job description,” said Jim Myrick, principal at Keller Williams Realty Bay Area Estates. “We then incorporate our agents’ hobbies and interests into the workplace, sometimes through little gestures and sometimes in a permanent, transformative way. Our office isn’t a break from our lives; it’s a part of it.”

Here’s an example of how we did this at RealScout: During the interview process, we learned that one candidate is a longboard enthusiast. He loves longboards, we loved him and wanted him to love RealScout back. So we custom made and sent him this RealScout-branded gift:

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“It’s not about force-feeding. Instead, it’s about understanding what the individual’s needs are and making the pitch all about them,” Myrick says.

5. Go beyond compensation.

It’s now time for brass tacks — time to talk money. I would never claim that candidates — whether in tech or in real estate — don’t care about compensation. But money is just one facet of the conversation, as Net Impact’s 2012 survey of university students indicates. Over half, 58 percent, of students preparing to enter the workforce reported they would take a 15 percent pay cut to “work for an organization whose values are like my own.” It’s common knowledge that tech startups often offer a lower salary compared to a big company, but candidates are happy to make this sacrifice for the chance to work on a high-potential product in an exciting environment.

This is also true of real estate. Especially when you’re attempting to recruit agents from other brokerages, it’s likely that compensation is only part of the equation. Tracy Sichterman, broker-owner at Berkeley Hills Realty, says that she has the team speak explicitly about the work environment when recruiting new talent. “Before we mention tools or commissions to a candidate, we send them the Berkeley Hills Realty Family Album,” Sichterman says. “This book introduces our team and describes the philosophies that drive us. In it, all of our agents share their own stories of why — in an industry rich with options — they work here. Even though we believe our tools are competitive, the personal stories stand alone. The individual voices are our aha moments.”

It’s important that when it comes to compensation, negotiations are prone to become a race to the bottom, especially given the competitive nature of hiring in both tech and real estate. Only when you focus on your company’s unique environment and opportunities can you have productive conversations — even when it comes to money.

6. Slow and steady wins the race.

You tried, but you failed, and your candidate isn’t interested in jumping ship at this time. To extend the dating metaphor a bit further: If you find someone who’s a great fit for your company but is currently involved with someone else, it’s OK to just be friends. At the very least, you’ve established positive rapport, and when things change you’re in position to make your move.

“The hardest part about recruiting agents from other brokerages is that there’s a fear of change,” Myrick says. Existing industry employment stats corroborate this claim:

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The crucial lesson here is to eliminate this fear over time. Sometimes people aren’t ready to take the plunge, so work to nurture relationships over time. If a candidate constantly hears about your brokerage’s success and continually receives positive messages from the team, the benefits of switching jobs will soon outweigh fear.

At RealScout, we always keep our ex-candidates abreast of important company milestones and go out of our way to build personal relationships with them. It might take a few months, but we’re always able to win them over as an advocate, and we get extremely high-quality referrals as well.

At the end, the formula for successful tech and broker hiring is the same: a focused value proposition communicated well, treating candidates as unique individuals, and tracking and improving everything, all the time.

Happy team building.

Do you have recruiting tactics of your own? Share your story in the comments below.

Andrew Flachner is chief real estate enthusiast at RealScout, the collaboration platform for agents and their clients.

Email Andrew Flachner.