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The New Rules for Attracting, Retaining, and Leading Top Talent

September 15, 2023

Last modified on June 26th, 2023

One of the top challenges property management companies face today is attracting and retaining top talent. And now that a new generation, one with different goals, needs, and wants from previous generations,  is entering the workforce, industry leaders are learning they must do more to make property management an attractive career option.

To learn more about what exactly this new generation wants and expects from their roles, AppFolio interviewed up-and-coming property management and real estate leaders to hear their thoughts on building a career in the industry, choosing organizations to work for, and their expectations of leadership. 

In this episode of The Top Floor podcast, we hear from two of those early-career leaders to help property management organizations better overcome the industry’s ongoing staffing challenges.

Episode Transcript:

Megan: There has never been a more complicated time to be a property management and real estate leader. 

The shape of the American workforce has changed drastically over the last few years and it continues to shift every day. With these constant shifts comes new challenges every company, regardless of portfolio size or property type, has had to work through. In fact, these challenges are so widespread that our 2022 Property Management Industry Pulse revealed that HR, Staffing, and Recruitment are among the industry leaders’ top concerns, especially when it comes to attracting new team members, reducing staff turnover, and improving company culture. 

To help guide leaders through these specific workforce challenges, AppFolio recently led a town hall-style panel session at the National Multifamily Housing Counsel’s 2022 OPTECH Conference and Expo. The OPTECH session was specifically designed to cover the new rules for leading and managing the next generation of property management talent. As part of that session, AppFolio interviewed five early-career and emerging property management and real estate leaders to hear first-hand what they look for when choosing an organization to work for, what kind of company culture attracts and keeps them engaged, and what they expect from leaders today.

On our episode, we’ll hear from two of those up-and-coming property management and real estate leaders we interviewed, to help you identify the leadership and talent management strategies that will guide your organization and team to success. Before we dive in, let’s meet our guests for today: Kira and Rohit… 

Kira Goepferd: Kira Goepferd. I’m 21. The title, I guess, would be intern/assistant property manager at the moment. The organization, I would say my school, Portland State University.

Rohit Singh Chauhan: All right. My name is Rohit Singh Chauhan. I’m 29 years old. I’m currently a graduate student at the MIT Center for Real Estate.

Megan: As you can hear from their intros, both Kira and Rohit are part of the next generation of property management. During our interviews with them, we discussed three key areas that are essential to solving today’s HR, staffing, and recruitment issues:

  • One: How can property management and real estate leaders better market job openings to attract today’s top talent?
  • Two: How can organizations retain and engage their top talent?
  • Three: How can today’s leaders provide what the next generation needs to grow in their career and, ultimately, become leaders themselves?

Let’s dive in to hear what Kira and Rohit had to say.

Market job openings to attract talent

Megan: First, let’s begin with part one of our conversation today, which is how property management and real estate leaders can better market job openings to attract today’s top talent.

To start us off, we asked our emerging leaders what exactly attracts them to a job posting or company in the first place. When they’re looking at a job opening, what catches their eye?

Rohit Singh Chauhan: Of course, there’s a factor of my familiarity with the company and the kind of role it is. That’s a factor, of course. That’s one of the main things I look at. Location and salary. Now, not all job postings have salary descriptions up front, which is okay, but if it’s mentioned, that’s another major thing for me. Location, definitely.

So another thing that I really look into is a very thorough description of responsibilities. It just says something about the company if they’re being really upfront and have thought about these things. And one last thing is I like a good web presence, like a proper website, a good following on LinkedIn. That just shows that the company has put in the effort. And in this day and age, you need to be good on that.

Megan: Although Rohit’s expectations are fairly standard, it’s clear that much of the information he needs to make his decision isn’t being provided in most job descriptions today. 

At a minimum, job descriptions should be crystal clear and concise. Although it can be tempting to get creative, the clearer the job description, the better. That’s because potential candidates want to know exactly what their role and responsibilities will look like on a day-to-day basis and what will be expected of them. They also want to know at least a general pay range to help them better determine if that role is the right fit.

Only once those job description basics are nailed down should descriptions be expanded, in order to move to the next level of information candidates need, as outlined by Kira.

Kira Goepferd: What would catch my eye is the description and the scope of work. If the work checks all of the boxes, and it’s something that I’m knowledgeable in, but also something that could potentially challenge me, I’m a lot more interested than in something that isn’t going to challenge me at all, or something that I’m like, “I know all of this, and my job is just going to be boring by the end of this year.” I think that’s what would mainly catch my eye if I’m knowledgeable in it and there’s a challenge.

Since I’ve worked in this internship that I have, and now that I’m an Assistant Property Manager, every day, I think there’s a new challenge that I have to endure. At first, it was just like, “you’re going to be taking over these properties,” so I had a lot of questions, and that was really challenging.

Megan: Instead of just advertising available jobs, property management companies need to position openings as part of a desirable career path, even with entry level or part-time roles. 

That means descriptions need to give some indication of what upward momentum within the organization could look like. It also means showing them that property management and the real estate industry can be rewarding, fulfilling, and challenging career paths in all the ways they’re looking for. 

In other words, we have to infuse roles with purpose and meaning and market them that way. Because early-career workers don’t just want to take any job — they’re thinking about how their short-term steps can take them to their long-term goals.

Kira Goepferd: I do look at property management as a long-term job just because real estate has been my dream job since I could remember. Property management is just one part of the bigger aspect of real estate.

I don’t know if I want to be a property manager for the rest of my life. I’m really interested in real estate development. I would honestly love to be able to look into that, and really grasp the concept around development in real estate. But property management is such a big part of real estate that it just genuinely just really excites me for the whole career.

Rohit Singh Chauhan: Well, of course, it depends on person to person, but for me, I have certain short-term and long-term goals that I’m thinking about. That drives everything basically. So whether I’m looking for career growth in my current role or whether I have a more prominent position with the more prominent companies available, I will weigh that against my career goals.

Megan: While it’s important to keep the bigger picture of how your potential candidates could evolve and grow within your organization, don’t go overboard or over-exaggerate roles, responsibilities, and opportunities either. 

If something sounds too good to be true to potential team members, especially ones who may have been burned by a bait-and-switch job description before, they’ll be far less likely to trust you enough to apply.

Kira Goepferd: A job description that would be too good to be true would be a job with amazing pay, but with very low experience in the field. I think that would be too good to be true.

Rohit Singh Chauhan: So kind of the opposite of what I said earlier. If the job description is vague, it leaves a lot up in the air. That’s not a great sign. As I mentioned, most posts don’t mention salaries, but if there is a salary mentioned, if it’s way too high coupled with a vague description, that’s a red flag.

Megan: Also, when it comes to attracting top talent, it’s always a good idea to have a testimonial or two from current employees. Or, ideally, having a volunteer employee you can tap into who would be happy to talk to applicants about their current experience with your company.

As Rohit notes, your own employees can act as your brand ambassadors and help bring in even more of the top talent you want to attract.

Rohit Singh Chauhan: So the main thing that I would do for every role I would be interested in is to talk to people I know. If I can find somebody in my circle who’s there, that’s the best thing because they can give me a very transparent and honest opinion about the place, or maybe I’ll reach out to some alums or somebody outside my main circle. What I’m trying to do is get a clear picture of the culture of the company and what the day-to-day working atmosphere is like. So that would be the main thing I do.

If I can’t find a lot of people who are in the company, if the web presence is not developed, and there are like ten people in the LinkedIn community, that’s kind of off-putting also. After the description, as you talk to somebody, if it’s an over-eager hiring process, that’s also a bit odd. 

Megan: Above all else, when it comes to marketing job openings that attract candidates, make sure your company’s culture is clear and present at all times. As part of our interviews with Rohit and Kira, we asked them to pick the one area that’s most important to them during the research and interview process. They were in complete agreement.

Kira Goepferd: I would pick culture, because if I don’t have a clear understanding of the culture at the workplace, then I don’t know if it’s a place where I’m going to be accepted and respected. And that could make for a really hard job.

Rohit Singh Chauhan: I would say that culture, in my mind, sort of encompasses most of that stuff. So what I would be trying to know through my director and direct questions is more about the culture of the company. And I think we talked previously about this, that I would talk to both whoever I’m interacting with for the opportunity, but also the employees and anybody in my circle because I might get a fairer picture of what the culture’s like at their organization.

Cultivate high-performance teams across the organizational chart

Megan: Attracting top talent is one thing, retaining them is another. In part two of our three-part conversation today with Kira and Rohit, we explored what property management and real estate leaders can do to keep them engaged and happy in their current roles.

What we discovered in our discussions is that seeing a purpose and finding meaning in their roles is far more important than we originally anticipated. But keep in mind there is no one-size-fits all solution here. Meaningful work means something different for everyone, and understanding what top talent sees as purposeful and meaningful work will be key to retention.

In Kira’s case, it’s clear that she finds work most meaningful when she’s learning and growing as much as possible, especially when it comes to seeing how each individual department and person connects to the bigger property management and real estate picture.

Kira Goepferd: I’ve really had an amazing experience already with real estate that I just want to be able to see. This is probably so broad minded, but I want to be able to see almost every single part of real estate, because I’m literally that interested that I want to know more.

I do really appreciate property management though. I’m just so grateful that, being so young, I’m already allowed to see so much, and be considered an Assistant Property Manager for the team I’m working with.

What excites me the most is how many opportunities there are in real estate or even property management. There are so many connections that you can make, which is really, really great for networking in this field. Through that, then you get your amazing vendors that you can choose from. You understand how vendors work with your team specifically.

You grasp not only knowledge about, say, how to take care of a commercial business, but you understand outside world things too. You learn so much about HVAC. You learn so much about maintenance. You learn so much about vendors, landscaping – the list goes on. That’s what excites me because when I say knowledge, you’re getting this grand scheme of everything.

Megan: For Rohit, he’s looking for an organization and team members that have as much passion and drive as he does.

Rohit Singh Chauhan: I aspire to work with companies that are strongly driven by achieving a social as well as a sustainable vision through their work. I think that’s a big thing for me. For many people in my generation, we are looking for meaningful work.

Passion and ambition are something I really value in people. Is it an atmosphere that’s very driven? That’s probably the kind of atmosphere I want to be in. You can learn skills, but you can’t learn to be passionate about your work. It has to be something meaningful.

My reason for getting into the industry is housing. My father is also an architect, and I’ve been passionate about housing ever since I grew up and I was seeing his work. If we are doing justice by making an affordable mixed-income housing project, we’re doing justice by it. We’re not just doing it for the numbers. That’ll really encourage me to make the best of it.

I’ve also worked as an architect, and I’ve worked on 24/7 hours on a stretch. But when it’s something you’re really passionate about, like solving a problem, it’s okay. Once in a while, it’s perfectly okay to do that because you don’t care about time at that point. You’re just so driven by the work, and that’s what I’m seeking in my roles generally.

So if I’m talking about people who are in my circle, close to my age group, we are looking for meaningful work. It has to be driven by passion and ambition. It’s something that we value as a generation, I would say. Of course, I would mention if there are great career and personal growth opportunities, both professionally and personally, both of them are equally important.

Megan: In addition to providing an environment that helps top property management talent feel fulfilled, organizations need to create robust learning & development programs and cultivate a culture of upskilling. As mentioned before, even early-career candidates are thinking about how their next best step affects their entire career path. However, training and upskilling aren’t just about on-the-job skills or hard skills, organizations and leaders also need to consider soft skills too. Here’s Rohit again to explain.

Rohit Singh Chauhan: All right. So starting with the professional setting, I think great managers and leaders that inspire you is the single most important thing that comes to mind. I have worked with great, great managers, and they have the skills that you want to develop also. And they guide you in that because they want to see you grow. That’s a key thing, right? They want to see you grow. So that inspiration that they can bring.

They could offer you or the company could offer you opportunities to lead to bigger parts of the project as you go along. So if they’re trusting you to do more, that’s a good sign. That is like a guided leadership role, mini role in your day-to-day responsibilities, which is a great experience.

The non-professional side of it would be if you can have access to some development courses. Communication is a big thing. Presentation is a big thing that people struggle with, especially international students like me. We are not native English speakers. So that’s a good thing, and, of course, the kind of programs that I am in right now.

Megan: Lastly, when it comes to retaining top talent, offer flexible work environments whenever possible. Work styles and preferences are changing, and many have become accustomed to more flexible work environments, including remote or hybrid options. Because this new standard was put in place in 2020 and has continued through 2021 and 2022, not offering flexible work environment options may feel too restrictive for some. But flexibility also isn’t just limited to in-person or remote working options, either.

Rohit Singh Chauhan: So what draws me is the flexibility, which is something that we’ll talk about later I think. Flexibility to approach my work in whatever manner I like. Fully remote after the point in the pandemic, working fully remote for months on end, you sort of start losing efficiency.

I think I’m fan of the hybrid environment. I see the value in meeting somebody in face-to-face for key meetings or discussions but depending on what you’re doing at a particular day or time, if you have a task that requires you to work alone, working remotely can maximize your time basically. You can have a lot more focus because conversely, if you’re in office every day, sometimes what happens is that all you have is meetings every day. That’s not very productive.

Megan: But keep in mind that not everyone wants a remote or hybrid approach, which is why it’s important to explore and understand what flexibility looks like to your team members. As Kira mentioned, she actually doesn’t prefer remote work and feels that she does her best work when in person with others.

Kira Goepferd: In person, especially with property management, because if there’s a property that needs eyes on-site immediately, I’m already in person. I can go.

But I also think that being in-person, I feel like I’m more ready for work, because I’m in my office, I’m at my computer with my team, rather than being at home at a desk with a blanket wrapped around me. So I think in person really is…that’s my thing. I think I learn more there.

Leverage new management models

Megan: To round out our conversations with Rohit and Kira today, let’s dive into part three of our: the new rules for managing top talent.

In short, the new model of management is shifting from being a “manager” to a “people leader.” The key difference is that being a manager typically means managing tactical to-dos and the actual work that needs to be done. However, being a “people leader” is more about leading by example and empowering your team members, which directly ties back to what we’ve already talked about with improving company culture and attracting top talent.

So, what does being a “people leader” look like and what exactly does the next generation expect from leadership?

Kira Goepferd: I would define a leader as someone who has the characteristics of empathy, respect, and is intelligent in their work. I think that a leader should be able to listen to the employees that may have questions, comments, or concerns. They should be respectful to the others around them, and they should be able to have high intelligence and knowledge in their work, so they’re able to help others when it’s needed.

My perfect boss is someone who’s understanding, open to listening and giving feedback, honest and transparent. But I think that the leaders that I have been introduced to in this career, in school, and that I’ve had the privilege talking to, have made me really excited for this career. I appreciate the work that goes into real estate.

Rohit Singh Chauhan: So a leader would be someone who is, of course, very skilled in interpersonal and professional skills, but is also a great people manager. It’s equal parts of boss and a friend I would say. So they are the person who drives the vision. They are the person you go to for advice on professional things or on your tasks. But they’re also somebody who knows when to be flexible or trust their employees when, for example, remote working is a big thing nowadays. And if the employees feel trusted, that I can do my job remotely and I am trusted to do my work, I don’t need to monitored every time. All those things come together and that’s how I would define a leader basically.

So, I have been fortunate to have some great managers who have guided me to where I am right now. Definitely, someone who’s skilled professionally, but also with great interpersonal skills, communication skills, somebody who is equal parts professional, but also informal and friendly when you need that. And by extension, inculcates a friendly culture in the team and not a competitive one. And I think somebody who’s flexible and understanding when it’s required because not every employee has the same strengths and the same needs.

Megan: While it’s important to understand what an effective leader looks like to the next generation of property management talent, it’s also equally important to understand what they don’t want from a leader.

Kira Goepferd: An imperfect boss would be someone who pretends to listen to your problems, your questions, doesn’t give you back any kind of feedback, doesn’t take any kind of initiative with those problems, and just dismisses everything that you say. I think that would be an imperfect boss because I wouldn’t feel like I want to go to work every day. I wouldn’t feel like I’m invited to speak to my boss or have any kind of conversation.

Rohit Singh Chauhan: Well, the opposite of that, but another way to put it would be if somebody’s monitoring what you’re doing too closely. That just feels like they’re not trusting you enough in the role, which is not great, or conversely, they’re too disconnected from the team. Maybe they have a very big team or a big project that hogs all their time. That’s also not great because then they’re not connecting with their employees at an individual level, understanding what the employees are looking for in their career also. So I think those are two things that come to mind.

Megan: Being an effective people manager doesn’t just help improve company culture, attract and retain top talent, and help team members feel more fulfilled in their roles. It also helps the next generation become leaders themselves. Setting the example now gives your top talent a path forward in their careers and sets the next generation of leaders up for success too.

Rohit Singh Chauhan: It is important for me. I aspire to be an entrepreneur someday way down the line, and that has been a trajectory of my career. So if I have a vision I want to turn into reality, then leadership is the skill that I really require the most. I can always partner with people who are great at finance, creative design, but to bring it all together, you need to be a good leader. And I want to inspire them. I want to inspire my team to achieve that. I want to transfer some of my passion and ambition for the work to them, so they are also motivated in that.

Kira Goepferd: Becoming a leader is really important to me, because I want to be someone that people can look up to, and find themselves, after a conversation, with more knowledge or a better understanding of something.

I’d like to be a person who’s really able to help others along the way, as much as I possibly can, and lead a group in the right direction. When I have more experience in this career, I would like to find myself more as a leader than a follower.

I think in order for me to have the best support in becoming a successful leader is, honestly, learning as much as I possibly can from the leaders that I have already at the firm I’m working at, asking questions of them, getting their answers, retaining these answers, and just having the opportunity to speak to these leaders that I know and I’m able to talk to. That’s, honestly, just the best way for me to be able to become a successful leader, because I can watch it first-hand.

The leaders that I work with right now, they’re just caring. They’re kind. They’re supportive. If I have a question about anything, because something is new to me that they’ve tasked me with, they’re very, very open to just showing me the steps of how to do this, this and moving me along the process to the point where I can do it by myself.

I think that if I do get the chance to become a leader in my future, I want to do those exact same steps of showing the person who’s interested in the career the steps it takes to get to the final step, all throughout. So they know what they’re doing, they don’t make mistakes, but also doing it in the most respectful and kind way possible, which these people are doing, which is absolutely amazing.

Megan: While it’s true that there’s never been a more challenging time to be a leader, there’s also never been more opportunity than there is today to help shape and positively impact the next generation of property management and real estate talent. To do so effectively, will take shifts in how we all operate and lead, but now is the time to act and make these changes. 

We’d like to thank Kira and Rohit for providing their feedback and sharing their experiences to help industry leaders see exactly how organizations can make these changes. To recap our conversions with them today, here are a few takeaway points.

  • First, market job openings thoughtfully to attract top talent.
  • Second, you can retain top talent by helping them grow in their role and within your team and by understanding what meaningful work means to them.
  • And lastly, leverage new management models to help guide the next generation of property management and real estate leaders.

For more information strategies on how you can attract and retain your top performers, download our free guide below.

attract and retain property management talent

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