Commercial real-estate hiring is heating back up. From strategy-focused exec jobs to the red-hot industrial space, 4 recruiters lay out roles they're trying to fill.

  • After a pause at the beginning of the pandemic, the commercial real-estate job market is heating back up.
  • We spoke to four recruiters about opportunities and how the search for talent has changed. 
  • Commercial real estate companies are on the lookout for executives to oversee investment strategies in new asset classes, or to grow already existing businesses. 
  •  There's also demand for jobs in the industrial space, which has remained resilient during the pandemic. 
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In the early days of the coronavirus crisis, the real-estate job market slammed to a halt. 

Richard Birgel, president and owner at Real Estate Executive Search, said that 16 of the 20 roles his firm was working on went on a hiatus, while Jodi Shaw, who runs her own real-estate recruiting firm J. Shaw Enterprises, said that all but one open role was paused.

The job market has partially recovered since then, as firms' initial shock has worn off and they turn to make preparations for the future. Firms have also found ways to meet with candidates in person, even if they're atypical locations like public parks. 

Business Insider spoke to four real-estate recruiters about the state of the real estate job market and where hiring is picking back up.

They said that while demand is clearly higher for companies that work in businesses that have been buoyed by the pandemic, like industrial, they continue to fill roles in industries like retail that have been hit hard. They also said that they're seeing increased demand at the executive level for more strategic roles a sign that organizations are using the coronavirus as an opportunity to transform their whole organizations. 

Which commercial-real estate firms are hiring? 

Employers who have a long-term vision and a balance sheet to support it have used the pandemic as an opportunity to make strategic changes to their business earlier than expected. 

"COVID was not the reason that a firm was out in the market, but it certainly was a catalyst to push forward an initiative that was part of the strategy pre-COVID," Andrew Fein, a principal at executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, told Business Insider.

He is working on a "half-dozen" roles like this for real estate firms. Fein said these clients are mostly private-equity real estate groups that work in asset types like senior housing, retail, and manufactured housing, but also include a real estate services firm. 

Read more: Big investors poured billions into student housing — thinking it was a recession-proof bet. Then the pandemic emptied campuses and turned that thesis on its head.

These companies are looking for hires who will help them create new investment strategies in new asset classes, or to grow already existing businesses.

While the job market may be tough for areas like retail and hospitality, commercial real estate companies who are well-capitalized may actually be viewing their asset class's challenge as an opportunity. 

"Some people might see the advantage in the market being at a lower rate and they can buy now," Shaw said. Shaw placed a candidate for an acquisitions role with a focus on class A office buildings, even as remote work and the challenges of returning to the office have made some doubt the future for the sector.

Other areas, especially industrial real estate, have seen a surge in demand during the pandemic, and firms are now looking for staff to support that growth. 

"Industries that are buoyed by the market, like industrial, where if anything, they've seen valuations increase, they feel like they're in a good position to grow." Fein said.

Read more: Amazon just signed its largest-ever warehouse lease in NYC. Here's how it's been making deals left and right to grow its massive storage and distribution network.

However, the challenge of remote onboarding may also prevent those who are looking to hire from actually doing so.

"Industrial been busy throughout, but one of my industrial clients put their searches on hold because onboarding people virtually is so much harder," Shaw said.  

Generally, transaction-oriented roles like brokers and analysts have taken a hit. Recessionary periods generally lead to major slowdowns in real estate transactions, and the current crisis also makes in-person tours somewhere between hard and impossible, slowing things down even more. 

Justin Zale, a principal at executive search firm Egon Zehnder, told Business Insider that this slowdown in transactions has led to layoffs and a tightening of the job market for those sorts of roles.

JLL reportedly laid off around 30 members of its capital markets team, but nothing has yet approached the mass layoffs in the sector seen in 2008. 

Fein, who was recruiting in real-estate during 2008, said that some of this has to do with the rise of alternative real estate financing outside of banks after the crisis. Alternative funders, who have drastically risen in influence and size as banks' tightened their lending practices, have found ways to grow without hiring people.

"They realized they needed to just do bigger deals and then they didn't have to do two-times the number of deals," Fein said. 

As a result, Fein said, real estate investment is already a lean industry, without many places to cut back. While there may not be a surge in hiring of new professionals, he doesn't foresee major layoffs. 

Read more: Meet the 4 dealmakers driving Blackstone's $325 billion commercial real estate portfolio. They walked us through how they're thinking about opportunities in the downturn.

How are firms recruiting remotely?

While recruiting continues, the pace has slowed.

"The whole process was stretched out significantly longer than normal to keep engagement consistent with candidates, Fein said.

While virtual interviews and recruiting has taken off in other industries during the pandemic, the real estate world still has a strong preference for in-person meetings. 

"People get into real estate because it's tangible, so people in real estate have a hard time conducting the process without meeting someone in person," Fein said. 

Clients who would usually interview many candidates in-person at their offices now meet only the finalists or late-stage candidates, trading the boardroom for a park or an outdoor restaurant. Shaw said that she had met one candidate in their backyard.

But never seeing the person face-to-face is not a deal-breaker for everyone. Birgel said that he actually was able to hire someone in North Carolina for a remote role at a Chicago-based private-equity company.

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