When you talk to seasoned property managers about how they got into the industry, it is usually for one of two reasons. First, a parent is in the industry. Second, and most common, is that the individual fell into this wonderful career completely by accident.
Quite inexplicably, the start to my career encompasses both options. My parents were in residential property management growing up, but it was a temp position that I went to blindly after moving to a new city that truly got me started.
My tangential knowledge from my parents helped a bit, but for the most part I was flying blind my first year, starting with the tenant service coordinator role. Those first years in the industry were very formative and looking back on my seven-year career, I can note some clear steps that I would recommend any newbie to consider when starting out.
The steps can be condensed to these four points:
These four traits are things I have tried to embody in my career and have always led me to success. Today, I will discuss shadowing those above and below you, and the importance of curiosity.
One of the first pieces of advice I was given when starting out was, “Always know the job above you and the job below you, because you can’t manage if you don’t know what they need to be doing, and no one will listen to you if you can’t manage yourself.”
Are you starting as an assistant property manager? Make sure to schedule time to shadow your tenant service coordinator. Their role is integral to the success of the office, and they often know the most about the day-to-day of the property.
If the property manager is going to a meeting, ask to tag along! These types of in-person experiences are where the true in-job training starts, because the property management industry is a reactionary industry, and each situation is almost always ‘case by case’.
Being in the room to see how your manager carries themselves, how they ask questions, and even what questions they ask, embodies the real-world experience that young professionals need to succeed in the future.
In the same rule of thought, share your experiences with those below you. Information gatekeeping is the antagonist to progress. Helping those below you doesn’t mean you’ll lose your job, it means you have the ability to grow your subordinates, a vital skill for managers.
When I started out, we lost an assistant property manager shortly after I started. This meant I got a lot of experience with the assistant property manager role prior to getting a good handle on the tenant services coordinator role. I worked hard in the beginning, but it made my job easier in the long run because I understood the concepts behind my tasks, beyond the task alone. Not to mention that due to my exposure to the assistant property manager role, I was able to be promoted quickly and with little to no growing pains.
As a young professional, and even as a new hire, there is a lot to learn in the first year of your position. That being said, stay open to the information. I always made a point to take additional education courses, both through BOMA and through other industry associations.
Through these trainings I got to meet many fantastic professionals in the industry, and I made an impact with those folks by being genuinely curious and open to discussing their experiences and knowledge. If you have a question, ask it. Vendors are a great resource that are underutilized at times by property managers. Although there may be a sales pitch mixed in, their thoughts on their specific industries are invaluable to those responsible for planning five or ten years in the future.
If you’re concerned about striking up a conversation, always remember that people enjoy being asked about their job. This is something you will learn as you grow in your career and realize that not every friend or family member wants to see your beautifully created spreadsheet.
Being curious will also lend itself to the quality of your work. Will you continue the trend? Or, will you have new and exciting solutions to issues after your research into growing technologies? By staying curious, you intrinsically stay above the curve, and that’s the kind of above-and-beyond behavior that will impress your manager or supervisor.
Something I struggled with at the beginning, and even a bit to this day, was networking and talking to strangers. I am fairly introverted, and the first two years of my career you could find me hiding behind my property manager, smiling benignly and hoping no one talked to me. This may or may not relate to those reading this, however if it does, my advice is to push through. For those who are shy, exposure is the best remedy, and the best way to increase exposure is to participate in the industry extra curriculars.
Join a committee with your local BOMA chapter, and once signed up, speak up! Go to the meetings and volunteer to do the extra items. This will broaden your peer group as well as open you to opportunities otherwise not available. By my third year in the industry, I had picked up the habit of agreeing and volunteering for everything.
This level of grind was difficult; however due to that, I won scholarships to attend conferences, was named a Rising Star in the BOMA International magazine, participated in the building of BOMA Nashville’s YouTube learning videos during COVID, and ultimately was promoted and offered to move states.
I can say with certainty that I still hate public speaking and get nervous; however, I don’t feel failure when I stutter or blush. Those are things that come with time, and the only way to tackle is by agreeing to participate first.
There is a common refrain I have heard in my years in the industry. To paraphrase, the saying goes like this, “You could interview a genius, but if they are unpleasant, you won’t hire them because 40 hours a week every week is a long time to spend with someone.” Be kind to your vendors, be kind to your tenants, and be kind to your colleagues.
This might seem obvious, but the term “office politics” didn’t come from nowhere. I take pride in ensuring that every interaction I have with others results in the other person feeling positive or uplifted. This probably seems like a no-brainer, but I must stress that being clique-y or dismissive to anyone in the industry will get around.
It is not unusual to run into someone who you have delt with in the past, and find they have switched titles or companies, and now you may need them. That is not to say that kindness is only warranted if you get something in return. However, if you put good out, don’t be surprised when you receive good back!
Reading through the list, there is a common theme. Property management is a team sport, and as such, it is beneficial to focus both on bettering your own skills, as well as assisting others. You can be the ace of your team and focus on knowing the ins and outs of the job to a high degree, but never forget one’s team.
No title is more important than another, and no one’s tasks, or time is more pressing than another. Respect and engagement are the final pieces of the puzzle to actual knowledge and skill. With these things in your arsenal, you will find fulfillment and joy in your job, and those around you will take note.
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