Susan Arledge: 10 Reasons Why You May Not Get a Job in Commercial Real Estate

Susan Arledge
Susan Arledge

I have been searching and searching for a blog topic I could write that would allow me to use what I personally think is the World’s Greatest Headline as the lead for this article, but after countless tries, I just couldn’t find any connection to my story:

Drunk driver crashes while having sex; leaves ejected lover on the road then hides behind cactus

When I read that headline, I just had to read the article, which was—shockingly—not much longer than the headline (which was, of course, the headline’s intent). But there’s just no possible tie between my blog topic and leaving a lover on the road and hiding behind a cactus—except as a viable reason for not hiring someone as the result of a background check.

Hiring and mentoring young real estate brokers today has been a major topic of conversation with my colleagues in other commercial real estate firms, many of whom are struggling with the hiring process. My friend, Chuck Dannis of Crosson and Dannis, is chairing Southern Methodist University’s initiative to create a world class real estate degree program, and leading the search for the dean for this program.

As an adjunct real estate professor at SMU, Chuck has determined that incorporating interviewing skills will be a critical component of the program, and for that, I am extremely grateful. I don’t think that I can endure one more interviewee asking me how long it takes to make a lot of money in this business and in the next sentence, asking if we work on Friday, as his bungee-jumping team has Friday jumps planned for the rest of 2013. Well, future barista, you probably won’t be a good fit here.

You’ve likely heard the famous “You Are Not Special” speech by Wellesley High School English teacher, David McCullough, which he delivered to “The Cupcake Generation.” (Thanks, Mike Tannery, for “The Cupcake Generation.”)

The Cupcake Generation, Tannery explains, all grew up with the idea that “everyone gets a cupcake.” Adversity and challenge breed character, but Cupcakes got a medal for just showing up, so it’s not hard to understand them, or to blame them, for their concept of self-entitlement. It’s what we taught them to expect.

The Cupcake Generation, also known as Millennials, now represents the highest percentage of Americans lacking enough money to meet their basic needs, outdistancing Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers, Tannery says.

Adult children now rely on their parents for more financial support than ever before, causing many parents to sacrifice their own retirement. Parents are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on education, only to find their children moving back home, possessing little ambition and being highly selective prior to taking a first job, according to a survey released in May by WSL/Strategic Retail.

Unfortunately, a great number of the individuals in this age group interviewing for jobs today will never get hired for commercial real estate positions; sadly, it has very little to do with their education or qualifications.

Here are 10 reasons why you likely won’t get a job in commercial real estate:

1. Your resume is full of fascinating, but irrelevant details. It’s very interesting that you spent summers on mission trips in Haiti remodeling orphanages, were the homecoming or prom queen/king in high school, became a Navy SEAL, joined the Rockettes chorus line, won a Grammy for musical composition and/or found time to climb Mount Everest, but what are the skills that have prepared you for this particular job? We don’t have a lot of free time in this business to compose symphonies or Skype with your sherpa.

2. You did not prepare for our interview. You can probably surf the internet faster than the speed of sound, so spend time gathering information about our industry. If you are asked “What are your assets?” don’t tell me you own a bike.

We have the standard lists of questions you’d expect to hear, but at any given moment, I might ask, “If you were an animal, what animal would you be and why?” The most shocking response I’ve received (so far) is, “I’d be a cat, so I could lie around all day and not have to do anything.” Really? Well, you won’t be doing “nothing” here. Try lifeguarding.

When I asked one interviewee to describe an instance when he had managed his time effectively, he recounted managing his time in dungeon raids in World of Warcraft. The word “necromancer” should never be used in an interview. Future barista.

3. You didn’t bring any questions to ask about me, the company, or our industry. Most of us are fairly easy to stalk, so check out our web pages, LinkedIn profiles, etc. Show some proactive interest. We recently asked a job candidate, “What do you know about us?” He leaned back in his chair and replied, “Not much. Why don’t you fill me in?” He wasn’t hired.

4. You wrote a thank you note and told me how much you enjoyed our time together. Well, I really enjoyed our time together, too; but instead of just thanking me, tell me how you will add value to our organization. I don’t want to have to do the work for you—I need to know that you have some idea of what you will be contributing every day when you show up.

5. You dressed to fail. Offices may be casual these days, but we still wear traditional attire at the office and for client meetings. There are times when a client requests an unexpected meeting and it really irritates me when someone isn’t dressed appropriately and has to go home to change clothes for the meeting. Show up for the interview as though you are ready to go to work.

6. You weren’t able to tell me what you want to do, but rather, left me to assume that you want us to invest large amounts of time and money in training to help you figure it out. If you want to be a phlebotomist, don’t confess that you really don’t like needles. Don’t tell me your main goal is to be a rock star and this is more of a backup plan. Figure it out first.

7. You only get the “social” aspects of social media. Unless you are in a witness protection program, do not use that faceless, ghostlike Sorry game playing piece on your LinkedIn profile. What it says to me is that you are too lazy to download a photo. Make sure your last tweets did not have more profanity than a 2 Live Crew song.

8. You didn’t proofread your cover letter, resume, etc. If you can’t bother to eliminate grammatical mistakes, how can I expect you to communicate with our clients? How do you think my clients respond to us when they get an email full of mistakes? Learn the difference between your and you’re. Don’t spell Tumblr with an “e”.

9. You lacked professional courtesy. I introduced you to an associate and you didn’t even ask what he or she does, or even worse, you were five minutes late for our meeting. Our clients don’t accept it when we are late. I was once five minutes late for a meeting and the client told me we would have to reschedule “when I could be on time.” You only have to learn that lesson once.

10. People don’t like to work with jerks. Life is too short to spend it working with people you don’t respect or who don’t respect you. An employer has a choice and a voice in who they hire. Cutthroat competition and increased choices of real estate service providers have created very high levels of expectation by our clients. We have to make good hiring decisions. Today’s clients won’t think twice about firing a real estate firm that doesn’t provide the level of service they expect, or that doesn’t offer the ability to work with people they like.

One of my friends, the president of a real estate development company, conducted a final interview with a real estate management prospect. At the end of the interview, the job was going to be offered to the candidate. The waiter brought the bill and the candidate, who was employed at the time, took it, pulled out his company credit card and said, “Don’t worry about this, I’ll put it on my company’s expense account.” My friend later said he didn’t know which shocked him more, the lack of ethics or the candidate’s stupidity.

People don’t like to work with jerks.

(h/t Mark O’Toole at HB Agency)

Susan Arledge, president of Arledge Partners Real Estate Group, is the mother of two Cupcakes who are (slowly) becoming (somewhat) appreciative of the summer jobs forced upon them and the used “beater” cars they were ‘lucky’ enough to drive. A summer of selling Cutco knives or a year of driving your grandmother’s 1997 beige Buick Century sedan with cloth, bench seats, and a bumper sticker that says “I’m a Longhorn Grandma”—because you totaled your car—are, hopefully, life lessons that won’t go to waste. And for those of you who are laughing at me for believing that, I totally get it.


  • AmyS

    I Love This. Love It. Love It. Love. It.

    Printing it out for my 21 year old college graduate who is employed, but wants to grow.

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  • I’m a little confused about where that survey indicates that 20-somethings (like myself, and quite a few other highly skilled, incredibly talented people who I work with) possess little ambition and are/were highly selective prior to taking a first job. In fact, it looks like the findings indicate that plenty of grads are taking jobs that aren’t “the dream” just to pay the bills, which, yes, often involve enormous student loan debt. This kind of gross generalization is incredibly unfair, as is the assumption that we want to live with our parents and mooch off them forever.

  • Avid Reader

    Fantastic. Although, I would probably hire someone who had Navy SEAL on their resume regardless of the position since anyone with the mental fortitude to get through that training can probably do anything they want.

  • 20-Something Dummy

    I’m a 20-something (getting closer to a 30-something), who works in a company full of 20-somethings, and I don’t know anyone who you’re aiming at in this condescending (and stale) list.

    I’m pretty sure I don’t have any friends mindless enough to say they’d want to be a lazy cat or count his or her bike as an asset in an interview. If these are the same candidates you’re bringing in with spelling errors in their resumes, you should probably reevaluate your hiring process.

    As far as the low blow to baristas and lifeguards, what was the point? Nothing wrong with taking a job in a coffee job to keep food in your mouth during college or by the pool as a summer gig. (That seems to draw for those jobs.)

    I say this respectfully, but you, Susan, sound like the jerk here.

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  • chuck dannis

    Another great example why the Divine Ms. A is-and always will be- D Magazine’s best Real Estate Blogger of all time.
    This one will be passed around university campuses for years to come.

  • Ms. Susan:

    Another stroke of brilliance (and I liked it ‘almost’ as much as Drunk Driver Sex Story!)

    You are brilliant. I am sending to my friends who are now begging to connect their recently graduated sons and daughters into job opportunities, and I KNOW they need your sage advice!

    You Blog! (that’s like ‘you rock!’ only better)

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  • Bradford Pearson

    “Cupcakes” were also dumped into the worst job market in decades, perpetrated by the Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers. Do you think we enjoyed moving home with our parents? I didn’t, but I had to. Then, six months later, I moved to Washington with 1,500 bucks in my pocket, and worked my ass off until I got to where I was today. My first full-time job paid $26,000.

  • Rebecca Lofton

    Fantastic. As a 30-something in the biz, and having worked in a commercial real estate firm for years (I’m now in retail real estate), this post is spot-on. Susan Arledge, I salute you!

  • Terrific work, Susan. As Wick noted in his posting, the reasons can be applied to any number of fields.

    Your #10 reason is Allison PR’s #1 reason. No jerks.

    Hope to see you at our next reunion.

  • Barbara H

    Always knew Susan was sharp,but this article is so well spoken and timely. Read it and learn!

  • Susan, those that get it have been you your side of the table. Those that don’t, haven’t, and apparently never will! It takes an incredible amount of intelligence coupled with common sense and your list is not rocket science. We could all add to it, but if they don’t get the top 10, why bother! Great article and boy oh boy could we all share some doozies!

  • Evan

    This is one of the more generalizing and condescending articles I’ve read about the “20-something” group. Not only does it borrow from tired themes that are not generally true, but you, ironically, appear to be the person with whom no one would want to work. Honestly, if I interviewed with you and saw just 10% of the condescension and arrogance you displayed in this article, then I’d quickly withdraw my candidacy for employment. Also, “what animal would you be?” That’s got to be the dumbest interview question. It shows nothing about a job candidate. Good gracious. Also, I’d be a giraffe so i could look down on you.

  • Jim Garrett

    Susan: Love the article and I think it’s dead spot on! What’s nice to see is the responses from a few in the audience you’ve targeted. Either they are the few that really get it–the ones brought up with the idea that if you work hard you get more, and that sharing your effort with others who don’t put forth the effort sucks. Or they’re part of the mass who believe that everyone deserves a cupcake.

    Regardless of which group they fit into, the moral behind this story is MANY employers see these people this way. If they want to succeed, they must demonstrate they ARE different.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Kate Alpert Cavanaugh

    STOP TAKING AND START BAKING?! My admonishment in regards to this great piece to our own four Millennials at various stages in their careers or education, I repeat to the 20- and 30-somethings that were offended by Susan’s observations: No, she isn’t speaking about every Millennial on the planet; if this isn’t you, GOOD! You truly have the chance to shine and hopefully share the light. But don’t miss the wisdom, either way. The message is that entitlement will not only ensure you don’t get hired but it will never make you a living, likeable, successful, or wealthy; hard work coupled with humility not only produce those things but character, satisfaction, and maturity. No one gets those in a box with a bow and there’s a lot of power and satisfaction in choosing to develop such attributes.

  • Riis Christensen


    I’m so embarrassed that the whole cactus thing made it into the news. How did you get home? My 3 Cupcakes are equally mortified.

    Sounds like we’ve been interviewing the same people. I had one guy come over to ask for a job that had been at local $57,000/year private University for 7 years and had never had a job before. We need to talk and compare notes to see if he was your cat. I’ve taught “Intoduction to Remedial Job Search 101” a few times at local venue. I think you stole my slides. It really is surprising how ill-prepared most are to interview. I’m going to send your column to anybody that wants a job here pre-interview.

    And although this is a sweeping generalization–well done and right on!

    PS: I’d be a hyena. Laughing and picking up your leftovers.



    Blanket statements and generalizations should also be a red flag, but I’m guessing Susan’s self-awareness isn’t that high. This really isn’t that constructive, but rather a “Get Off My Lawn” Jim Schutze type piece complaining about younger generations.

    Also, hope you show this article to your baristas next time you order coffee. Since you are so clearly so much better than them because you work in CRE, maybe you can lecture them too.

    Employed Cupcake Generation CRE Professional

  • Jean Farris

    Susan. Terrific article! a+ for telling it like it is.

  • Susan: You are right on, as usual. I have the same observations and frustrations.
    Some of us came along right after the Greatest Generation, and learned our values from them.
    You use cup-cakes and I call them (not all) the flip-flop generation. Of course, at 80, I envy their age. On the other hand, I meet some really sharp prospects under 30, that stand out. It speaks to some very good parenting and/or mentoring.
    Keep up your blogs.
    Wayne B.

  • Chad Dan

    Susan, great article and right on topic. I was formerly the SVP of Real Estate for a Fortune 100 Company before the private equity buyers eliminated my position. I used to get numerous calls from folks asking for a job, though I wasn’t in a position to expand the staff. I would spend some time talking with them on the phone and some really were clueless. I am finding myself in the same position (tough to know what the hiring manager is looking for) now that I am looking for a new corporate job. Your post has been very helpful to me. All the best to you and others searching for a job.

  • This article leaves me with mixed emotions. I feel pretty good about being a young CRE broker (I made it over the hump), but it wasn’t easy. The truth of the matter is that plenty of kids get hired into CRE, but very few last 12 months. I’ve seen plenty of my peers bow out, so fret not, even if you hire a cupcake, the nature of the business will weed them out very quickly. Let’s face it, CRE firms don’t invest a fraction of the capital it takes to train a W2 employee, into runners. However, time is more precious than company resources to any good broker. Finally, a love for the work, money and independence keeps this Millennial going.

  • Carol Stabler

    Great article! The points you make apply to almost any profession in this modern age. Clearly, you have applied these lessons in your own career and, as a result, have become the highly successful professional you are .

  • D

    I have been interviewing people for quite awhile and have recently been observing the same type of issues. While not all 20 Somethings fit the “Cupcake” category I am seeing more and more of it each time. The generation Susan speaks about are creative, well educated and ambitious but do lack an ability to see beyond themselves as well as a realistic notion of what is really required to succeed. I think the glib responses by the “cupcakes” in this blog speak volumes about this. They have missed the fact that while the article was crafted to be funny and entertaining there is a core message here. You guys are exactly the people she is speaking to. The true “Cupcakes” did not consider for a moment that to be a successful company owner it takes an immense amount of hard work, experience, and payment of a lot of dues. To have someone with this kind of experience take the time to give advice is a gift and it would serve them well to listen.

  • I once interviewed and asked the question “if you were to be reincarnated as an animal what would you choose to be?”
    Only one person responded…”I’d be a PLANT”
    Go Figger?