CRE Opinion: Five Simple Lessons—Learned the Hard Way

For aspiring commercial real estate professionals, there are several things you can do to help set yourself up for success.

Blair Oden

CBRE recently wrapped up another summer internship program. Being around a group of incredibly sharp college students every summer always makes me think about two things. First, what are the best pieces of advice I can give to hopeful young real estate professionals? And second, I would not have had a chance of getting hired if the landscape of sharp talent was as good when I was graduating as it is today.

Focusing on No. 1, while being grateful for No. 2, here are five simple tips for college students aspiring to be in our industry.

  1. Good grades. The good Lord knows how hypocritical I am in promoting the importance of academic achievement. But the truth is, your report card is the easiest way for an employer to judge your true commitment to a goal at hand. I am not talking about being in the conversation for valedictorian; however, it is not very hard to make solid grades, and it says a lot about who you are.
  2. Leadership. College is all about having new experiences that broaden your perspective of the world, both academically and socially. Getting involved in student organizations (fraternity or sorority, interest groups, clubs, sports, etc.) is a staple of the college experience. But if all you do is join the group you are missing a tremendous opportunity—to be a leader in whatever you do. Not only will you make a lasting imprint on the organization, you will be gaining invaluable skills that will benefit you in the future. Employers like CBRE love people who are not afraid to lead.
  3. Demonstrable interest in CRE. I am always amazed how many young people say to me, “I’ve always wanted to be in commercial real estate.” I am also amazed at how many of them have absolutely nothing to show for it. If you really want to pursue a career in this industry, it is easy to demonstrate a sincere interest and desire. Take some real estate-related classes. Join the school real estate club—and be a leader. Get an internship, or two. Pursue your real estate license. There are a lot of easy ways to check this box.
  4. Internships. I could write an entire blog post on the many benefits of internships for college students, but let’s just mention two biggies. First, it gives you some perspective on life after college and the rigors of a job. This should not be minimized. I often feel that the first year after college, the biggest lesson I learned was how to be out of college—a big time culture shock! Second, and as it relates to commercial real estate, it will help you determine an area of expertise to pursue. Our industry has gotten so large, complex, and specialized, the old “put me to work anywhere and I will prove my value” logic does not cut it anymore. Young graduates who have the experience to back-up their desire to pursue a special area of expertise will stand out in a bold way.
  5. Personal brand. Everyone has one, and it is probably the most valuable asset you have. How you look, carry yourself, engage other people, and behave in public places matters—even in college. It is never too early to recognize this and work to constantly improve it. Pay attention to how you are dressed, how you shake someone’s hand and greet them, how you sound on the phone, how you prepare for a meeting, etc. And for goodness sake, limit your social media activity.

Now you might say that I missed one, or two, or five lessons to share. Undoubtedly, there are many pieces of great advice that are not on this list. Because I have experience with three kids of my own and have seen the glazed look in their eyes when I go on my rants, I have learned to keep it short and sweet. Either way, there are a lot of super-sharp young people graduating in the years to come, and that’s great news for the industry.


Blair Oden is Senior Managing Director of CBRE in Dallas.


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