Mentoring New Talent

Internships can be positive for both the students and the companies who hire them.

With the multifamily industry expanding every year, finding strong applicants to fill positions can sometimes be hard. That’s why many companies look to colleges and universities to find interns so that they can have help during the summer.

Rosemary Carucci Goss, Ph.D. Virginia Tech, is a board professor for the property management program at the school and oversees the career fair. It’s here that most students find their internships.

“All students in our program are required to do an internship in the multifamily area,” she says. “The industry is so hungry for good talent that they’ll hire one of our students for a summer work experience even without coursework. They do one internship for credit, report to me, get evaluated, and then they do a [written] report and evaluate their experience with an oral report and PowerPoint presentation when they return.”

Interns must also keep a journal for 160 hours tracking their internship experience.

“From a company perspective, we ask them to treat our students as they would a regular employee and give them a myriad of property management experiences,” Goss says. “We want them to have exposure to everything. The companies that have the most specific internship and gives the student the most variety tend to be the companies the students are attracted to the most.”

A good internship program, she says, will include experience in operations, customer service, maintenance and essentially all areas of the business.

“From a strategic standpoint, the main thing I want is for them to understand the importance of what we tell them about the net operating income and the importance of customer service,” says Goss. “They also gain a lot of technical skills in terms of whatever programs they were using for rent rolls and those sorts of things.”

The hope is that when the students come back, they will have a better understanding of the industry and more focus in terms of what they want to do. “There have been times when we send off a student and they come back a completely different person and understand things so much more,” Goss says. “They take off their renter hat and put on their management hat over the summer, and are so much easier to teach.”

A good program

Greta Schneider, director of recruiting for Alliance Residential Company, Phoenix, Ariz., says the company offers three internship programs: a development associate internship opportunity for MBA students focusing on real-estate development, a sales associate internship, and one that comprises a variety of operational support internships at its corporate office, mainly in the revenue and research and accounting/finance areas.

“Our interns experience a comprehensive introduction to Alliance and the property management field,” she says. “They acquire highly marketable skills and experience pertaining to every aspect of running a successful business, including sales/marketing, customer service, business management and administrative functions.”

Its sales associate internship program, for example, is an 11-week program beginning with one week (five business days) of training. This includes instructor-led training, online coursework and role-playing/shadowing activities, and candidates must complete a pre- and post-test during the training period to determine whether they are ready to continue the internship program as an on-site sales associate. Those who pass spend the next 10 weeks working on-site at various Alliance-managed communities in the area.

“We continue to expand our program to meet our growing business needs,” Schneider says. “The formalized sales associate internship program has helped grow our pipeline of qualified candidates that may or may not have thought about a career in property management.”

Cindy Clare, president of Kettler Management, McLean, Va., explains that the company has an extensive two-part internship program. Each year, they have about six or seven interns who live together on the property and are exposed to everything they would be if they were an employee with the company.

“During the summer, they are put onto a property to learn about leasing and are assigned a property manager to train them in the program,” she says. “We send them to spend a day with the marketing team, to spend a day with the maintenance team to learn how to turnover a unit, and spend a day with the development team. They also shadow a regional property manager, go to customer service training and sales and marketing training.”

If the interns return for a second year, they then go through a Manager in Development program where they are trained on how to be an assistant property manager. They learn how to post rents, they are exposed to different properties (From Class A on down) and still go through shadow days.

Clare says that the company always makes sure to schedule a few outings for its interns, including going to a Washington Nationals baseball game each year.

Shailene Casio-Smith, vice president of business development at Austin-based FirstService Residential Realty, says the full-service property management firm interviews its intern candidates through a “hiring process” similar to other candidates.

“The intern will be provided the same internal training as other new hires. Depending on the length of internship and their area of focus, they will spend time at multiple properties in various roles: from leasing to shadowing the property manager,” she explains. “If development and acquisitions is their focus, they’ll spend time with the development and acquisitions team as an analyst and will be provided with various projects,” adds Casio-Smith.

A good intern

There are many qualities that define a good intern and each program draws on experiences with past interns to help them seek out the students who will do best in the job.

“We are looking for students who exhibit intellectual curiosity and demonstrate leadership qualities,” Schneider says. “We want interns who are looking for the opportunity to obtain hands-on experience and show a desire to make a positive contribution to our organization. Our most successful interns possess world-class customer-service skills and excellent communication techniques, and have a competitive nature that allows them to thrive in an ever-changing environment,” adds Schneider.

One of the most important qualities that Clare looks for in selecting an intern is finding someone who is interested and willing to learn all aspects of the business, and not be pigheaded, saying they only want to do one thing.

“What we try to explain to them is that in order to be good in property management, you want a broad array of as many skills as you can,” she says. “That attitude to be willing to try something different and be a little adventurous is what we look for.”

Kettler has had its internship program for 10 years and has worked with Virginia Tech throughout the decade. Over the years, it has evolved to meet the changing property management landscape and meet the needs of the students themselves.

“We have changed it up based on feedback from the interns. We added a development day because students said they wanted to learn about the process,” Clare says. “On some occasions, we’ve even taken students not in the property management program at Tech. We’ve also looked at other schools because there’s a lot of competition for those students.”

Casio-Smith says FirstService Residential Realty looks for an intern who’s enthusiastic about the experience, reliable, a quick study, and someone willing to apply what they learn.

Evaluating the intern and the program

An important part of Virginia Tech’s program is ensuring that the students are getting enough out of their time. Early on, Goss admits, there were companies who would accept an intern but didn’t give them the training they needed or expected.

“Very early on in the program we had a company that was new to the internship idea and were excited about it. It assumed their property manager would be just as excited, but that was not the case,” she says. “Placing them on a site when the manager is not excited about it is a big problem. Other problems are placing them at properties with lots of turmoil, not enough staff to begin with, and a manager who doesn’t want to put them under their wing.”

Those companies that are successful with their interns get to know the students by coming to the campus twice a year in addition to the career fair, so they can get to know some of the students’ personalities and find a good fit.

“The companies are trying to sell themselves to the students instead of the other way around,” Goss says. “Surely they want to present a good image. We have a lot more internship positions than we have students to fill them.”

Goss says one of the exercises in class has the intern talk about two situations they encountered during their internship and how they would handle it differently based on what they now know. Almost 90 percent of them talk about the first time they encounter an angry resident.

“This is something that you can’t just teach in class. A lot of them are not used to being confronted so it’s a difficult experience,” she says. “Many will come back and say they don’t want to lease, because the majority don’t like dealing with people. However, some like the leasing profession and want to pursue it more.”

Moving on up

The point of the internship isn’t only to give students experience, as many times it leads to an actual job with the company. Some companies will even start graduates as assistant managers.

At Kettler, 70-80 percent of interns have come back as full-time employees, sometimes as marketing specialists, sometimes as assistant property managers at a stabilized property.

“It’s been a tremendous benefit for Kettler and a great real-life experience for the students,” Clare says. “As we grow, we need more people so we are focusing on where else we can expand this to.”

At Alliance, approximately 25 percent of its sales associate interns have returned to work for the company during breaks from school, and another 25 percent have been able to stay on with the company in a full-time sales associate capacity while completing their degrees, thanks to their flexible class schedules.

“At the corporate office, we’ve had interns return each summer and continue to expand responsibilities in their respective areas—typically to match their degree focus,” Schneider says. “In addition to tracking return and hire rates, we closely monitor performance throughout each internship period and evaluate the number of referrals interns sent to us from their respective schools.”