To those outside the industry, multifamily might appear to be a narrow field. In actuality, careers in the apartment sector span various tiers, provide ample opportunity for growth, and foster a loyal employment base.
“Even though it’s such a large industry, people really invest in one another,” says Jeni Bierling, director of training for Chicago-based Laramar Group. “It's very people-centric and customer-centric. I think that when newcomers enter the industry in an entry-level position, they can already see a path to where they can go and what they can become.”
While many associates strive to become community managers, career paths can also be found in maintenance, IT, marketing, the C-suite, operations, and beyond. In addition, the industry is beginning to partner with several tech start-ups that augment the efforts of the on-site team, such as digital in-home concierge services and app-based car-sharing platforms.
As the industry continues to evolve, the quest to recruit high-performing talent remains one of the biggest challenges. Communicating the attributes of the industry is part of that mission, as college-aged talent is generally more compelled to consider multifamily when they understand the depth of the field.
“Multifamily has so many different facets,” says Rachel Davidson, senior vice president of performance for Phoenix-based Alliance Residential. “No matter what you’re interested in or passionate about, you can truly find just about anything within property management. There are careers on the construction and development side, the finance and acquisitions side, and the property management side, with jobs ranging from on-site maintenance to full-scale marketing agency–level jobs in some organizations.”
Davidson, who has spent 22 years in the industry in various roles after beginning as a part-time leasing associate, notes that many universities now offer property management as part of their curriculum and that the number of universities offering these programs is growing every year. Alliance has internship programs in place with several schools, and has noticed that, once exposed to multifamily, students are often most surprised about the depth of career options available to them there.
The Laramar Group counts among its personnel three workers in different stages of their multifamily careers—an industry veteran, a newcomer, and a boomerang associate who found she couldn’t stay away from the apartment sector.
Here’s a glimpse at each of their perspectives on multifamily and why the industry presents such unique opportunities for growth.
Amy Smith, The New Associate
It didn’t take long for Smith, the vice president of human resources for Laramar, to discern some key characteristics about the multifamily landscape.
“Since I’ve arrived, the people I’ve worked with and come into contact with truly have a tremendous amount of passion for the industry,” she says. “I have yet to be introduced to someone who isn’t excited about their career. The degree of enthusiasm for the industry has been surprising and refreshing.”
Smith has also noticed how quickly the industry moves. From technology enhancements to lifestyle amenities programming, multifamily is consistently adapting to renter preferences, enabling successful associates to adapt just as quickly.
“The industry and the business itself are constantly changing and moving, which was part of what was appealing about it [to me],” Smith says. "You have to be very agile to not only respond to the changes but also be proactive and anticipate changes.”
Smith recommends that those new to the industry can help carve their career path by demonstrating value beyond their job description, such as offering suggestions on ways to innovate and showing a willingness to collaborate.
Peggy Panzer, The Industry Veteran
Panzer, vice president of business development for Laramar, has been in the industry more than 30 years in various roles. She watched the industry become increasingly tech-savvy after it had been behind the times tech-wise. She saw renter preferences advance and become more sophisticated, prodding the industry to take innovative approaches to reach today’s renter and adapt to a changing landscape.
“One of the primary reasons I’ve stayed in multifamily so long is because the industry is continually changing and evolving,” Panzer says. “Look at where we were just 10 years ago—we’ve grown so much, and what used to be just a job has now become a career path.”
She also saw the transition of the digital age taking hold in leasing offices and watched as paper guest cards gave way to an entirely digital operations experience.
“The software our properties use has become very advanced, and we’re seeing new options all the time,” Panzer says. “So many [vendor] organizations are innovating in order to help us do our jobs better, faster, and more efficiently.”
Jeni Bierling, The Returning Associate
Bierling had formerly been in the multifamily industry as the director of training/strategic sales for Advenir. She departed for a position outside of the industry but returned to the apartment world as Laramar’s director of training after just one year.
Bierling was ultimately drawn back to multifamily because of the nuances of property management and the industry’s ability to innovate internally.
“Some of it was timing and some of it was opportunity,” Bierling says. “I always feel like property management lives in your blood. I grew up in it professionally and have been in many different positions throughout my career, and I have a passion for the industry and the people within the industry.”
She also appreciates the proprietary systems and products developed internally. These technologies and platforms are innovative and not a one-size-fits-all solution. Other industries often adapt to one product that works, but multifamily aims to be innovative and create truly customized systems for each community or portfolio.
The varying perspectives all agree that the opportunity for growth within multifamily spans a wide variety of career paths. According to Alliance's Davidson, even those who have an entrepreneurial spirit will find that operating a community is much like running your own business, with regard to being accountable for the financial aspects, developing marketing strategies, and managing customer-service expectations.
The industry still faces the challenges of connecting with young creative minds. But as colleges continue to offer property management programs and the industry partners more and more with innovative tech start-ups, the progress is undeniable.
“We’ve been pounding the pavement as an industry for a very long time,” Davidson says. “I think we’re finally gaining traction and building momentum to really expose all the opportunities there are within the industry.”