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Agent hiring is broken, so here’s what top brokerages are doing about it

By February 3, 2015 One Comment

Hiring a new agent isn’t necessarily the easiest — or most enjoyable — thing to do. It can be costly, inefficient, require a lot of time … and, in the end, your decision could amount to nothing more than an educated guess. It’s OK to admit it: Hiring can suck!

Well, it doesn’t have to. There are problems with the traditional recruitment model, but there are also some definitive and relatively easy things you can try to make it much more efficient and effective … possibly even enjoyable.

The problem with many hiring approaches is that they fail to accurately identify the essential characteristics that predict performance. The best agencies correct this by taking the following steps.

1. Modeling reality.

What doesn’t work: Depending mostly on your gut instinct when it comes to sniffing out the right candidate. Unfortunately, assuming that, since you were a super successful agent, you will know your kind instantly just doesn’t work. Intuition is useful for less significant decisions, such as what to order at a new restaurant. But when it comes to such an important decision as the people in whom you are investing significant time, money and your entire reputation … “feeling” your way through a decision just doesn’t cut it.

What does work: Start with a solid understanding. Before seeking to find the next great employee, those agencies that sustain the lowest turnover and the highest sales begin by examining their existing top performers to see what makes them tick. And they don’t just wing it. They take a very dedicated approach — usually as a management team — to better define the strengths and weaknesses of their top performers. Armed with this knowledge, agencies then seek out those same traits in potential new hires. A growing number of them even use personality profiles to help in this assessment.

2. Interviewing precisely.

What doesn’t work: Trusting that the candidate’s resume is a bastion of truth and accuracy or a crystal ball of predictive magic will let you down every time. Resumes are little more than self-reported, somewhat truthful, purely historical perspectives on the past. They do little — if anything — to accurately predict future success.

A candidate’s interview style is no more accurate a predictor of future success. While an agent’s ability to socialize and interact is important, the interview isn’t always the best environment to judge a candidate’s ability to work well with real customers.

What does work: View resumes as what they are (see above), and don’t rely on them for anything more than a somewhat reliable guide to judge technical and hard skills (for example, licensure, education, experience, and so on). Even then, all facts should be verified.

Try using group interviewing techniques as well, where multiple people interview the same candidate. Group interviewing can reduce undue personal bias or style conflicts. It’s good to build this interview team from different strengths in your organization and have each interviewer approach the candidate from their strength. For example, management can judge how coachable the candidate will be and their level of industry knowledge, while the best listing agent probes how well the candidate handles common client objections, and your best buyer’s agent considers how well the candidate develops rapport and connects.

3. Lose the clichés.

What doesn’t work: Sadly, a lot of interviewers ask standardized and passé questions that not only lack originality but are also ineffective. Questions like “Why should we hire you?” or “Where do you see yourself in five years?” are too vague to deliver answers that can be actually linked back to potential performance as an agent.

Bear in mind that the candidate is interviewing you, too, and failing to inspire or demonstrate creativity is no better an idea when hiring than it is when marketing to your prospective clients. Believe it or not, even in today’s economy, many candidates actually do have other alternative companies they may be considering.

What does work: Selling your business to the candidate, just as you would a client, is important. Try to make the interview interesting, relaxed and, most of all, productive. Ask, “What single key strength do you bring to the table, and how would it benefit you in this job?” This question is more specific — and you can easily connect their answers to the actual job responsibilities. And while it’s good to know how candidates envision their employment with your company during the next couple of years, it’s unrealistic to expect a job-seeker to have high clarity five years out. Try asking them where they would like to grow inside your organization in the near future instead.

Remember the adage, “Hire for hard skills — fire for soft skills.” Finding the top-performing agents has less to do with the perfect resume and appearance and more to do with the core qualities that enable success.

If you’re struggling to find great agents — or any employee — consider implementing some of these hard-earned best practices. You may just be surprised at how simple and effective they are.

Jay Niblick is the co-founder and president of, a technology firm specializing in helping real estate agencies make better hiring decisions.

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