Separate the talkers from the doers when interviewing candidates for your real estate office or team. These tips will help.

One bad recruit and your entire brokerage can suffer. Dave Carvajal, author of the upcoming book Hire Smart From the Start (AMACOM, 2018), says recruitment decisions are one business element that real estate firms can’t afford to get wrong. Yet many managers lack training on how to sign on agents or office assistants strategically. Instead, they rely on instinct or even family or friend allegiance.

“Most bad things that happen in a company tend to be caused by a people problem,” says Carvajal. “And everything that is good is from having good people on your team.” Many companies act too quickly to recruit top producers from other firms, people who are recommended by peers, or applicants who make a stellar first impression, Carvajal cautions.

Your firm needs to develop a more systematic approach to screening candidates based on who best aligns with your company’s values, mission, and culture, as well as who possesses the core competencies to do the job. “You have to get this right. It’s too important not to,” Carvajal says. “The cost of getting a bad hire is five to 10 times that person’s salary for your company.”

5 Red Flags to Watch

Whether you’re bringing on a new sales associate or an office assistant, screen candidates carefully to uncover their “masks,” Carvajal says. Some candidates may be trying to hide their lack of qualifications for the job. Candidates who wear such masks can become “drama llamas” and stir up workplace stress, Carvajal warns.

He urges managers to beware of these five types of job candidates, referring to them as “dangerous” recruits for any company.

1. Posers and pretenders: They tend to have excessive pride and envy, but secretly, they’re insecure and scared of being exposed for their inadequacies.

How to spot: They come across as extremely confident. “But their mask may slip if you press them on problems that occurred under their watch at previous jobs,” Carvajal warns. “If they become defensive or scapegoat others, that’s a sign that they’re hiding something behind their mask.”

2. Political beasts: These applicants have a history of being game players and power seekers. They are quick to align themselves with the most influential people in an organization. They excel at getting others to do work for them, and their charm can take them a long way.

How to spot: They love to name-drop. They tend to express enthusiasm only for high-level tasks and display a disregard for less glamorous aspects of a job. “They betray an elitist, entitled sensibility,” Carvajal explains. “They may articulate this subtly during the recruitment process, dismissing less prestigious jobs and companies, acting as if they deserve the job rather than making a case for themselves.”

3. Troublemakers: They tend to be overly judgmental and are quick to blame others when things go wrong. They aren’t team players. They like to create tension and manufacture problems.

How to spot: They have opinions about everyone and everything. They are quick to tell you the things that are wrong with their former employer or with your company. At first, they may appear perceptive and analytical with their keen ability to point out flaws. “But the mask they wear is one of competence, when in fact, they are only adept at pointing out things that are wrong,” Carvajal explains. They lack the ability to achieve consensus and solve problems.

4. Lone wolves: They tend to have a “me-first” attitude, and they aren’t good at listening to others. After all, they believe they alone can achieve a goal. Their own personal agendas take the lead over the firm’s. They may be good in certain roles, but they can alienate coworkers in team settings.

How to spot: They tend to come across as agreeable, but when pushed, they can show anger. Demand answers to tough questions, and you may start to see them get uncomfortable, Carvajal says. They tend to use the word “I” a lot in talking about accomplishments.

5. Showboats: You’ll love these types of candidates from the minute you meet them. They are nice people—affable and open-minded. But when it comes to work, they tend to underperform, only working at about a 30 percent capacity, Carvajal says. They have active social lives, while their work constantly takes a backseat. Their love for socializing can become a distraction in the workplace.

How to spot: They seem like the perfect team player. During an interview, however, ask the applicant to describe a project in which he or she worked around the clock to meet a deadline. If the candidate starts rationalizing why it’s not necessary to work as hard (for instance, “I’ve always found I can get my work done twice as fast as most people”), you may have a showboat.

Who You Want on Your Team

Here are three qualities you can’t do without and how to identity them in a candidate, according to Carvajal.

1. Agility: The ability to adjust your working style when a new development occurs. This can be a key trait to possess in real estate, where transactions are constantly changing.

Probing questions for candidates:

  • Can you describe an instance when you had to make a 180-degree shift in your strategy?
  • How have you changed as a sales associate over the years?
  • How have you adjusted your sales style from when you first started the job?
  • Why did you make these shifts, and how challenging was it to make them?

2. A hunger for learning: Look for an applicant who’s willing and eager to learn something new. You’ll likely want candidates who are eager to build their skill set and make new connections in the business. A candidate with real estate designations may already show this quality.

Probing questions for candidates:

  • How do you monitor developments in the real estate industry that might affect how you do your job?
  • Do you attend workshops and conferences?
  • What is the single most important thing you’ve learned in the past year that has helped you the most in your business?

3. Humility: This is the top trait to screen for, Carvajal says. Humility is characterized by a modest view of his or her own importance. “You still have a healthy ego; you still maintain your confidence. But you’re open to the importance of others—to the value of other opinions and ideas,” Carvajal says. On the flip side, arrogant people tend to be hot-tempered and impatient, which can quickly alienate others.

Humble people are patient and trusting, even when under stress. They are more focused on what the best idea is to solve a problem than being the one who comes up with it, Carvajal says.

Probing questions for candidates:

  • How do you encourage others to challenge your ideas and decisions?
  • Can you describe a situation where you recognized that someone else’s idea was better than your own?
  • How do you manage your ego when you feel your authority is being challenged?

“Learn to understand what’s underneath the water line with applicants—their values, beliefs, and motivations,” Carvajal says. “Then you can start to understand them at the core. Have a conversation, not an interview or interrogation. A conversation can elicit the information you need to make a good hiring decision.”

Go deeper to get at the core of the applicant’s motivations with these questions:

  • What would you say is your most significant achievement?
  • Can you give me an example of how you handled a challenging transaction?
  • What is the most important thing you’ve learned in your career, and how did you use that knowledge to help your prior brokerage or company?


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Read more about agile selling in real estate: Sales Skills You Need to Rise Above the Status Quo