Do You Have What it Takes?

Tips for writing a standout application

The process for selecting the “30 Under 30” honorees isn’t mysterious. It starts with your writing a "killer app" — that is, an application that stands out from among the hundreds we receive each year. We select our 30 honorees in two judging rounds, ending with a full-day meeting in which roughly a dozen judges debate and negotiate over the candidates.

Why you? We want to know what makes you different from the 600 other applicants we’re considering. As in all great storytelling, specifics count. You say  you walked door-to-door to find a buyer for your one-of-a-kind listing? Tell us about it! You worked 12-hour days for three years as an assistant so that you could buy your team leader’s business when he retired? Give us the details. Don’t just tell us you’re making contacts through Facebook — millions do that. Instead, tell us what’s important to the success of your Facebook page, and give an example of a closed sale that was intiated through Facebook.

Although we limit the length of some answers, there’s ample opportunity at the end of the application to tell us what you believe we need to know about you, your business, and your passion for real estate. For instance, some applicants have shared that they were open-house junkies from an early age. One applicant said he was so obsessed with real estate as a kid that he selected Monopoly as his bar mitzvah theme. Nerdy, you say? Maybe a bit, but it got our attention.

It’s not purely a numbers game. Your sales volume and transaction sides count, but they’re not the end-all, be-all. Their value varies depending on whether you work solo or in a team. And if you’re in a team, are you the team leader or part of the supporting cast? We also look at your numbers in relation to your market’s median price and general conditions.

Give the judges a reason to look beyond your 150 closed transaction sides with details that show innovation, integrity, and leadership ability. We’re attracted to candidates who demonstrate that they respect the past but are thinking deeply about how the business will work in the future. Sales volume may actually have little bearing if you’re managing a brokerage, implementing new technologies for your company, or making your mark on a broader stage (as founder Jon Washburn was doing when we selected him in 2008.)

Be professional. We ask that applicants to submit a photo. It’s not that we believe in judging a book by its cover — we’re mostly aiming to save us time once our selections are final — but a SCUBA suit or bunny costume isn’t the way to capture our attention. You’re not applying for a spot on the “Daily Show.” You’re applying for the honor of being named a rising stars in the industry. We’re looking for candidates who exhibit professionalism on all fronts.

Get your ducks in a row. Most of our applicants ask a broker, client, or colleague to submit a letter of recommendation. Of the hundreds of reference letters we read each year, virtually all say their candidates are hard-working, honest, loyal, and any generic adjective you care to insert. Such descriptions begin to lose their meaning unless they’re accompanied by examples. So if you ask someone to write a recommendation for you, please encourage them to talk specifically about what makes you different.

Spell check. We don’t expect perfection. But as one judge commented, “How could he produce $10 million in sales volume and not bother to perform a 30-second spell check?” To ensure a clean application, write your answers in Word or another word-processing program, and perform a spelling and grammar check before you paste them into the application. And as anyone who has typed “there” instead of “their” knows, spell check can’t catch everything. Review your answers before you hit “Submit.”

Call us. YPN manager Rob Reuter and senior editor Erica Christoffer co-manage the “30 Under 30” program. You can reach Rob at 312.329.8433, or via e-mail at If you have questions about the process or your application, he’d love to hear from you. Both Rob and Erica would love to send an e-mail saying, “Congratulations, you’ve been selected for this year’s 30 Under 30.” But first, you'll need to write that killer app.