HR Insider Nov 12 2010

CB Richard Ellis's Chris Kirk: Building again

By kyle stock

"Hiring" and "real estate" aren't terms that you see together very often these days, unless you're reading about foreclosuregate.

But CB Richard Ellis Group Inc., the Los Angeles-based real estate giant, will have added 1,300 to 1,600 positions by year end. A look at its recent quarter shows why. The company is killing it in everything from property management to leasing and sales. Its revenues jumped 24% over the year-earlier period and profit rose almost five-fold.

FINS caught up with Chris Kirk, global director of human resources at CBRE, to discuss CBRE's comeback in campus recruiting, how many rounds of interviews are typical and how the company handles a resume with a tarnished name.

Kyle Stock: You guys are coming off of a great quarter, catch me up on where you are in terms of hiring.

Chris Kirk: It's accurate to say our hiring has definitely picked up from last year. I think we're on pace for kind of a mid-single digit growth 2010 over 2009.

KS: That's percentage of total headcount?

CK: Yeah. Somewhere between 4.5% and 5.5%

And it's primarily in three businesses. One is our outsourcing business where we go to corporations and outsource their real estate needs. So far this year, about 40% of our hires have been in that space.

We also have a business that we call asset services that most people would think of as property management. About 27% of our hires this year have been in support of that business. And I'd say 25% of our hires would be in what would be our traditional commercial brokerage capabilities.

KS: How does that hiring break down in terms of senior versus junior personnel?

CK: They really do range from high-powered, client-facing sales pros to administrative personnel and in the outsourcing, it's really technical and skilled tradespeople.

The substantial majority of our recruits are people who already have experience in the business. But we are reenergizing our university recruiting efforts this year. We'll probably be on 20 campuses.

KS: So there was a pause or freeze on campus recruiting during the crisis?

CK: We slowed down hiring in general and that was just part of it. We're bringing it back pretty strong this year.

KS: You have this program dubbed 'the wheel,' tell me about that.

CK: It's actually a program we had for several years. It never stopped in our New York office and we're adding 5 more cities to the program. It's basically targeted at graduate and undergraduate universities. We bring these folks in for a 12-month rotational program. They rotate through one different line of business every quarter. At the end of the program, we find a place for them in the organization.

It's really trying to give them a very broad exposure to everything the company does. And hopefully we get a really good match based on their capabilities and our business needs?

KS: What are the five new cities?

CK: Well, we're bringing them back in Chicago, DC, Dallas, LA and San Francisco.

KS: How many folks will be in that program this year?

CK: An aggregate of about 25 or so.

KS: How is your hiring breaking down geographically? Are there any parts of the world or the U.S. where the company is looking more aggressively?

CK: It's really all over. There's no one particular area. The Americas has come back pretty strong. While, the market slowed down less in Asia than anywhere else. We're trying to hire wherever our clients need us.

KS: Your financial statements mentioned a push to win more government and health-care business; are you hiring accordingly?

CK: I would say so. Obviously, with government and health-care clients we would hope the need for our services is less cyclical.

KS: Does the company use third-party recruiters or is most of its searching done in-house?

CK: We have 30-plus people in the staffing group here in Dallas and they handle the substantial part of our staffing neeeds.

KS: Did the crisis change the way you search?

CK:Not really in terms of how we looked for them. Through the downturn there were obviously more good people out looking for the next step in their career and our applications went up dramatically.

KS: So would you say it's a buyer's market?

CK: It kind of depends on what part of the business you're talking about. I think there are many more people out there that need to find their next job. But for high-powered talent, competition has always been tough and remains tough now.

KS: Are there any areas that the company is backing away from or shrinking?

CK: I think everything's coming back. I don't know of any particular business line that we're making cuts in.

KS: What's the best way for someone to get on your radar?

CK: For a job opportunity, we have an online application process. Depending on where you are and what line of business you may be interested in, a particular recruiter is assigned to your application and they go through a pretty typical hiring process.

In terms of networking, our people are very active in their respective markets with real estate groups and local trade organizations. And those are great forums to make connections in.

KS: What's the balance between hiring a great candidate and relocating them or searching for a great candidate where you need them?

CK: We're very open to relocating people. Obviously, we play the odds and if we have an open position, especially one that may require knowledge of the local market, we'll look for jobs in that market. But for other jobs, especially the (outsourced services), where you have a corporate account, we'll look for talent across a wide range.

KS: Would you say your recent hiring is in anticipation of a strengthening market or to meet current business demands?

CK: It's all tied to existing demand. We were pretty disciplined about managing our cost structure through the downturn and we're going to bring costs back whenever those costs are necessary to service clients.

KS: There are a lot of the folks in the business now that have tarnished names on their resumes, how do you view those?

CK: Well, take for example Arthur Anderson. That place was full of extremely talented people. We wouldn't hesitate to bring in someone from a place like that if the opportunity was right. Obviously, we would satisfy that they are competent and fit with our value system here.

KS: Is it fair to say that due diligence is a more involved process now?

CK: I wouldn't say it's more involved. We've always had a very thorough reference-checking and background checking policy.

KS: What specifically do you like to see in a resume?

CK: Obviously, you like to see something that shows they've got a technical competence for what they're applying for. Beyond that, to succeed at this company you've got to really work hard, put your clients first and conduct yourself in accordance with our values.

KS: How long is the interview process for, say, a mid-level position?

CK: It will vary pretty dramatically in terms of what job you're applying for and what market you're applying for. We give our managers a lot of leeway in terms of the hiring process. Some managers would love to see three resumes, talk to all three and pick their person. Others have an immensely more thorough process.

Generally, I'd say they should expect to go through a relatively painless screening process and then another two or so rounds.

KS: You mentioned about your growth from 2009 to 2010, do you have any hiring targets for 2011?

CK: Not really, we're going to add people as our clients demand it. We look for the outsourcing business and the leasing and sales business to continue to pick up. But in terms of targeted numbers, we're waiting until the demand is there and we'll add as we need it.

The real estate services industry has just come through a very tough time. We focused very hard to make sure that our infrastructure to support our clients remained very strong. And we did some very smart things, so we think this is a great place for people to come onboard and continue to build their careers.

Write to Kyle Stock

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