To be in the hunt

Human resources
With the slowdown in investment and a real estate market unsure of where it’s heading, the impact of this is also being felt by employment consultancies. Joanna Kozarzewska, a partner and head of real estate and construction of executive recruitment specialists Wyser, tells us how her company is responding to this situation as well as what you need to think about when considering transferring your skills elsewhere within the sector

Tomasz Cudowski, ‘Eurobuild CEE’: At the moment a certain hesitancy can be clearly felt across the real estate investment market. Is HR the same?

Joanna Kozarzewska, a partner and head of real estate and construction of executive recruitment specialists Wyser: Whatever is happening in each sector of the market can always be felt in HR. For the real estate market as a whole, the investment sector is always a driver of growth, so the reduced transaction volumes along with the limited changes in real estate portfolio ownership are not going to trigger any domino effect resulting in further changes in management, leasing, the FM sector or staff turnover. In the current uncertain situation for the market, it’s rarer for long-term business strategies to be formulated and, in turn, HR policies. It’s difficult enough to see what skills are going to be needed in a few months’ time let alone in a few years. In that sense, the market is now highly reactive, although the need to give the HR sector time to address recruiting needs has often been overlooked in the past. Despite all this, I have to admit that I haven’t seen any slump in the demand for employees over the last few months. I think that’s due to the natural ups and downs of the real estate market. When one sector slows down, another one picks up. What has become clear is that recruiting people requires more time. On the one hand, this is due to the need to find the right fit, but on the other, it’s also taking longer to make decisions because both parties are far more cautious about making that final handshake. Most of the activity in the employment market is still being generated at the specialist and mid-management level. This is unsurprising, because there are far fewer executive positions available and they are changing far less frequently. However, the fact that far more Polish people are taking positions responsible for entire regions, such as the CEE, the EMEA and the Baltic regions, is an interesting trend. This is a really positive sign because it strengthens the image of Poles as competent and trustworthy leaders who can successfully deal with challenges at the international level.

But are there some sectors of the market where there’s an obvious glut of applicants or far too few of them?

The HR sector has certainly been interesting over the last few years. The huge growth in e-commerce during the pandemic resulted in a mismatch in the demand and supply for warehouse workers. Actually, it was a great opportunity for people to move out of retail and offices. This trend has now slowed down, mainly due to the reduced investment and construction activity – and the recruiting frenzy has now moved on to the residential sector as well as the alternative asset sector.

But what’s happening at the corporate level with consultancies and agencies? Lately there have been some big transfers – and not just of single individuals.

I’m convinced that there is and always will be movement when it comes to agencies. This is not just due to the numbers employed but also due to the range of specialisations of these large companies. I believe that at times of market turbulence, consultancies make relatively secure employers, because the stability of their businesses depends on working with many different companies. For example, when working for a property owner who one day suddenly ceases being a leasing or investment manager, it can suddenly turn out that you’ve got nothing to do. It has to be understood that the largest share of a consultancy’s revenues come from transactions, leasing and capital markets, which are all high-margin. A reduction in transaction volumes can hurt the financial condition of such a company; but then again, fields such as property management and appraisals also provide steady revenues. I’m happy that these companies have also now recognised the potential of the residential sector, in the same way that the emergence of PRS projects caught the attention of experts in the commercial sector a few years back. Technical and energy consultancy as well as ESG have also been added to the range of services in recent years.

Has the investment sector’s growing interest in ESG created a lot of movement in the job market?

Definitely. ESG is now one of the main reasons for creating new positions. It’s interesting that environmental issues have been a factor in the Poland market for many years, as we can see with all the LEED and BREEAM certification, but it’s only the emergence of ESG as a unifying concept that has forced the real estate market to look at corporate management and social responsibility. Thanks to this a new situation has arisen that enables career growth and people to change their sector, due to the creation of new positions.

But where can ESG experts be found? Polish colleges still haven’t got around to educating people for this – or at least, not on a large scale.

Unfortunately, it is disappointing that the Polish education system has not been keeping up with the requirements of the job market, but the theory behind such fields as ESG is still at an early stage. Of course, we can mention such courses as Fundamentals for Business at the Warsaw School of Economics, but they’re just a drop in the ocean when it comes to what’s needed. As for the question of how ESG specialists can be found, I would say on-the-job training. It’s much easier to find someone who has one of the competencies required for ESG and help them acquire the others than it is to wait until fully-trained specialists appear on the market.

Does the slight slowdown we are currently seeing in the sector mean that it’s a good moment to change employers?

That depends on many different factors. For an employer, it seems best to recruit and build up a team during a downturn in the sector. That’s when you can, in theory, find good applicants willing to accept relatively low salaries while preparing for the market to bounce back. For the employee, the reverse is true, of course. The most favourable contracts for them are signed at the peak of a boom, when the demand for their skills is at its highest. Generally, I would advise that we carefully check up on what’s happening around us as well as how we personally feel. It’s definitely worthwhile being open to interviews and they’re never a waste of time. You absolutely should not wait until your frustration builds up with your current job, when switching on your computer every day becomes a chore. Such frustration is really difficult to conceal at a job interview. I often come across this kind of opportunistic mindset: “I have a good job, a nice salary and lots of challenges. Why should I talk to a headhunter?” I also sometimes hear: “What can your client offer me?” When it comes to your career development, you have to take a strategic approach – and multi-layered interpersonal relationships will always form a key part of any strategy.

Do companies in our sector generally have sensible HR policies?

HR strategy is a very complex concept. In the end it’s not just about recruitment but also about development plans, developing talent, succession planning and salaries. HR specialists in real estate are certainly faced with huge challenges at the moment when it comes to finding solutions that support a company’s business and organisational culture, as this is so difficult in a market undergoing such changes. Let me talk just about recruitment. In my company we always begin a project by formulating a strategy – not just to find the right candidates but also to provide the client with a profile on the job market. To put it simply, the strategy is to sell the client and the position to potential candidates. Even though real estate companies normally have superb strategies to build their profiles within the sector, when it comes to their image as employers… well, they vary greatly. However, the real estate sector is somewhat hermetic and information that might impress us – which in this case is important to us when we take the decision to apply for a job – we normally only get to hear for ourselves.

So, generally speaking, what’s the biggest attraction of a potential new job? Is it the money?

Personally, I’m always very careful when the main incentive is purely financial. I start thinking: is this the basic pay package or does it include a performance premium? This is, of course, one of the factors that has to be considered before accepting such a career change, but it’s also the most short-term of motivations. We quickly get used to driving a better car and taking more expensive holidays, but after a time what we found irksome in our previous company comes back to haunt us in the new one.

The pandemic was a very difficult time in this regard. Do you think that most people felt burnt out and were desperately looking for a change?

Yes, indeed. Psychologically, it was a difficult time for us all. Regardless of the job we had, it was a time for many of us to question our career path and look at our work from a different perspective. Some considered a complete turnaround in their careers and changing industries, going abroad or starting their own companies. (Some have even succeeded in this and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for them.) However, before you take such drastic steps, I would encourage you to consider the consequences. A complete change in the sector you work in will often lead to you taking up an inferior position, with reduced decision-making powers and a lower salary. Are you really ready for such an upheaval? And are you in a position to accept it? If you nonetheless decide to take such a step, it’s worth considering what skills you learnt in your previous job that would be useful in your new position and whether your business contacts would be of any use to you in your new life. It might not be worth turning around your career by 180˚, but it might be preferable to instead change its profile. Maybe it wasn’t the responsibilities that exhausted us but the environment we worked in? In such cases, consulting a reputable headhunter can be invaluable.

Do you think that expert positions are becoming more popular and management less attractive? At one time, some kind of managerial position had to be part of a career path.

Yes, expert positions are definitely more in vogue. I could cite the latest research on this that reveals that in the future the biggest gaps in the wider job market will be for managerial positions. In other words, for people who want to take responsibility for the work of others, for motivating them and ensuring that they stay motivated. Moreover, some people who previously worked as part of a team will be consciously avoiding this kind of responsibility when they take the decision to change jobs. Luckily, it is not always necessary to attain happiness and career fulfilment by climbing up the corporate ladder. The career path of an expert can be varied and sometimes highly engaging, full of challenges and rewarding. So again, I would implore each of you to engage in some self-reflection and to sound out the headhunters. Such brainstorming cannot hurt and might help you to avoid taking some emotional and rash decisions.

Mentoring programmes are becoming more popular. They can breathe new life into the teacher/pupil relationship, but I also have the impression that many people in some specialisations see them as an easier alternative to traditional training. Do you think that such schemes improve someone’s skills and their desirability in the job market?

As a consultant member of the Top Woman in Real Estate programme, I would very much encourage people to take part in such mentoring programmes. They provide an invaluable opportunity to gain knowledge and practical market experience – and not just at the beginning of a career. Mentoring, however, cannot replace education. Education will give you a solid theoretical basis, but mentoring will only help you to use this knowledge in practice.

How do you see the future of our sector’s job market? Where is it heading? For example, will AI replace some professions and specialisations?

I don’t think such a threat exists. The real estate market is very relationship-based and direct contacts are important, which you can see at trade events and business meetings. Despite all the technological tools available, whenever possible we prefer to talk face-to-face. AI and advanced technology are important to our sector, but I would stress that its function is to be of use to employees. Technological advances allow us to eliminate tedious and time-consuming work, but such tools cannot replace people in either real estate or HR.

And what do you predict for the future of the real estate market itself?

I’m viewing it with guarded optimism. I think that the turning point will come when investment vehicles become more active, although I’m not expecting any major leap forward. I avoid over-optimism as much as I do falling into a rut and doing nothing. I think our expectations in mid-2023 were not completely fulfilled and this should teach us not only to be more cautious but also more courageous and not to give up in the face of adversity.

I’d like as usual to finish on a more personal note. I often find it hard to find the right topic for this, but not today – as you came to this meeting with Pola. I hear she also responds to another name.

Yes, my dog does indeed react better to ‘yum yum’ than to her own name, but I won’t go into the mistakes made when training her. But seriously, Pola comes with me to meetings whenever possible and also to the office. Pets have an incredible emotional effect on people and the atmosphere at such meetings is fascinating. I’m a great advocate of allowing pets into the office as long as they are friendly and not a nuisance to others. Pets make us feel good emotionally – and this is especially important for a sector that is built on interpersonal relationships.

A most resourceful human

Joanna Kozarzewska is a partner and head of the real estate and construction department of recruitment company Wyser. She also sits as an expert on the real estate committee of the Polish Chamber of Commerce (KIG), is a member of the board of the Polish division of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), and is a long-standing lecturer at Koźmiński University in Warsaw.