“When you spend your life looking for relationships, you value and cherish the good ones”
I am the director of Prime Careers, a recruitment company specializing in real estate recruitment.
I struggled with health issues towards the end of high school, and missed a lot of class time – to the point where it felt like I was so far behind, I’d never catch up. So I dropped out in the middle of year 11, something I’ve since regretted.
I tried doing a carpentry pre-apprenticeship, but it didn’t work for me due to a bad back I had as a result of playing state cricket when I was younger.
So I started working at a gym doing membership sales which to date is the hardest job I’ve ever had. It’s such a shallow and cut throat industry, they don’t care if people stay on and use the gym, if they lose weight – as long as they keep paying. It didn’t sit well with me as I felt like I was almost tricking people into wasting money.
Next I tried telecommunications and worked for Vodafone at their retail store. Almost a decade later, I’m still friends with the people I worked with there. I liked it, and even though I was only part time, I ended up being a really high performer in Victoria.
After a couple of years, I needed a bigger challenge, so I got into automotive sales.
I started with a local dealership in Hoppers Crossing for a couple of years, and then moved to Subaru Interactive in Dockland for another couple.
I found I really enjoyed the industry. I had great teams in both companies, made friends and enjoyed the challenges of the job. It was a huge learning curve in sales: dealing with people and learning to deal with rejection.
Actually, to be honest, dealing with rejection hasn’t gotten easier.
In fact, the better I get at my job, the harder it is for me to take rejection, as I feel I shouldn’t be getting rejected in the first place! It’s not that I’m arrogant; more knowing within myself that I can do a fantastic job for a client, provide better service than most, so why wouldn’t they want to deal with me?
I never saw car sales as a lifelong occupation, but in my early twenties it was great.I was driving nice cars, and compared to my mates who where were either studying or doing apprenticeships, I was making a lot of money.
The first time I tried to move away from the automotive, I decided to try a new challenge in real estate. I lasted just over a year.
I started in a very dodgy agency that embodied all that was wrong with the real estate industry. I moved on from there very quickly. The next agency was better, but in hindsight not ideal either. I did OK, survived, but wasn’t exceptionally successful.
I think the reasons for that were partially that I was still too young for it, didn’t have the right drive and passion, and partially the lack of training and support from the agency, which mostly just left me to my own devices.
This was an early lesson for me in terms of understanding the differences between good and bad agencies, and how the training and support structures they provide can drive their staff’s success.
After deciding real estate wasn’t for me, I went back to what I knew in automotive.
After a short stint in an auto marketing company, I got a job at Melbourne City Lexus, which to this day is one of my favourite places I’ve ever worked at. It was just a fantastic team, I am still close friends with some of them.
The company provided great support, and I enjoyed selling a product I really believed in. I loved everything about it, was passionate about the brand, which I think is key in any sales career – being passionate about what you’re selling.
For a lot of people, auto sales is an industry that you fall into. It’s unfortunate that there is still the ‘sleazy car-salesman’ stigma attached to it.
The fact is, I really enjoyed helping people find the right car for them, I worked hard to get them the best deal possible or resolve any post-sale issues. Which is just as well, as in today’s marketplace, you can’t achieve real success without integrity, without being passionate about people or your brand.
There is no longer room for the dodgy ten cent car-yard warranty: people have too many options to shop around, to put reviews online.
And those factors have been huge drivers for change in the auto industry – the same as other traditionally distrusted industries, like real estate and recruitment.
I decided to leave Lexus because, even though I enjoyed it, I felt my career growth and earning potential were capped there and there was no more room to grow.
I cast my net wide and applied for a whole heap of jobs, just to see what I could get. I was prepared to take an initial step back in earnings, as long as there were going to be opportunities to develop down the track.
After a few interviews, I got a job with a boutique recruitment company specializing in the real estate industry.
It was pretty funny actually, because my dad used to run a recruitment company when I was younger, and wanted me to do it, but I kept telling him I wasn’t interested!
In my first year, I learnt how the recruitment process works, the quirks of the industry. I found recruitment really different to what I’ve done in the past. It was almost like telemarketing, so much time on the phone.
I was supposed to work alongside senior recruiters, follow them around to learn the ropes. But in reality, I was left pretty much to my own devices. They gave me an old inactive client list and said ‘Here’s your patch, go nuts’.
It was basically just a list of real estate agencies in my area. So I started out just cold calling them to see if they wanted to hire someone.
To start with, I was also given some roles to work on with senior reps, so I was advertising for candidates, interviewing.
Once you start, the process is like a loop, a bit of the-chicken-or-the-egg situation: you get roles and you source candidates, you get candidates and you source roles.
So I will advertise a role and get applications. I assess the candidates’ skills and personality through their CV, phone manner, interview. If they fit, I introduce them to a client.
Or I might feel this role is not right for them, but they’d be perfect for another company. So I call that company and say ‘I have this person, they’d be a perfect fit for you – are you interested?’ So now I’m marketing the person.
Over the year, I developed my own recruitment style, found my niche in the industry.
It wasn’t easy, but eventually I hit my stride and developed a good reputation. However, as I learnt more, I started seeing all these areas for improvement in how the business was run, how our service could be better.
At the same time, things weren’t going well in my personal life. I was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder, though later we found out it was a mixture of depression and anxiety. This combination of factors led to me leaving and deciding to branch out on my own.
Initially, I looked for another role, chatted with a few competitors. But the idea to start my own agency was already at the back of my mind, and I just wasn’t feeling excited about the agencies I spoke with.
Plus, my dad was in my ear, saying ‘Mate, you need to start your own business, you’ve got what it takes.’
I had a big overseas trip planned, and decided to leave the final decision until after my return. But in the weeks before leaving, I did take a few tentative steps: I registered the company name, did some branding – more a backup plan at the stage, but it allowed me to take a couple of freelance assignments through personal contacts and make a few placements before I left.
After I had the time to think and recharge, I came back and launched the business proper.
I realized that I expect to provide my clients with a level of service that matches my own high standards.
If I am not able to provide it, that affects my anxiety. So having control over how my business operates helps me keep it in check.
As a sole operator, I no longer have that pressure to bring in thirty grand a month, which is a huge sum of money. I just need enough for me to make a living and can focus on building a business I’m proud of.
I started small, with a few personal contacts. As I had a restraint of trade, I couldn’t contact my old clients. But some called me themselves, some saw me active in the market place and reached out.
From the start, I decided to keep my client list small and exclusive, to allow me to follow my principles and allocate everyone enough attention. It also allows me to be a little picky and choose agencies I think are industry leaders, that I’d work for myself.
Ethics are really important to me, both in my own business and in my clients’ operations.
In today’s transparent world, reputation is key, and you can only maintain that by being passionate and ethical. You must have people’s best interests at heart.
The recruitment process is essentially the same, except I have more time to spend both with clients and candidates, get to know them and understand their needs. This allows me to match people better to roles, ensure the stay with the company long term, as opposed to this typical recruitment mentality of ‘flick and stick’ – basically just flicking a candidate’s CV into as many directions as possible and hoping it’ll stick somewhere!
I don’t use formal interview questions. Seriously, it makes me shudder when recruiters ask things like ‘What’s your greatest weakness?’.
Here I am trying to get to know a person, but if I’m asking them canned questions, I will be getting rehearsed answers. If I just sit there and have a normal conversation with you for 45 minutes, the good and the bad stuff will come out naturally.
There’s no real schedule to my days. Being a small business, I am very reactive. For example, yesterday I got a message from a client looking for a PM on a short notice. I spent the day searching for candidates – who have I spoken with recently, who do I know of that’s looking, who have I seen who might fit? I went through my contacts, my social media. Within 4-5 hours, I had a candidate for them to meet.
Generally, I’m working on maybe 10-15 roles at a time, but some of them might be passive as opposed to active, meaning it’s less urgent and more a case of ‘if the stars align…’
I deal with most real estate jobs, administration, property managers. I have found the PM roles to be predominant lately, I think driven by the increased development of high density living, which creates the demand for them.
For now, it’s just me, but my dad helps out sometimes, if I’m away. When he does, he is under strict instructions from me on what to do, which is pretty funny I guess, given the history. But he is just happy to be a part of what I’m doing and to see me succeed.
He is a big encouragement, actually. We were discussing my first year and he said to me, ‘Mate, companies don’t make profits for the first 2-3 years, and here you are with a profit, that’s huge! – doesn’t matter that it’s not a huge profit, that’s huge anyway.’ S
o having him there is good because he reminds me that I’m too hard on myself at times.
I love what I do and I’m passionate about it. The clients I build strong relationships with become friends, and as they give me that return business I feel even more enthusiastic about providing them with my best service; it becomes a case of not letting your friends down.
I’ve met and made friends with some amazing people. When you spend your life looking for relationships, you value and cherish the good ones.
On the flipside, recruitment can be a pretty thankless job. Outside of my core clients, who are loyal and supportive, many people don’t care who they go with. They will choose price over quality, which leads to poorer service and hurts the industry as a whole.
It’s disappointing sometimes when clients don’t appreciate the work that goes into finding them the perfect candidate, who feel recruiters are a ‘necessary evil’. I wish there was more respect for the industry, but like anything, it’s a slow process.
I want my company to grow organically, evolve with my clients. I’m not opposed to taking it outside the real estate game, there are other industries I’m interested in.
I know I don’t have much patience, which can cause angst in my life, however one of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt is to take a breath sometimes. When faced with problems, it’s not necessary to solve them immediately. Pause, let the dust settle and solve the problem with a clear head.
I’ve done a lot of soul searching in my time, dwelled on mistakes or mishandled situations. But I have no real regrets, I see it all as a learning curve, with plenty more to learn.