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How CRE Recruiter Mickey Penzer Weaves Her Networking Web, Pandemic Or Not

Mickey Penzer with her papillon, Genghis Cohen

If you’ve ever been to a commercial real estate event in New York, there’s a good chance you’ve already met Mickey Penzer. 

CRE’s self-described “networking queen,” Penzer estimates she met over 400 people in the industry last year alone, by attending networking events in the city, schmoozing at conferences around the country, meeting colleagues and friends of friends from business and law school and leveraging a long history working for her family office and its charitable giving arm.

Now, as a CRE recruiter at The Bachrach Group, Penzer is facing the reality of a year without conventions and events. Bisnow chatted with her to hear about the state of the job market and what she thinks many real estate professionals get wrong about recruiting and networking. 

Bisnow: How did you get your start in CRE recruiting?

Penzer: I’ve been in the real estate industry my whole life. My dad was a developer, and I started working for my family’s office as a kid, helping to check on our buildings and even going along with my dad on business trips. After I made my way through business school at NYU and law school at Fordham, I started working full time for LIFE, a nonprofit in New York, all while I was still heavily involved in my family’s work, managing investments, doing some direct deals and taking a large hand in our foundation arm, making grants and allocating investments. 

About three years ago, I came to a crossroads with my work for the nonprofit. I was actually at a Bisnow event when I met Chris Papa, who is now my boss, and he asked me how I knew so many of the people who were at the event. I explained how long I’d been around the business, and he convinced me to come aboard as a recruiter for The Bachrach Group on his team, which centers on real estate.

The biggest advantage that I have in the recruiting industry is that when I reach out to someone for an opportunity, it’s almost never my first time meeting them. I’ve met them at an event, or worked with them through organizations where I’ve held leadership positions. My education and family history gives me credibility with these professionals that many other recruiters don’t have. So as much as I’d say I’m lucky to be where I am today, luck is really where preparation meets opportunity, and being a CRE recruiter is what I’ve been preparing for my whole life.

AIPAC Real Estate Luncheon in November 2019 at Ballroom at Grand Hyatt Grand Central: Jimena President Benjamin Navi, Askneo CEO Lio Slama, Self Principal Broker Daniel Messing, Mickey Penzer, Cushman & Wakefield Senior Associate Joseph Simon, AvantStay's Jeremy Simon, Dansker Capital Group Commercial Mortgage Broker Andy Weiss, The Partnership Inc. Director of Accounting Doug Kohn, Artemis Ventures principal Ari Ovadia, JLL Capital Markets Director Harry Hochman

Bisnow: How has the world of recruiting changed in the last few months?

Penzer: Many companies, especially the ones that have dealt with COVID well, are starting to hire again in earnest. But you’re also seeing companies paying out huge bonuses to keep people from leaving their current roles, especially in the world of property management. Plus, with the virus, people feel more secure staying in their current position even if it’s not perfect than they do taking a chance. Hiring managers are definitely feeling the pinch, because it’s harder to actually get someone to leap to a new opportunity. The reason to hire a recruiter is to reach those top-tier candidates who are already happily employed and who aren't actively looking at job ads or searching for a new role. We've built up trust with them and can convince them to be open to an interview.

Locations outside of big cities have really started to heat up. We’re a national firm, and we’ve seen quite a few positions come up in satellite offices through suburbs, as well as places like the Southeast.

Bisnow: Do you find that people are more receptive to large-scale career changes than they were in the past?

Penzer: In this type of hiring environment, it has really helped me to have built up the relationships I have. This is the time that all the seeds I’ve planted over the years start bearing fruit. When a new position crops up, I can think of whom I have talked to in the past who might be perfect for the role. I help CRE professionals navigate career transitions and relocations, and I can point hiring managers toward candidates they never would have considered. 

Bisnow: What do you think CRE gets wrong about networking?

Penzer: People tend to think of networking too linearly. They’ll only talk to people if they think they can get something from them, and if not, they'll move on. It’s not about getting from Point A to Point B. I think of it more like crafting a spiderweb. If you build the web carefully enough at the start and keep the strands strong, eventually, opportunities and people just get caught in it naturally.

Many people don't have the confidence to tell it like it is while they're networking. Last November, when I was at a meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, I met someone who ran a small investment shop in New England. He needed to bring on a head of leasing, and I told him what I thought was the best way to go about hiring. We disagreed on the compensation for the role, and he chose to pursue the hiring process on his own, but we stayed in touch.

A few months ago, he reached out and told me that the person he hired for the first job hadn’t worked out, for the same reasons I identified on our first call. He said he appreciated that I had given it to him straight in our first conversation rather than leading him on. We began talking in earnest, and now we’ve placed two roles for him and are working on a third.

Mickey Penzer leading a tennis ladder at the New York Athletic Club.

Bisnow: So much of what you do is based on face-to-face connection. How has it been adapting to a world without live events?

Penzer: Back in March and April, everyone seemed to just want to take a break, and so I did the same. I caught up with friends, attended and hosted a few webinars and virtual networking events. I mostly spent my energy deepening connections with people already in my sphere.

But now candidates and hiring managers alike are itching to make more connections. People are getting tired of stasis in their jobs and want to seek new opportunities. So I’m working on new ways to make those connections safely, which largely means outdoors. I started a real estate tennis ladder, because it’s a ton of fun and one of the most COVID-friendly activities there is. I’m helping a friend organize a socially distanced networking hike, and I’m putting together a paddle tennis tournament on Nov. 12.

You always need to give something before you can ask for something in return, so throwing these events is one of the best ways to do that.

Bisnow: How would typically start those relationships? What would you "give" people?

Penzer: People tend to overthink this step and get paralyzed. It doesn’t have to be anything big. It could be as little as holding a door for somebody, or letting them pet my dog, Genghis Cohen. I made one of my best connections just by giving a woman a piece of gum in the bathroom at a CRE event. There’s a question posed in the Talmud about whether it is better to give $1K one time, or give one dollar 1,000 times. The conclusion is that you should give the dollar 1,000 times because it nurtures your giving muscle and makes generosity part of your personality. Just do one more nice things for someone else every day, and you will see it start to grow exponentially.

The biggest thing though, is that generosity can’t be artificial. To do this job well, you genuinely have to have an interest in serving others and making their lives better.

Bisnow: How has your own career progression influenced the way you work on others’?

Penzer: There’s a Japanese concept called ikigai. It’s the intersection of doing what you love, what earns you a living, what you’re talented at and what the world needs. I truly feel that recruiting is my ikigai, and helping others find their ikigai is my mission. 

This feature was produced in collaboration between the Bisnow Branded Content Studio and Mickey Penzer of TBG Real Estate. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.