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On the Intern Grind

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I’m a business student having a minor panic about what comes next. I have a bunch of friends who plan on working in banking, and I want to go in to real estate development. I think development is cool because, at the end of the day, I will have actually helped build something. Working with carpenters, bulldozer-drivers, and electricians is a lot cooler than sitting in a cubicle. However, my friends are all scrambling for internships at prestigious banks, and I feel a little behind. In the field that I want to go into, I don’t know if I’ll need an internship. Should I be looking for an internship? Where should I be looking? Or should I just be going for my broker’s license as soon as I graduate?

Real estate is, by some estimates, the largest industries in the United States of America. Blue Water Credit estimates that real estate makes up 13 percent of the nation’s GDP, more than retail, manufacturing, or health care. As the adage goes, they’re not making any more land, so real estate seems like the ultimate growth industry. Lots of people are interested in working in real estate, whether out of passion or the chance to make a fortune.

We think that taking an internship is a very good idea if you are interested in working in a field. As we will get to, an internship can give you experience that can help you grow by leaps and bounds. While they certainly aren’t necessary, they can help you hit the ground running once you grab your diploma. The only question is what type of internship you want. It can be useful to become a broker, but we believe there are many paths to the same goal. We have listed a few types below, and a few good places to start looking.

Internships are a chance to apply the knowledge you gain in the classroom to real-world situations, under the supervision of somebody who is practiced in that field. Recently, students have taken an interest interning for real estate brokers. Students find these internships especially practical: You can’t sell a house in the classroom. According to Market Leader, brokerage interns do market analysis, attend appraisals, work on and update the customer relations manager (CRM), and prepare marketing copy, among other responsibilities.

All of these skills are valuable resume-fodder, and you can learn the lingo and realities of the business by working as an intern. Of course, many companies exist in the world of real estate. As this article from the New York Times discusses, unpaid real estate broker internships can be a little repetitive, and you miss out on those eye-popping commissions, but students often feel that these are a useful stepping-stone.

You should consider work in commercial real estate development. Commercial real estate is often more complicated than residential real estate, because of the size and value of the properties. If you look at Resort Broker’s page of motels and hotels for sale, these can include luxury properties that sell for many millions of dollars. Commercial real estate development requires a strong understanding of finance and architecture, as well as project management and even law.

Why is this? The sale of a property, as visible as it may be, is only the final step to a long process that includes design, financing, rezoning, permitting, construction, and finally leasing or sales. Crowdstreet, an investment website, has an analysis that shows the risk of real-estate investing at each step of the process. If you’re more interested in this kind of financial maneuvering, you should look into real estate finance careers. These can be highly lucrative, but you will miss out on the bulldozers and electricians that you mentioned in your question. If you want to go into the construction side, it might not be a bad idea to intern at an architecture or project management firm. But overall, we say: Don’t sweat it. Life is long, there is lots to experience, and you likely have many opportunities for discovery that you never knew existed.

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