Attracting Talent from University Sales Programs to Grow Your Real Estate Agency

June 1, 2014

Andrea L. Dixon, PhD, Raj Agnihotri, PhD, Leff Bonney, PhD, Robert Erffmeyer, PhD, Ellen Bolman Pullins, PhD, Jane Z. Sojka, PhD and Vicki West, MBA

Stock photo of business men and women posing for a group photo

When looking to add new agents to your agency, finding individuals who can add value immediately is important. Additionally, finding the right person who will fit your job and your agency will increase the probability of positive impact for your agency’s short- and long-term objectives.

The investment in hiring a new sales person can be daunting. Some research suggests that making the wrong sales hire can cost $150,000-$300,000. Making new sales hires directly from university sales programs changes the investment story. Such new hires reach financial breakeven points thirty percent faster and remain with their firms forty percent longer than untrained sales professionals (Fogel et al. 2012).

So how does a real estate agency interact with this qualified student population? How do you draw their attention to your available positions? How can your agency attract such individuals to your sales positions? And how can recruiting managers ensure the best job-person fit? Capitalizing on this attractive talent pool requires intentional activity from promoting awareness of positions through branding and recruiting efforts to engaging with university faculty. To gain a real foothold in this market, your organization will want to leverage students’ networks and use their preferred methods for contacting the students.

In this article, we share highlights from our recently published article, “Developing a Stakeholder Approach for Recruiting Top-Level Sales Students,” which was published in the April issue of the Journal of Marketing Education. Our research team comprises academic leaders from seven top university sales programs. We are delighted to share this information with the Keller Center Research Report audience.


Create Awareness for Your Opportunity among the Sales Student Population

To promote student awareness of specific opportunities within your real estate agency, you should focus your branding and marketing messages on the intangible benefits of your open positions, the level selectivity represented in your hiring practices, and the ethical standards and culture of the agency.

Several studies that our research team has conducted show that four of the top five job characteristics desired by sales students from these top university programs were the “intangibles.” Such sales students expect that you will offer an opportunity that provides for a competitive compensation package. Therefore, these students begin to weigh the intangibles associated with various positions against one another. Amidst advancement opportunity, company financial stability, job security and fit with personal goals, compensation ranked third in terms of importance and was the only tangible benefit in the top five desired features and even still, was not number one. Leverage intentional messaging which emphasizes the advancement opportunity, stability of your agency or larger organization, and how your opportunity can fit with personal goals will create a lasting impression that resonates with these new sales professionals and increases awareness of your opportunity.

Our research suggests that communicating specific activities experienced in a position strengthens awareness and recall of employer/recruiter messages more than communicating general company information or tangible benefits offered. Knowing that select sales candidates are sought for specific positions increases student awareness and recall of positions available.

A lingering stereotype of sales as a profession fraught with unethical practices is counterproductive to the recruitment of talented individuals for sales-related positions. Emphasizing social responsibility and ethical business practices will help build memorable and desirable employment brands among sales student populations.

To increase awareness of agency-specific positions, real estate professionals should include frontline employee experiences in development of brand messages and include peer-group experiences in the hiring process. Front-line or entry level agents will be best at communicating opportunity information in ways that are easily understandable and credible to student candidates. Firms who send only “older” representatives may miss opportunity when attempting to build such connections. Additionally, using group interviews or introducing candidates to peers already employed within the organization will significantly impact awareness of the opportunities available to students.

Higher student awareness of opportunities will be achieved if positions are publicized through the specific sales program or business school. A 2005 study found that frequency of interactions between faculty and company representatives had a significant correlation with job awareness among students (Chapman et al, 2005). Creating meaningful interactions with faculty will prompt faculty to publicize your opportunities. The key is to consider how to make such interactions meaningful for the faculty member.

Merely sponsoring an activity based on the campus or at your firm is insufficient to rise to the requisite level of interactions to compel this desired faculty response. Offering to speak in faculty members’ classes does not meet the standard of “meaningful.” (One of the most common phrases that a faculty member hears from someone in industry is, “I’d love to speak in your class and share my experiences with your students.”)

Instead of seeking to be interesting to the faculty member, engage the faculty member with a real interest in his/her work, classes, etc. Like any good sales call, do your homework, learn about the faculty member’s research initiatives, see what classes might be listed by his/her name. Then, ask the professor, “what resources might be most helpful to you with respect to your research in XYZ area?” We teach our students to focus on being interested in others rather than attempting to be interesting where you draw all of the focus to yourself.

Recruit Sales Students in a Productive Manner


Recognize the Faculty Relationship

Active recruitment of individual students well matched to your agency positions relies heavily on the relationship students and recruiters have with university faculty. Sales faculty are perfectly positioned to bridge the relationship between recruiters and students. Faculty monitor the interactions between students and recruiters and encourage the right engagements while adjusting for information gleaned through various channels.

Nurturing relationships with university faculty promotes student awareness of available positions and student attraction to those positions. When faculty have a deep understanding of recruiter/manager’s open positions, beyond merely that such positions exist, there will be an increase person-job fit for sales students and graduates.

For example, if you have updated your entry-level sales position’s job description or changed the way your sales team works together, use such updates as an opportunity to engage your target faculty “just to keep them abreast.” Such updates will be short calls requiring no action on the part of faculty, which are perfect encounters for relationship-building.

Stock Photo of a business meeting

Agency leaders may want to consider sponsoring sales programs activities and then working closely with sales faculty during the program development and execution. Engaging faculty through their events gives agency leaders the opportunity to understand the sales program while also engaging directly with students. Driving awareness and top-talent interview opportunities requires publicized company involvement with the student population.

Working with university sales faculty to recruit sales students for internships will increase faculty understanding of your position’s benefits and requirements. Additionally, faculty can be instrumental in developing the internship programs by ensuring that the features of the internship align with student expectations given their sales program education. So, if you do not have a formal internship program, ask faculty from one of your target universities to provide advice for structuring your internship program. Engaging the faculty for develop creates early relationship-building opportunities for you. Finally, faculty are positioned to receive honest feedback from students regarding internship experiences, which can be relayed to recruiters in order to improve internship programs. Be sure to ask faculty for feedback about your internship program.

Contact and Connect with Students According to THEIR Preferences

How you contact and connect with students matters and directly impacts the efficacy of your recruitment results. Refining and aligning these strategies will lead to increased recruitment via increased position attractiveness to students and higher rates of job-person fit for recruits.

Students are influenced by many sources when it comes to their career-path decisions. These sources include family, friends, sales professors, family friends, alumni, and mentors. Real estate leaders can tap connections into these key influencers and leverage those connections to attract strong candidates for agency positions. Communication via networks of alumni-employees, faculty and staff, and parents, mentors, and friends results in higher attractiveness rates among sales students.

As mentioned earlier, internships nurture the recruiter-faculty relationship thus increasing strong student candidates and faculty endorsements. Internships also deepen the connections between strong student candidates and the leaders of the real estate agency. Students rate companies as more attractive who offer internship positions than companies that do not. Internships allow students to see the daily demands of the position first hand. Internships also allow for deeper connections between professionals from the agency and students long before full-time positions are considered. Additionally, interns become a credible source of company and position information to their peers at the university.

Not surprisingly, students are attracted to sales positions with companies that demonstrate a genuine interest in the students and which display a professional and positive attitude. A recruiter, for example, may be the first impression a student has of an agency and thereby serves as a positioning “vehicle” beyond initial brand awareness. It is essential that an agency’s recruiter creates a positive first impression. Additionally, recruiters demonstrating a genuine personal interest in individual students will motivate such students to keep the real estate agency in consideration for the student’s post-graduation job. Additionally, maintaining professionalism throughout the recruitment process is important. Based on the experiences across these seven universities, we find that recruiters can take on too casual of a demeanor in an attempt to relate to young candidates, which in turn creates more of a void than a connection as students perceive the agency as lacking in professionalism.

Students rate sales positions with companies as more attractiveness when those companies use in-person communication during the sales-student recruitment process. Interestingly, students prefer personal communication over less personal forms such as phone or Internet (Dixon & Adamson, 2012). Additionally, Robinson and Stubberud (2012) found that social communication forms used by university students were not the preferred methods for school and work activities. Face-to-face was most preferred for both work and school. Increasing the use of in person and personal email communication will increase the agency and positions’ appeal to student candidates.


Real estate agency leaders may find attracting talent from university sales programs to be a viable strategy for growing the real estate agency. To recruit talented, impactful candidates from the pool of individuals graduating from university sales programs, the agency leader needs carefully formulated connection and contact strategies and intentional branding. Such activities enable managers to increase awareness of agency positions among these high-potential sales students, increase the attraction of such students to your agency’s opportunity, and improve the selection of a candidate who truly fits your position and your organization. Hiring talented candidates with a strong understanding of the sales process will ensure that growth is in your agency’s future.

For more information on university sales programs, please visit

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Recommended Reading

Agnihotri, R., L. Bonney, A. Dixon, R. Erffmeyer, E. Bolman-Pullins, J. Sojka, and V. West (2014), “Developing a Stakeholder Approach for Recruiting Top'?'level Sales Students,” Journal of Marketing Education, (April), 75-86.

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Chapman, D.S., K.L. Uggerslev, S.A. Carroll, K.A. Piasentin, and D.A. Jones (2005), “Applicant Attraction to Organizations and Job Choice: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Correlates of Recruiting Outcomes,” Journal of Applied Psychology, 90, 928-44.

Dixon, A.L. and A. Adamson (2012, December 4), Reaching the Next-Generation of Sales Professionals [Webinar].

Fogel, S., D. Hoffmeister, R. Rocco, and D.P. Strunk (2012), “Teaching Sales,” Harvard Business Review, 90, 94-99.

Robinson, S. and H.A. Stuberud (2012), “Communication Preferences among University Students,” Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, 16, 105-13. 

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About the Authors

Andrea L. Dixon, PhD
Frank M. And Floy Smith Holloway Professorship in Marketing, Baylor University

Dr. Andrea Dixon (PhD - Indiana University) has an industrial background in research, planning, and advertising, her research interests embrace behavioral issues related to sales, service, and client satisfaction. Andrea has published in the Journal of Marketing, Harvard Business Review, Organizational Science, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Leadership Quarterly, the Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, the Journal of Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior, and several other journals. In 2002, Dixon's research published in the Journal of Marketing was selected as the award-winning research in the sales area. Prior to joining Baylor, Dixon was the Executive Director of the MS-Marketing Program and the Ronald J. Dornoff Teaching Fellow at the University of Cincinnati. She has co-authored the book, Strategic Sales Leadership: BREAKthrough Thinking for BREAKthrough Results, and multiple industry-wide research texts. Dixon serves on three editorial review boards and co-chaired the American Marketing Association's 2007 Winter Educator Conference. While serving as a faculty member at the University of Cincinnati (U.C.) and Indiana University-Bloomington (I.U.), Dr. Dixon taught an array of graduate and undergraduate courses. One of U.C.'s MBA EXCEL Teaching Award winners, Dixon was selected for a national teaching award by Irwin Publishing, as a distinguished professor by Indiana University MBA students, and for a university-wide award by her academic colleagues at I.U. In 2008, she was named the Academy of Marketing Science's Marketing Teacher Award winner. Prior to teaching at U.C., Andrea worked closely with GAMA International as the Senior Director of Product Development and Marketing.

Raj Agnihotri, PhD
Robert H. Freeman Professor of Sales Leadership and Chair of the Marketing Department, Ohio University

Dr. Raj Agnihotri’s research and teaching interests involve professional selling and sales management areas. A recipient of Comer Award for best contribution to selling and sales management theory from Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, Raj has published extensively in leading scholarly journals such as Journal of Service Research, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Industrial Marketing Management, Journal of Business Research, and Journal of Business Ethics, etc. He has also co-authored a book on sales force automation. Raj has received Excellence in Teaching Award from Marketing Management Association and Golden ‘M’ Teaching Award in marketing from Kent State University. Before entering academia, Raj held a number of sales and marketing positions with start-up ventures to major corporations.

Leff Bonney, PhD
Assistant Professor of Marketing, Florida State University

Before returning to academics, Leff spent nearly 10 years in sales and sales management for two different Fortune 500 companies. Upon graduating from the University of Tennessee with a Bachelor’s in Marketing and Logistics, Leff went to work for Wallace Integrated Graphics, one of the nation’s largest industrial printing companies. In 2001 Leff went to work for Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company as a sales and market research manager. In 2003 he enrolled at the University of Georgia where he earned his MBA in Marketing and went on to earn a PhD in Marketing and Organizational Communications from the University of Tennessee in 2008. Leff is now a professor of sales and marketing at Florida State University and is founder and co-director of the Sales Educators’ Academy.

Robert Erffmeyer, PhD
Director, UW-EC & UW Consortium MBA Programs, University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire

Robert Erffmeyer (PhD Louisiana State University) is a Professor of Marketing at the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire. Bob also serves as the Director of the University of Wisconsin Consortium MBA Program and the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire MBA Program. He was awarded the University of Wisconsin Consortium Outstanding Teaching Award for his graduate teaching. His research interests include sales training, sales management and distance learning. His research has appeared in publications such as, the Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, the Journal of Marketing Education, Marketing Education Review, the Journal of Business Ethics, the Journal of International Marketing, the Journal of Business Research, and others. He is a member of the author team of Sales Management: Shaping Future Sales Leaders, 2nd ed. He has served as the president of the Society for Marketing Advances and Marketing Management Association, where he is also a Fellow.

Ellen Bolman Pullins, PhD
Director and Schmidt Research Professor of Sales & Sales Management, Professor of Marketing & Sales, Edward H. Schmidt School of Professional Sales, University of Toledo

Dr. Pullins is the Schmidt Research Professor of Sales & Sales Management. She received her Ph.D. in Marketing from the Ohio State University (1996). Dr. Pullins teaches and researches in sales and related areas. Her research has appeared in Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Academy of Marketing Science, Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, Industrial Marketing Management, etc. She has won the DeJute Teaching Award, COBA Research Award and Brunner Service Award at UT.

Jane Z. Sojka, PhD
Associate Professor-Educator Marketing, Executive Director-Center for Professional Sales, University of Cincinnati

Dr. Jane Sojka (PhD Washington State University) has taught a variety of marketing courses at both undergraduate and graduate levels including professional selling, consumer behavior, marketing principles and marketing strategy. She is the recipient of multiple teaching awards and most recently was awarded the Grilliot Service Award for her efforts with University of Cincinnati’s Center for Professional Selling. Her research interests include sales relationships and consumer decision-making. Her research has appeared in Marketing Letters, Marketing Education Review, and Advances in Consumer Research. Her work on emotional intelligence in sales won the best paper award at the National Conference on Sales Management.

Vicki West, MBA
Director, Center for Professional Sales & Sam Walton Fellow in Free Enterprise, Texas State University

Since 1989, Vicki West has been a faculty member in the Department of Marketing (McCoy College of Business) at Texas State University (TSU). In 1994, Ms. West was named "Best Professor" in the College of Business. In 1999, she won the National Freedom Foundations Award for Excellence in Free Enterprise Education and the prestigious "Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching" at TSU. In 2006, the TSU Alumni Association honored her with the Professor of the Year award for her body of work in both professional selling and free enterprise. In 2010, West was nominated for Sales Professor of the Year at the national level by the American Marketing Association – Sales Interest Group division. In 2002, the SIFE organization honored West with the Jack Kahl Award as the Sam Walton Free Enterprise Fellow of the Year in recognition for her work with the organization. She also received the "Golden Eagle" award for her work in Central America. In 2004, Ms. West was inducted into the SIFE Hall of Fame. In addition to her teaching, West has written numerous articles related to professional selling and free enterprise, and she regularly contributes to the sales textbook, Selling: Building Partnerships by Castleberry and Tanner. Prior to joining Texas State University, Ms. West was the Administrator of Coliseum Associates, a joint venture company between Hospital Corporation of American (HCA) and 120 physicians. She also serves as a speaker/consultant to numerous financial institutions, The University of Texas, IBM, Texas Women's Chamber of Commerce Annual Conference, Executive Women in Texas Government and other business and non-profit organizations in several states. In addition to her professional activities, West served as President of the Board of Directors of one of the largest regional museums in Georgia. She was also voted "Women in Business Advocate of the Year" by the Small Business Administration for the Austin, San Antonio, and Rio Grande Valley for her work with women in business. Vicki West holds a BBA-Marketing and an MBA from Georgia College and State University.