The key to succeeding in real estate is studying, networking and gaining experience, a panel of real estate professionals and alumni told students on Sept. 29.

“Real estate shapes where we live, where we work and where we play,” Prof. Linda Stoller (BUS) told the audience, citing the International Business School’s real estate specialty and emphasizing how the real estate industry relates heavily to the other business professions.

“I fell into real estate by chance,” said Samantha Gajewski B.A. ’12, M.A. ’13. Gajewski, a project manager at National Development, explained that her interest in the industry came from learning about it in class while studying as an undergrad at the University.

Fellow panelist Ali Mehdian M.A. ’07, vice president at AEW Capital Management, told students that it took him two years as an undergraduate before he took a real estate financial course and realized he was captivated by the hard asset business. In 2007, he took a position at AEW but “after two weeks of starting, the market collapsed. I worked on broken deals for two years,” he said. “I was fortunate to actually keep my job and stay employed.”

As for breaking into real estate, “even if you think you don’t have an interest in something, it’s good to take courses,” John Hancock Director of Portfolio Management Quazi Sadruzzaman M.S. ’08 advised students. “Network, network, network,” he added.

“[I was] trying to get in there while everyone was running to the door,” Sandruzzaman joked, explaining that he entered the industry in 2008 at the height of the financial crisis. However, he was able to score a meeting with a businessman raising an opportunity fund, which resulted in steady employment for another four years.

“Network and go to events,” Walker & Dunlop Assistant Vice President Tasneem Shakir ’10 said. “People love to hear from students, and alumni love to help students,” she added. “Dig into whatever you have that you are working on [and] … make yourself valuable.”

Students interested in breaking into the industry should take real estate courses “that provide a strong academic foundation both in quantitative and qualitative analysis … [and] develop outstanding oral and written communication skills,” Stoller told students.

Students can also network by leaning on family members in the industry, building relationships with faculty and school clubs and networking through industry organizations, she added, citing national groups that help young professionals get connected.

“Brandeis has a number of alumni who are prominent professionals in the real estate industry and they are generous in sharing their time and expertise with current students,” she wrote in a follow-up email to the Justice.

Real Estate Club Co-President Adam Elkaim ’18 added that the purpose of the panel was to demonstrate to interested students the link between real estate and other business subcategories. “Real estate encapsulates so many aspects of the business world, like finance, marketing, sales, and operations,” he wrote in an email to the Justice.