The sunlit reception area of our Union Square headquarters, the starting point of many of our current staffers.

How to Recruit the Top .1% of Talent

As Compass has scaled from fewer than 30 staffers to more than 550 of the industry’s best, its Director of Recruiting shares the secret to our success.

Much like real estate, the recruiting industry has been around for a very long time. Companies need people to function; sourcing them is a fundamental necessity. That said, I didn’t know recruiting could be a job in and of itself until shortly after college, when I was recruited — by a recruiter, to be a recruiter. Also not unlike real estate, recruiting has undergone well-documented changes as new and exciting technologies have become available.

And yet to me, real estate and recruiting are still — and will always be — relationship-driven businesses.

In just less than four years, we’ve scaled Compass from one New York office to nearly 75 locations across the country, with more opening soon. To do this, you need an immensely talented recruiting team (which I’m very lucky to have), and an organization that understands its greatest asset is its people, one that’s committed to hiring thoughtfully even while scaling quickly. The following are some recruiting principles that have served us well as we’ve built Compass:

The Compass recruiting team shoots pool and compares notes between interviews.

Take a competitive approach

I like recruiting because it is for the most part very cut and dry; you know whether or not you are hitting your hiring goals. If you’re head to head for a candidate with another firm, it’s you versus them and you have to strive to land that tough to find talent.

When a candidate declines an offer or halts the interview process, a recruiter who lacks competitive spirit might just close the book, but at Compass that is when we dig in and explore creative ways to re-engage them. Remember, the best people will always have multiple options, so you must be willing to fight for them. We’ve had many instances of people who initially declined our offer, but ended up joining and being very happy and highly successful.

Anyone worth hiring is worth fighting for.

Another point to keep in mind: People are perceptive. If you aren’t passionate about what you’re selling, candidates will pick up on that, and it will negatively affect their view of the company or opportunity. The recruiter’s tone in their pitch makes a major difference in candidate engagement. Our process doesn’t start with a templated string of emails, but instead a personal phone call, which is a much more meaningful first touchpoint.

There’s nobody who represents this more completely than our CEO and Founder Robert Reffkin. Although he has broader responsibilities (like running the entire company), he believes in the power of people and lives and breathes Compass. And not surprisingly, he’s incredibly thoughtful when it comes to building this company. How? Because when Robert meets with candidates he takes a step back from the granular nature of hiring (title, start date, responsibilities) and describes the sheer scale of the company, connecting his vision to how this specific career opportunity can impact it.

Rows of windowed meeting rooms invite communication, whether interviewing candidates or meeting with colleagues.

Act with empathy

If you ask my team, they’ll tell you that I’m a broken record when it comes to discussing empathy and listening skills as part of recruiting. You need to be able to understand what the candidate feels as well as the priorities of your internal stakeholders. Recruiting is a human business; you are dealing with people, their livelihoods and their emotions, from anxiety to excitement. If you don’t understand why they are making a given decision, then it becomes difficult for you to relate to them. Take your own emotion out of the process and understand the leap of faith it takes for a candidate to move from a Fortune 500 company to a three to five-year-old startup, no matter how fast the growth or great the potential.

A common mistake I see recruiters make is jumping directly into their pitch without hearing more about a candidate. LinkedIn is great, but it won’t tell you what makes a person tick or what they care most about in an opportunity or company. Recruiters must be able to read and react to the information being put in front of them in real time. If you listen, your candidates nearly always tell you what is most important to them in a next opportunity. When you ask what their ideal role looks like, take note (literally!) of what they say and the order in which they say it: Is it culture, team, office environment, location, code stack, types of challenges, industry vertical?

They are writing the playbook for you on what they care about, it’s like someone giving you the answers to the test you’re about to take. I feel lucky that at Compass, no matter what candidates say, we offer nearly all of the characteristics candidates demand: amazing team, collaborative work spaces, locations in almost 15 major markets, cutting-edge technology, and unique challenges within the real estate space.

An open, collaborative spirit courses through our offices nationwide.

Be selective and stay hungry

We’ve grown considerably in my four years at Compass — from fewer than 30 employees in a single downtown Manhattan office to more than 550 across 75 offices nationwide. Last year we received nearly 45,000 resumes and hired less than 0.1% of applicants. In addition to that, my team and I source candidates every single day, without exception, we comb the market and proactively reaching out to the top people across Product, Engineering, Operations, Strategy, Finance, Marketing, Design and Real Estate.

The best people are usually not looking for new roles because they are highly valued by their employers; it’s our job to get them to Compass.

With impressive founders like Ori Allon (he holds a PhD in Computer Science and sold his former companies to Google and Twitter) and Robert Reffkin (Chief of Staff to the President of Goldman Sachs, White House Fellow, McKinsey alum), the bar for talent was set high from the beginning. I feel lucky that this is the case because it keeps my team and I hungry, challenged, and in search of the perfect candidate for each role. It can also be frustrating at times, but at the end of the day it’s more satisfying. Creating an environment of excellence has been key to our success and growth, and I believe there is no company in the real estate technology space that can compete with the level of talent we’ve been able to hire.

This approach has allowed us to bring some of the top minds across industries to real estate, putting the smartest people in the room together to solve old problems with new solutions.

The People & Culture team works closely to foster a positive environment, from initial interview to first day and beyond.

Find negotiation balance

One of the challenges unique to internal recruiters is the dual need to represent the candidate and their worth fairly, but also look after the best interests of our employer. The key is being transparent and managing each side’s expectations from the beginning of the process. It’s your job to educate both sides on market rates and dynamics to arrive at a compensation point where everyone is comfortable.

Don’t be afraid to push your candidate or your internal team at times; it doesn’t matter if it’s a hiring manager or your CEO. You need to be the internal expert, they need to trust you. It helps to backup your “expertise” with benchmarking and industry salary data.

It can also be helpful to involve another member of the recruiting team in negotiations to create a separation of who is representing the candidate and who is representing the company, especially when we’re not able to meet all of the candidate’s requests.

Maintain your integrity

Recruiting can be filled with situations that are difficult to navigate. This is likely obvious to anyone reading this, but it’s important to represent your organization and candidates properly. The truth is always the best medicine. The temptation will be there to say a few quick words that can influence a hiring process in your favor whether internally or to a candidate, but it’s imperative to avoid doing this. It’s a very slippery slope and it’s best to avoid over-promising in these situations. Both sides will appreciate it in the end and it will strengthen your relationships. Get back to every candidate, whether the news is positive or negative; candidate experience significantly impacts the talent market’s perception of your company. Ultimately, building great internal culture starts before staffers ever join the team.

Members of theCompass marketing team enjoys a shift in perspective from within a Midtown new development.

While these principles have grounded our success in building the future of real estate, they apply to any company looking to scale quickly and acquire top talent.

Great people are attracted by confidence, empathy, selectiveness, fairness, and integrity, the same concepts that are generally appealing in everyday life.

Maybe that’s why I enjoy my job so much — that, or it could just be the brilliant people I’m surrounded by every day and the opportunity to help build an industry-changing company.

Interested in joining us as we build the future of real estate? Meet the team and view Compass opportunities in your market.


Before coming to Compass, Nolan worked as a headhunter focused on quantitative and engineering talent for banks and hedge funds. He and his team once “broke” LinkedIn due to unusually high traffic from our network connection (aka we researched and reached out to so many profiles that LinkedIn thought we were a bot).