When human resource departments at large companies hunt for top-quality employees, the stakes are high. Hiring the wrong worker is not only frustrating, but also a costly blunder. Ineffective workers can drag down workplace morale and cause a company to lose its customers. And even if a company finally decides to give the boot, the rigmarole of having hired, trained, and fired a lackluster employee will have wasted precious time, capital, and energy. It’s no wonder that the folks in HR take the hiring process so seriously.
Landlords, it turns out, are quite similar to HR departments, in that they also regularly conduct searches — in this case, for a tenant — and have much to lose from poor choices. If you’re a seasoned landlord, you’re probably familiar with the fallout from a terrible tenant: missed payments, property damage, illegal activity on the premises, leaving without notice. Landlords can benefit from the lessons learned by successful HR departments; in fact, they should view the search for a tenant like the search for a qualified employee.
Consider how HR departments conduct their searches. Sure, they may cast a wide net by placing a classified ad in the paper or posting the job online, but usually the best candidates are found through pre-established connections: an HR staffer can consult his/her network of friends, former classmates, and professional colleagues. Even if this immediate network fails to produce the perfect applicant, success may be found in a friend of a friend or another second-level connection. The individual then comes with a trustworthy recommendation from a first-level connection — certainly preferable to dealing with complete strangers. With this in mind, if you’re a landlord, begin your search for a tenant within your own network.
If first- and second-level connections fail to yield promising leads, then it may be necessary to start looking outside of your network. Even here, lessons can be adapted from the employee searches of HR departments. Effective HR departments always ask for professional and personal references — and call all of them. Similarly, landlords can insist that prospective tenants provide references from current and/or former landlords or homeowners. Call these references and directly ask about the prospective tenant’s reliability and character. These conversations will supply priceless information and will give you a sense about the tenant that can’t be found on a rental application. Understand, however, that it’s a two-way street: you should be willing to provide your own references by allowing applicants to speak with current tenants. Such transparency helps landlords and tenants establish a level of trust that lasts for years.
HR departments are experts at placing ads that attract the right people — and landlords should acquire this skill, too. When placing ads, be sure to state all of your needs and to ask for essential information. Be specific, and don’t worry about coming across as demanding. As with an employee search, a successful tenant search involves full disclosure from the start. When the replies to your ad come pouring in, you can immediately pluck out the applicants who have failed to fulfill your request for certain information. Then, assess the candidates according to your criteria. HR departments do this on a daily basis, often using an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to separate the good resumes from the bad. While landlords may not use an ATS, they can nevertheless serve as their own tracking systems by asking the right questions and looking for red flags. Nowadays, some prospective tenants even submit rental resumes containing their rental history and homeowner/landlord references. Take advantage of all the information at your disposal and carefully sift through the pile.
When hunting for hires, large companies look for not only strong experience and references, but also a cultural fit. They want to know if a candidate will get along with coworkers and fit comfortably into the micro-society of the workplace. Likewise, landlords should assess a prospective candidate’s cultural fit: Will he/she disrupt the atmosphere of the house or apartment building? Will he/she get along with the other tenants? Finding the answer requires more than a cursory look at the tenant’s basic stats. Landlords will need to ask questions and, most importantly, use their intuition.
Above all, landlords should appropriate this fundamental trait of the best HR departments: Be professional. Be on time when you schedule viewings. Come prepared. Demonstrate that you are a good landlord by, for example, carrying at all times copies of your rental application and rental lease agreement. After all, prospective tenants are assessing you just as much as you’re assessing them — and they deserve your respect and courtesy.
Searching for employees and searching for tenants aren’t very different from each other. In both cases, the formula for success depends on asking the right questions and practicing transparency, respect, and diligence at all times. With the right mindset, any landlord can be as effective as the best HR departments out there.