Evernest CEO Matthew Whitaker has developed and refined his hiring process over years of experience as a property management CEO. He's here to share some of the insights and secrets that helped Evernest reach 6,000 doors.
An organization is its people. Few companies in the property management industry have internalized this idea more than Evernest, a nationwide SFR company based out of Birmingham, Alabama. Evernest manages around 6,000 doors and continues to scale its business and grow its team at an impressive rate. CEO and founder Matthew Whitaker has been constantly adjusting and reevaluating his hiring process and it has resulted in one of the most comprehensive talent acquisition procedures in the property management game. Whitaker sat down with Second Nature to talk through some of the key things he wants in an employee and how he goes about identifying which candidates have them and which do not.
The concept of hiring the most qualified candidate seems like it’s pretty straightforward, but Evernest hires with a pretty well-rounded definition of “most qualified” and it’s helped them with resident retention and growth. As a heavily scaled company, Whitaker recognizes that you’re not going to hit on 100% of hires, but going a little deeper than just career experience can up that number as much as reasonably possible.
Resiliency is the trait that really stands out to Whitaker. Evernest always looks to hire resilient people and Whitaker is adamant that it’s among the most important traits a property manager can have and a great indicator of their potential success in the company. “One of the things about a property manager is the fact that all you do is deal in the world of problems. If you didn’t have problems, there wouldn't be a role for property managers. So they have to get used to dealing with problems all day and being able to bounce from problem to problem.”
Resiliency is legitimately a skill and certainly one Whitaker wants to identify in the interview process. While that’s a challenging thing to uncover in a conversational setting, Whitaker likes to work through the personal experience of a candidate for major life events that have challenged their resolve, which he believes can forge resiliency in a person. “Sometimes [people who have had major life events] make the best team members because they realize that things aren’t unicorns and rainbows. So really digging into their personal experiences, whether it’s a huge disappointment they’ve had, a business failure, or a failure in maybe a job. [Those experiences] sometimes turn them into somebody that’s very resilient. Some of our best team members actually meet that profile, and I’ve thought that for a long time.”
Procedures that help to identify personal traits like resiliency have really gone a long way for Evernest and the success rate of its hiring process. Whitaker and Evernest have proven how important cultural fit can be in such a demanding industry and their investment in personality testing has helped separate their best candidates from the rest of the pack.
“We buy into the idea that Culture Index can help us identify someone’s unique personality or wiring and that, as a result, they have more success when they are put into the right positions on the team.” With Evernest hiring at scale, Whitaker believes it has helped them get the right people in the right seats at a higher rate, which results in losing fewer people out the back door.
Culture Index is a data-driven personality testing tool and the weapon of choice for Evernest. It’s part of their refined hiring process that they refer to as “The Grinder,” which features four interviews, the third of which assesses cultural fit. Failing to invest in a more refined hiring process that features components such as personality testing is cited by Whitaker as one of the mistakes he made early on that other PMs have the opportunity to avoid.
One of our biggest "aha" moments around personality and natural wiring is when we moved a team member out of accounting here in Alabama and moved him to Little Rock to run our market there. This guy was an excellent operator in Birmingham. He had all the “i’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed. No stone unturned. When he moved to Little Rock we expected him to grow the business. We kept waiting and waiting on it to happen, but it never did. But he was still dang good at executing. Later, when we profiled him we learned that he is a “Craftsman”, which basically means he is a detail-oriented, highly introverted person. So of course he wasn’t out there growing the business. We later moved a “Trailblazer” into the role, which is a highly relational, highly autonomous person and she KILLED it. She grew the business and it almost doubled in size.The Craftsman came back to Birmingham to run our accounting department and has been incredibly successful.
“Since we’ve gotten into personality profiling, we’ve certainly gotten a lot more intentional about putting the right people in the right places, and I feel like we’ve been a lot more successful doing that.” Whitaker notes that early on, a less refined and consistent approach opened up Evernest to being a victim of the Peter Principle, which is defined by the promotion of employees into jobs they aren’t cut out for based on their success in their previous role.
“We would use our hiring process to hire middle level and upper level management, but then when we would go to some frontline people, we would just basically skip through the process and hire people. These are the people that are going to move up into the middle management, so not being consistent at the frontline level led to people getting into the company that probably should not have been there.”
A popular example of getting the wrong people in the wrong place, which Whitaker notes as maybe the biggest hiring mistake he sees in SFR, is poorly-vetted cross-hiring between PM industries. Specifically, hiring multi-family managers that are unprepared for the transition, which is much tougher than it may seem. “The skillset doesn’t easily translate because a multifamily manager has been working on site at a property,” says Whitaker. The communication and logistical demands of single family is quite a bit different than multifamily complexes where every issue that arises is right in front of you.
“When you add multiple investors and then the logistics of single-family, it becomes a much more complicated business. If you’re going to pull from the multifamily industry, you’re going to have to make sure that you’re hiring some of the best and brightest from that industry because, again, dealing with 300 homes and 50 investors is way more complicated than a 300-unit apartment community all together with one investor.”
That doesn’t mean that cross-hiring is impossible, and Whitaker clarifies that Evernest has done so successfully, but a diligent and robust hiring approach like Evernest’s is important to identify whether a person is up to the transition.
Whitaker’s big insight, which he’s developed over years in the property management industry, is that there is a lot more to hiring the right people than simply hiring qualified people. Who you are matters almost as much as what you’ve done, and as employees rise up through your business, you need to be confident you’ve hired someone who is bought in and is wired for the challenges that come with that.