A mortgage loan officer has two full-time jobs.

At their desk job, they manage a pipeline of active mortgage applications. It’s a job with a lot of paperwork, a little bit of math, some analysis and problem solving, along with the ability to understand and adhere to guidelines and deadlines. If not for the need to be an effective communicator with excellent customer service skills, it’s the kind of job suited for a left-brained introvert.

Completely separate from the desk job, every day, a loan officer has to sell themselves, and their bank, and their programs, and their process. If they can’t do that, there would be no pipeline to manage and no customers to service.

The skillset needed to master one job is not at all in line with skillset needed to master the other. It’s a little bit like someone who earns a living as a Beekeeper/Deejay.

During my 15 years as a loan officer, the desk job came naturally to me, especially the communication and customer service part. I could connect with my clients in a very real way. I was honest and responsive and patient, and I went to great lengths to make sure my customers completely understood their situation. I always thought to myself, what would I do in this situation if the client was my brother or sister?

For me, psychologically, the sales job was way more difficult.

For most of my life, I’ve been an outgoing, talkative jokester who finds most people extremely interesting. So, you would think, someone with my profile would be a natural fit in sales. After all, it’s all about networking and making relationships. How hard could that be for a happy little goofball like me?

Most loan officers aren’t directly networking with potential clients. In the mortgage world, networking is about making relationships with people who will ultimately refer clients to you, mostly real estate agents and attorneys. Building those relationships usually happens in a much less organic way – at networking events, at sponsored cocktail hours, maybe even an unscheduled pop-by introduction. It’s forced. But, even when I made an honest connection with someone, we both knew that it was at least partly born from my desire to get referrals, and that’s a weird place to start a friendship. I know not everyone feels this way, but for me it elicits the same emotions that courses through my veins when I’m being asked to join someone’s multi-level marketing enterprise.  I have a pit in my stomach thinking about it right now, a cocktail of shame, anxiety, and embarrassment.

Meeting real estate agents that way never worked for me. It felt so inauthentic, so fake, especially when I first started my career, because at that point I knew I wasn’t the most knowledgeable or most experienced loan officer in the area. So, I thought, why should anyone refer a client to me? Why take a chance on me when there are so many loan officers with a decade or more in the business. I think all those events and experiences may have given me “a touch of the social anxiety” in my middle age.

That mindset is a recipe for disaster when you have an “eat what you kill” kind of job. Most loan officers work 100% on commission, so if I planned on making any money I had to figure out how to get agents to send their business to me.

I refused to sell anyone on becoming instant best friends — That’s a Jedi mind trick I’ve seen played many times before by loan officers who weren’t amazing at their desk job. For example, many years ago, a real estate agent called me several times to ask for mortgage advice. Most of the time, her questions were about clients who were working with another loan officer. The agent always thanked me profusely, and I could tell she valued my opinion, but still, she wasn’t referring any of her clients to me. It didn’t make sense. So, I was surprised when she applied with me for her own mortgage. I thought, “why would she have enough confidence to choose me for herself, but then send her clients to someone else?”

Then, without solicitation, one day she told me, “I’d really like to give you more business, but [REDACTED] is always giving us free booze. And I feel kind of obligated.”

I didn’t quite know how to respond to that. In the moment, I was so caught off-guard, I couldn’t properly respond.

“Oh,” I said. And we left it at that.

But when I had a day or so to process the conversation, I thought, “Is that all it takes to earn someone’s business? What about being really good at your job?”

I’m not sure I’m qualified to dole out advice. But maybe a newer loan officer, or someone new to some other type of sales, feels the way I did, and they’ll stumble upon this article. Maybe they’ll extract an ounce of wisdom reading about my experiences and the emotions I felt at the time.

Here is what I did:

I learned as much about mortgages as I could, so my knowledge became a valuable commodity. I took pride in how patient I was with my clients and in the way I could comfort them during the stressful homebuying process — That became valuable too. During every loan process, I communicated with agents and attorneys, and I developed a reputation as a straight-shooter and a problem solver. All of these things were valuable. Nothing about that was inauthentic.

I never stopped going to the networking events. I just went to them with a different mindset. I was friendly, but I wasn’t aggressive. I never even asked for business. I just let people attach my face to my name, and I did the same with their face and their name. In business, out of sight is out of mind, so you have to show up. But when I did, I just let my reputation speak for itself.

After a few years in the business, during social and networking events, I realized that the agents that I’d worked with along the way began to do the selling for me. They introduced me to other agents. They explained how I interacted with their clients; how I communicated; how I may have solved a specific problem. Standing there, listening to that, was very humbling.   

During my mortgage career, I think I could have been more aggressive. I could have asked for more business. I could have written more loans and made more money than I did. But it was more important to get rid of that pit in my stomach.

I want to point out that I’m not one-of-a-kind. I know so many loan officers who are genuinely good at what they do. They feel no shame in being a salesperson, nor should they. It’s easy to be comfortable in your own skin when you’re good at what you do.