Like most people, my parents don’t own a professional sports organization nor have I been lucky enough to be a professional athlete (sigh). So I am empathetic to all of you that have struggled to get a job in the sports world. It’s tough. In my opinion, securing a job for the front office of a professional sports team is one of the more difficult gigs to land. What proof do I have you ask… the hundreds of applications we receive every time we post an position.
Let’s get real - Despite how this article has started off, this is not to discourage you from a career in sports nor is it meant to crush your dreams! Your goal is to avoid being just another resume in the stack. You are probably rolling your eyes and thinking “Joey, tell me something I haven’t heard before”. Well, I hope some of the below specifics will help (or at least provide a new perspective) you create a road-map that will allow you to differentiate yourself.
It is critical to have realistic expectations. Too many college students expect to walk across the graduation stage and directly into a management position. I can’t speak for other industries, but that doesn’t happen in sports. You have to earn your stripes, start at the bottom and work your way up.
In my first semester of grad school at Belmont, we were given an assignment where we had to go out and meet 20 business professionals in the sports industry. One of my meetings was with former Tennessee Titans General Manager, Mike Reinfeldt. At the time, it was my dream to be the GM of the Titans, so I was pumped for this meeting! That excitement quickly faded...
Mike Reinfeldt – Do your parents own a NFL team?
Me – No sir.
Mike Reinfeldt – Were you a great NFL player?
Me – No sir.
Mike Reinfeldt – Then you’re not going to be a General Manager in the NFL.
This was hard to hear, but I needed to hear it. This advice helped me reevaluate my path and establish realistic goals/expectations for myself.
Start Building Relationships NOW:
By now you have all heard the cliché, “It’s all about who you know and who knows you.” This couldn’t be more true in the sports world. You need to be reaching out and building connections with sports business professionals and requesting informational interviews. If they are local, offer to treat them to coffee or lunch. Some teams/organizations are even open to hosting job shadows. If you see yourself needing to network, try this approach:
- Ask sports business professional for an informational interview. Let them know it will be brief, but you hope to one day have a job doing what they do and would really appreciate the opportunity to pick their brain.
- After they have agreed to chat/meet, send over a calendar invite via email.
- Dress professionally!
- Arrive on time and be conscience of the clock! These people are taking time out of their busy/stressful days to chat with you. At the very least, you should be respectful of their time.
- Have 15-20 questions ready to go. You asked to meet with them; not the other way around! They shouldn’t have to carry the conversation. You are there to learn from them, and the best way to do that is with questions. I always had a padfolio with the questions printed out, and I took crazy amounts of notes.
- You are not asking for a job. You are there because you admire their career path and are genuinely curious about the success they have had in the industry. However, I would have some copies of your resume (on resume paper) printed out just in case they ask for one. Pro tip: The trick to get the resume in their hands without being pushy is to simply ask... “I know you look at a lot of resumes, [insert name]. Would you care to look over mine and let me know what changes/improvements you would make?”
- Immediately after the meeting, mail or drop off a handwritten thank you note.
- Connect with them on LinkedIn. When sending the connection request, attach a personal note.
- Going forward, you should set a calendar reminder to touch base with your new contact once a month. Make the conversation personable - let them know you read the book they recommended or that you listened to a podcast they enjoyed.
I mentioned previously, sports organizations receive hundreds of applicants for the jobs they post. Again, your goal is to avoid being just another resume in the stack of hundreds. The reality is it can be hard to make yourself stand out, but, in summary, here are some of my recommendations:
- Network - Hopefully, you have followed my second tip above and have already built a solid relationship with someone within the department you are applying. If you haven’t yet, don’t worry, it is not too late to start!
- Fill out the application in its entirety. My boss immediately crosses off candidates that don’t insert a cover letter.
- Print out 3 hard copy resume packets (Cover letter, resume, references) on resume paper. Paper clip each packet and place them in separate folders. Mail the folders to the following people: President/CEO, Director of Human Resources, and the hiring manager for the position. I wish I could take credit for this idea, but it is not mine. A sports business professional gave it to me in one of my informational meetups. I tried it one time when applying for an internship during grad school…. It worked!
- The cover letter needs to be geared specifically to the organization and the position you are applying for. It should highlight your experience, and why you would be an asset to the company.
- Handwritten notes are always a nice touch. Let them know you appreciate their consideration and hope to talk to them soon.
- Arrive early. Give yourself ample time to deal with traffic, unexpected road closures, wrecks, etc. If you arrive too early, then sit in your car and rehearse interview answers.
- Dress appropriately. Unless told otherwise, you should be dressed in business professional attire.
- Have multiple resume packets with you that have been printed on resume paper.
- Have quality questions ready.
- Have a padfolio (or something similar) for notes. I would take notes of every person you meet throughout the interview process and write them a thank you note after the interview.
Last piece of advice on interviews - The hiring team expects to see everyone’s best self during the interview process. If your best is not crushing all the examples listed above, then that means you aren’t willing to work hard to get the job, and that ultimately means you aren’t going to work hard if you are selected for the position. The organization wants to know how they will benefit from hiring you. What would you bring to the organization that they can’t find with other candidates?
Finally, the reality is you are going to be told no multiple times, but I promise that if you stick with it that one yes will come, and it will be worth it.