Want To Work In Sports? Stand Out!

Throughout my own career I have been on both sides of the sports job hiring table; trying to get the job as well as deciding who to hire.  Both types of experiences have given me the foundation for some thoughts on how you might be able to land your dream job in sports, and the overall theme is you have to “stand out.”

The truth is, most of the time there isn’t a big difference between how you go about landing a job in sports, and say sales, education or technology.  There’s usually an application process which includes a resume and cover letter and an interview (or interviews if the employer uses more than one to help narrow the field).  There’s also what I’ll call the “extra-process” factors, which are things like networking/communicating with people either in or connected to the employer and having people call the employer on your behalf.  It’s in these extra-process factors where many sports jobs are won or lost; perhaps more so than in other industries.

So how can you stand out at each step along the way?  The extra-process starts before a job is even posted, and that is building a network of contacts.  Many people will advise you to volunteer, intern or extern early on to get experience, and it’s really the network of relationships you can build there that’s important rather than the actual job experience you might get.  So when selecting where to work early on in your career, make sure it’s a place where the relationships you can build will be within the circle of influence for the career you’d like to pursue long-term.  I’ll come back to more extra-process factors a bit later.

During the application process you’re likely going to submit a resume and cover letter.  One of my colleagues Kristi Dosh provides practical cover letter tips specifically for the sports industry every Wednesday; you should definitely read through her page and identify mistakes to avoid and ways to stand out.  Regarding the resume, if you avoid typos and other grammatical mistakes you’ll be in the top half (sad but true).  This isn’t the time to get creative with fonts either; stay clean and classic but utilize bold and/or italics to highlight categories of information (e.g. employers, job titles) and help organize the resume for the reader.  The last point on the application materials is to try and send them to at least one actual person who either you know and/or is involved in the hiring process.  Many jobs will have you submit through an online system which just goes to a general Human Resources’ database or email address.  Candidates who stand out will also get their materials to others around the organization.

When it comes time to interview, study, study, study.  Treat the interview as if it were a final exam so that you know everything you can possibly know about the employer, the job and the people who will be interviewing you.  You may not be as naturally gifted or comfortable in an interview as other people, but all preparation requires is the willingness to put in the work.  Anyone can do it!

I said earlier I would get back to some extra-process factors, so let’s identify some key ones as we close this post:

  • A day or two after submitting your application materials,  shoot an email to a person involved with the search to let them know you applied and make sure they received your materials.  This is a great way to just stay on their mind, as well as communicate that you’re a thorough person.
  • If selected for an interview, ask whoever your communicating with for a list of the interviewers.  Remember you’re going to study the interviewers as preparation for the interview.
  • After the interview, send a note to anyone you met while visiting the employer.  My rule has typically been to send hand-written notes to those who interviewed me either one on one (two or three), and emails to larger group interviewers and anyone else I met while there.  Surprisingly, you will be among a group of 5-10% if you do this.
  • When appropriate, have someone you’ve worked with/for call on your behalf.  Funny enough, many employers don’t check references, check only one or call references that are not on your reference list.  That means you may have a great reference who the employer never talks to, unless you initiate it.  This may vary from job to job, but just ask yourself if you feel as though you have given the job your best shot if Reference Joe didn’t talk to the employer.  If not, ask your reference to make the call on your behalf.

There is so much more we could talk about here but hopefully you’ve found a nugget or two you can take from this and apply to your job search.  I’d also love to hear from you if you have other keys that have worked for you, or if you use any of these and they help you get the job!  Let me know by leaving a comment below or contacting me here or on Twitter.


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