By: John Searby, @JohnSearby
With the start of school upon us, college students of all different ages are heading back to campus with the dream of advancing their professional options in the sports business world. The start of school has always been an exciting time for me, whether I’ve been on campus or not. To me, the start of a new school year represents a blank slate — new teachers, new classes, new friends and colleagues, and new challenges. Most importantly, the start of school represents new opportunities to advance your career as you work towards your degree. Below are a few tips, by class, for how to take your dream of working in sports to the next level. Depending on your “season of life” in school, you should be focusing on different opportunities.
I know, you think you’re the bottom of the totem pole, right? All of your classes are boring introductory lectures with 800 of your closest friends. Every social interaction is pain-stakingly uncomfortable as you forge new relationships every day. How could you even be thinking about preparing for your career after college? Well, I’m here to tell you that there is no time like your freshman year to get involved. If you know you want to work in sports but you have no idea where, your freshman year is your best opportunity to explore some options. Hop on your school’s athletic website and look for the staff directory. See all of those names, they all WORK in sports!
Best of all, they all have an office within walking distance of where you are now. Pick out a couple that look interesting to you and shoot them an email. Let them know you are a new freshman on campus and looking for opportunities to work in the athletic department to gain experience. Offer to come over to their office to speak with them about possible intern or volunteer positions in their department. Then show up for the appointed meeting dressed professionally with a resume that outlines your high school activities and extra curricular activities.
Start small and don’t over commit. You have no idea right now how hard your classwork is going to be, so tell them that you’d like to help out with an event or two and go from there. Go through this same exercise with different parts of the athletic department until you find one you love and feel comfortable having as a part of your regular commitments. Don’t get discouraged if you hate the first few; there are lots of jobs in sports (remember that staff directory?)!
Sophomores and Juniors
You are in the middle of it all. You’ve got the campus figured out and finally got to sign up for some classes that sound remotely interesting. You suffered through your freshman year unsure about what the future would hold, but sometime in the recent past a light bulb went off in your head and you just KNEW you wanted to work in sports. The good news is that you’ve got plenty of time left to get some valuable experience and try out some different areas. The even better news is that you probably understand how much work college classes are for you and what outside activities are important to you.
This has helped define your weekly schedule a bit, so you are probably ready to jump into a new time commitment. If you haven’t already done what was recommended for the Freshmen, I’d start there. Instead of going on the “Sampler Path” I recommend for them, however, hone in on what you know you are interested in — business, public relations, law (compliance), fundraising, equipment, athletic training, marketing, etc. Go to that department and make sure they know you are ready and willing to work.
Carve out time in your schedule to be committed to that department and put in the time to develop or deepen relationships. If you’ve already gone through a trial period, dive in deeper or reach out to a professional team in your area and repeat the process. It never hurts to see both the collegiate and professional side of sports during college if the opportunity is there.
By the end of your sophomore year, you should be thinking seriously about a summer internship that will give you deep, hands on experience with what you want to do, so conduct yourself during your Sophomore and Junior years as if you are having an on the job interview so that the people you work with will recommend you for that internship when the time comes.
You are in an interesting place. You both know what you want to do after graduation and are scared to death because you don’t have anything solid planned for when you are on your own in 9 months. If you are just now figuring out that you’d love a career in sports, move as quickly as possible through the recommendations for Freshmen and Sophomores/Juniors. By Christmas, try to really target some specific jobs that you think would be a good fit for you.
If you’ve been doing it all right for the past 3 years and you’re locked in on the type of job you want in sports, immerse yourself in it. Chances are your class load isn’t all that heavy, so use that extra time to get serious about prepping for your career. Volunteer to lead younger students and interns within your chosen department if you’ve been through it before — this will show leadership and initiative on your resume. Take on a project that the department staff hasn’t had time to do — this will show creativity and project management.
Find and attend an industry networking or trade show event — this will test and challenge your networking skills and open up new doors. Ask your department head to introduce you to the Athletic Director and ask them for an Informational Interview — this will connect you to the highest level person in sports on your campus and test your interview skills. Overall, don’t be scared to take chances. In a few months you are going to have to feed yourself with the job you choose; this is the last chance to test the waters. If you are unwilling to take some risks as a senior, you are unlikely to take them to get the job you really want after college.
By Christmas you should be targeting specific opportunities and pro-actively reaching out to organizations you want to work for, not just responding to job postings. If you haven’t already, have a trusted adult review your cover letter, resume, and portfolio and give you some constructive criticism. Find a respected, but unfamiliar professor to take you through a mock interview. Prepare yourself for what you are about to encounter in the REAL WORLD!
No matter your season of life or year in school, take this start to the new school year as an opportunity for growth. I spent so much of my life on college campuses that now I think of September 1 as my time for “New Year’s Resolutions” not January 1. Set some goals for yourself professionally and build a plan to accomplish those goals. Make them attainable in the short term and challenging in the mid-term. Don’t be discouraged with failure because it is the greatest teacher you’ll have for the rest of your life. Stay the course and pursue your passion with the plan above and you’ll be on the right track.
John serves as the Director of Sports for Downstream, a Portland, OR based design firm specializing in experiential, interactive, and digital design. Check out his other blog at morningrunguys.com, where he writes about his thoughts on running, traveling, and life.