By: Travis Gorsch, @tgorsch3
Front Office Sports is pleased to have sat down with Rich Campbell, Sports Careers Expert for About.com’s Sports Career site. Rich has over twenty years of experience in the sports industry — studying how sports firms identify talent and how people looking for career opportunities in sports successfully land those jobs. Rich is a marketing professor at Sonoma State University and an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco’s Sport Management Master’s Program. We asked Rich to share some advice for students and young professionals who are seeking to start a career in the sports industry.
For all those young professionals looking to get a leg up on their competition, it all starts while you are still in school. Rich advises young people to connect with as many people as they can.
“That’s the start of every success story.”
However, it goes beyond just connecting with people working in the sports industry.
“Tell everybody that you want to work in sports. Most people tell their close friends and professors, but they don’t tell everyone. It’s not just while you’re in class or who you go to school with. Tell your aunt, next door neighbor, etc. You never know who is going to have the key to unlock the introduction to the next person you need.”
With over two decades of experience in the sports industry, Rich has seen it evolve over time.
“The industry has grown exponentially since I was trying to break in 20 years ago. It has created so many opportunities. There are so many more positions available that didn’t exist 10 years ago. The reason the industry has developed so much is in part driven by social media and coverage of teams by media.”
Social media has not only created more jobs, but it has also created more opportunities for students and young professionals to find information and create their own personal brand. It has allowed people to create relationships electronically via email or LinkedIn, but it goes well beyond just the initial connection.
“It’s a multilayer process. You should connect with people on LinkedIn, but you shouldn’t stop there. You need to create a relationship with them on a regular basis.”
Even if that relationship only occurs electronically because of geographic limitations, you can harness your social media accounts in a positive way to develop relationships and uncover opportunities. In that case, it is important to know what to do and what not to do on these platforms.
“If you are on a platform, be active. Having 10 different social media accounts is fine, but have 1–2 that are your professional accounts.”
Rich prefers using LinkedIn and Twitter as his professional accounts. Someone that is effectively using their social media accounts will be able to show their passion and enthusiasm for whatever they are interested in pursuing professionally.
With that being said, before you start connecting with people on LinkedIn and Twitter there’s something you should do.
“Don’t start applying for jobs until you do a social media audit on your accounts. Yes, your Facebook is for your friends, but some of that information is available to the public as well. If there’s a questionable photo, take it off.”
Rich explains more do’s and don’ts in an article that he wrote for About.com’s Sports Careers site covering LinkedIn.
“The other area that has really changed is sales. We used to have a ticket window. If you wanted to buy a ticket, you would stop by or call in to buy them. Ticket Sales has become somewhat of a training ground for those who may pursue a career selling sponsorships.”
Ticket sales have changed from waiting for the fans to come to you, to going out and attracting those fans.
“The professionalization of the sales role has played a significant role. They are just more complex businesses today.”
Knowing that the sports industry has changed dramatically over time, we asked Rich to share some advice for students and young professionals on how to stand out from others seeking entry-level positions in a highly competitive industry and what employers look for most when hiring for those positions.
“It’s a two tiered process. How do you get from the big pile of resumes to the little pile of resumes that get the interview? If your resume looks like everyone else’s that’s not too impressive. If you have experience you’ll jump to the front of the line with the interview.”
The resume may not be the most important part, however.
“I put a lot of emphasis on the cover letter and when speaking to professionals across sports, they seem to emphasize it as well. The cover letter is your why. Don’t send a generic cover letter. Your job is to tell a story. You can’t just come up with a general cover letter and put it in an envelope with a resume.”
To elaborate on what kind of experience hiring professionals are looking for, Rich recommends being able to show that you have consistently worked towards whatever career goal you have set.
“Volunteer at as many things as you can and you will meet interesting people.”
This can be anything from volunteering for your hometown 10k to internship experiences. Now when you go to seek a position later you have an advantage over other candidates.
“Because you have volunteered, they know your name and have seen your face. They might have received over 100 applicants but volunteering gave you a foot in the door. Did somebody know you?”
Using those volunteer experiences to set yourself up for the next step is important.
“If they are able to string together 8–10 of those, that’s a strong signal. They behaviorally have shown that they are dedicated to that path. That’s how you separate yourself.”
That’s not to discount the importance of your network. As a lot of times that will at least get you an interview.
“The key to unlocking the job is can you get the interview?”
But in the end, it still comes down to your experiences.
“If they interview 5–10 people, what is it about your experience that you can explain that can win you the job? How do you present yourself professionally? How do you tell the story of your experience that you are right person for the job?”
When seeking out different opportunities in the sports industry it’s important to know what you are looking for.
“Identify the jobs that you are interested in first. Some people take the ‘I’ll work anywhere’ approach. That’s not the right approach. Be somewhat selective, but not hyper-selective. Get to the interview for jobs that you want to accept. Don’t go out and apply to 300 jobs.”
Another important factor to think about is your ability to move geographically.
“Are you willing to move to break into the industry? You can make yourself attractive if you are willing to relocate. Don’t apply to jobs in areas if you’re not willing to move there. The person that’s willing to move is going to open up a lot of great options for themselves.”
If you’re not volunteering it can be beneficial to attend conferences and networking events as well. Rich has spoken at several conferences including MIT’s Sloan Analytics Conference.
“Dorie Clark, author of Stand Out, said, ‘You’re always better off being the person at the front of the room than someone sitting in the room,’ because all eyes are on the person in the front of the room.”
This may not be plausible for some of you that are just starting your careers so it’s important to know who else is in the room.
“For early career professionals, you have to be strategic in networking. There are other people in the room too. Figure out who they are and do some research before you get there so you can identify who you want to meet.”
It can also be beneficial to meet people that you may not have planned for.
“As soon as I sit down, I introduce myself to people on both sides. Sometimes the best interactions are accidental.”
You don’t have to worry about awkward conversations, because for the most part everyone has the same interests or they wouldn’t be there.
As we talked about earlier, it is always great to connect with them online. However, let’s remember that you are probably not the only person that they met that night. One of Rich’s biggest pet peeves is when someone reaches out to connect via LinkedIn without sending a short note about who they are.
“There might be 30–40 people that get jumbled around. It’s important to give context about who you are and where they met you.”
Rich had one final piece of advice for those trying to break into the sports industry.
“Getting that first job in sports is a numbers game. You can’t allow yourself to allow emotion to take over if you don’t land a position right away. That’s not the time to give up, it’s the time to double down on your efforts. If you want a classic story, let me remind you of J.K. Rowling whose Harry Potter manuscript was turned down by more than a dozen publishers. Just because it’s not easy, doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. If you have your mind set on a particular job or industry, stick with it.”
Rich was recently named to Forbes’ Top 50 Must-Follow Sports Business Twitter Accounts of 2015. If you would like to connect with him you can follow him on Twitter here.