You’ve landed an interview with your favorite sports team in a position right up your alley. It’s an opportunity to apply your trade in an exciting industry that will make your friends envious. When asked, passionate sports fans rarely name an organization they’d like to work for more than their favorite team. Does exclaiming that you’ve watched every game since you were 6 years old and that you now tailgate before every home game make you more appealing to a hiring manager? Or does it make more sense to treat the organization like any other company where you can show respect for its products, services and success without going over-the-top?

There is a subtle way to let a hiring manager know you’re a fan of the team without coming off as a zealot trying to score free tickets and meet the team. Consider your interviewer’s perspective. We’ll call him Joe. He works with the team’s human resource group or in the department you’ll be assigned to. His primary objective is to make sure you’re bright, trustworthy, can handle stressful situations and work efficiently. And Joe needs to make sure you are both in the same ballpark if it comes down to salary negotiations. The questions he asks are to validate you have the right communication skills and background to work in the industry. Once you have proven you’re hirable, Joe is going to take a deeper dive into your skill set. He wants to know you can reconcile monthly ticket sales, finish website redesigns on time or create a meal plan for the players, depending on the position. He might bring in other people that can grill you on deep technical skills ensuring you won’t need 3 months of training after you’re hired. At this point you and Joe have been talking for more than an hour but one of his earliest questions set the tone for the rest of the interview.

After he meets you in the front lobby and introduces himself, he leads you into a meeting room where you both settle in. You slide him a fresh copy of your resume; he scans it quickly and asks a simple question. “So why do you want to work here?” This is asked in every interview and there is always room for a misstep. But more so in an industry like sports or consumer technology where a “fan boy” following exists. If you start your response with “I’m a huge Laker fan” or “My dad and I would go to old Yankee Stadium every weekend” you run the risk of turning off the interviewer. To be a viable candidate it’s essential to be viewed primarily as a business asset as opposed to a fan. Like any other recruiter, hiring manager or department lead, Joe wants to know you follow the company’s industry growth and its financial progress not just its box score. You want to become a contributor to the business’s growth, right? Commenting on the team’s year-over-year ticket sales increase or award winning website will get you farther than talking about slugging percentage or passer rating. There’s nothing wrong with commenting on the team’s on-the-field success as a reason for wanting to work there but it should be coupled with how that impacts the overall organization. “This team has won the division 4 out of the last 5 years. Its on-the-court success tells me it’s a well run organization willing to invest in itself.” Statements like this show an interviewer you understand the relationship between the on-the-field product and the supporting organization without crossing the line into fandom. It also proves you’ll come into work everyday focused on the task at hand and care about the whole organization not just what happens between the white lines. Mentioning specific team successes and how they translate into a winning company shows your fan card but in a very subtle way.

 There is a fine line between showing enthusiasm for an organization and coming across as a team fanatic. Whether you want to work in management, sales or somewhere in between, toeing that line carefully during an interview will prove your professionalism and give you a chance to land your dream job. And who knows. If you get the job you might score free tickets after all.

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