Success in a job interview is oft-measured in the days that precede it. The preparation spent researching the company, forming a ‘smart questions’ list and recalling your own career successes creates a positive outcome just as much as the one or two hours spent in the interview room. There is A LOT of information on interviewing in books and across the internet. You can find information on how to best research companies and what questions to ask a prospective employer. You can even find suggestions on what color tie to select or where to place your hands during the conversation (not on the table, if you’re curious). The basics translate well from other industries into the business of sports. But there are some intricate differences and details that will help you stand out while interviewing for a sports-related job. Getting in the interview room is important but acing the interview will turn your dream of working in sports into a reality.
Prepare like a champion.
In sports, off-season workouts, extended batting practice and late night free throw sessions make good players great, and turns playoff contenders into world champs. The time you spend in the days leading up to an interview gives you the information you need to own the room, and the confidence required to sit down face-to-face with a hiring manager. Studying the financial information of a sports organization is a challenge because most are privately held. That reality requires you to dig for information on non-financial areas of the business. Find articles about innovative marketing strategies or IT deployments they’ve implemented to distinguish themselves from the crowd. Learn what you can about their attendance numbers, merchandising sales and organizational structure. Even knowing major on-field or on-court competitors is valuable because the team’s customers – the fans – tend to be more emotionally invested in those games. If you know others that already work in the organization, use them to gather intel – ethically of course – on the business side of the company and its key leaders. Knowing an organization’s overall successes and challenges, not just its wins and losses, proves your intention to positively impact the company as a whole.
Some stories matter more than others.
Most of us don’t walk into a sports business interview with a cache of sports industry stories to share. But even if you’re new to the sports industry, you likely have some relevant work history to draw from. Take time in the days leading up to your interview to recall projects and tasks you’ve worked on as well as specific successes which resulted from your efforts. This exercise is meant to cut deeper than just discussing the position you’re in and the company you’re with. Memorizing specific projects and their results will allow you to more easily answer the “tell me about a time when” or “name a project that went well” type questions that will surely be asked. Interviewers want to hear specifics; generalities make a company hesitant to move forward with a candidate. Once you have your responsibilities, work activities and success stories documented, search out ones that most closely relate to the sporting world or to the position you’re interviewing for. Past examples that involve direct customer interaction tells a sports organization that you can work well with its customers, the fans. Times that you’ve been involved with merchandising sales or brand marketing definitely relate back to one of the key focus areas for a team. Because athletes, coaches and their facilities cost so much, the supporting cast – you – may be short staffed across the various departments. Proving that you can efficiently work with a small group to accomplish big goals peaks the interest of any good hiring manager. Almost everyone has a work history. From school jobs and internships to prior professional roles and volunteer work, there are stories to recall and share. Pull from that history to show an interviewer what you’ve accomplished and how that will translate into your role with their organization.
Sports business is one of passion and confidence.
As with any job interview, bringing your “A” game is a must. While a resume inherently reflects your best work and a phone interview allows you to confidently speak to a faceless voice, face-to-face interviews are nerve-racking and can be intense. Employers want to test your responses to tough situations since most jobs are, at times, stressful. The players that perform in the sports world are confident, passionate and have millions of eyes upon them, night-in and night-out. While the supporting departments work mostly in the shadows, there is a trickle-down effect from athletes to the rest of the company. Leaders in sports business are high performers, often energetic and expect a lot from those around them. Never lose your professionalism or business etiquette but step into an interview room with the confidence of someone who has already received a job offer. Be careful not to come off like a sports nut but certainly show your passion for the league and the team you’re interviewing with. A firm handshake, an energetic and enthusiastic voice and direct eye contact are body language essentials. Also use practice interviews with colleagues, recruiting companies or a spouse to bring up your confidence level. The motivation and excellence you show in a face-to-face interview proves that you will make an organization stronger and more successful than it currently is.
Close the interview strong.
The final minutes of a game create memories to last a lifetime. Michael Jordan’s shot on Bryon Russell in the NBA Finals, John Taylor’s back of the end zone catch from Montana and Joe Carter’s World Series walk-off homerun are all memorable because they happened in the waning moments of big games. The face-to-face interview is your big game and its finale is your chance to close the deal. You likely won’t get an offer at the conclusion of your initial face-to-face meeting, especially if you met multiple people who still need to compare notes. But finishing out an interview with smart questions and showing off your enthusiasm for the organization and the job will set the stage for a follow up offer or, at minimum, another interview request. If the position is appealing to you, the interviewer must realize that before you walk out the door. Express your interest in the job and let them know to contact you directly if they want any more information. Let the interviewer know that you want to work for a great company and you believe theirs is respectable and world class. You won’t be in the exact same position forever; fawning over the broader company tells a prospective employer that you want to grow with them. Hopefully you’ve sprinkled in a few questions throughout the meeting but the last few minutes are when a good interviewer will open the floor to your queries. You may only get a few, so make them count. The questions you ask serve two purposes: making you feel comfortable with the job and showing off your thoughtfulness and critical thinking abilities. What are the day-to-day work activities of the position? Are there training programs within the company for long term growth? What is the organizational culture? These types of questions tell the interviewer you’ve been engaged in the conversation and, more importantly, you’ll likely accept an offer, if one is made. As your interview concludes, use positive body language like a smile and a firm handshake while thanking them for their time. A strong finish like this one could put you well down a path to a whole new beginning in the sports industry.