Networking is vital for any career field, but when you’re pursuing highly competitive jobs in sports, the value placed on your professional network is even greater. The more people you connect with and maintain an ongoing relationship with, the more opportunities you have to find new jobs in sports and learn new information.
Let’s take a look at some tips for expanding your network in the sports industry:
Get In The Right Mindset
The idea of networking may make some people uncomfortable. A 2014 study by Johnson at Cornell University found that instrumental networking for pursuing professional goals leads to feelings of dirtiness. Those who network for professional reasons often claim to feel dirty and will experience lower job performance. This can deter people from networking.
The truth is, networking is an honest pursuit that, when done correctly, can be very rewarding. To combat negative feelings, focus on maintaining a spirit of helpfulness. Don’t just think about what’s in it for you, but rather approach new people with a genuine curiosity and openness.
You aren’t just hunting for favors and begging for advice about landing jobs in sports, you are building a social network that is founded on mutual respect, a genuine interest in helping, and a clear understanding of reciprocity.
Learn a Pitch
To make networking worthwhile, you need to develop a consistent “pitch” that is concise and informative without sounding like a sales pitch. This is a great technique for preparing for networking events, and it involves some simple writing and self-reflection.
First, reflect on your purpose. Why are you approaching people? While it’s obviously to advance your search for jobs in sports, the reason in the short term is to intrigue your listener and earn their attention and interest. Write your introduction about who you are, what you do, and what you can offer.
Then, flex your storyteller muscles and share a concrete example that illustrates how you use one of your best skills. Start with a challenge, explain how you solved it, and highlight what you learned. End your anecdote by requesting a follow-up with them.
Write your introduction and practice it. Don’t memorize and recite it word-for-word. Just focus on hitting your main points and deliver it with confidence. Once you nail your pitch, you’re ready to meet people.
Join Organizations for Professionals with Jobs in Sports
Professional groups and clubs are great resources for shaking hands and making connections. They are especially helpful once you know what you want to say and how you want to say it.
When you join these organizations, you are entering a world of industry thought leaders and experts as well as colleagues, young professionals, and lower level employees. That’s the main benefit — you are meeting a diverse group of sports industry professionals who offer varying levels of knowledge and insight.
At events and gatherings, you are sharing ideas and developing your sense of business knowledge firsthand. Attend these scheduled networking events with clear goals. Identify who you want to meet, but be selective. Don’t overwhelm yourself with targeting every person in the room.
When connecting with people, consider looking for a mentor. Invest time in relationship-building before asking to be someone’s mentee. The best way to develop a meaningful, authentic relationship is by staying in touch.
Unfortunately, a lot of professionals drop the ball on this. An OfficeTeam survey from July 2014 found that 28 percent of senior managers surveyed say that failing to keep in touch is a major networking mistake.
Fortunately, technology makes networking and following up easier than ever before. Stay connected via social media — 47 percent of those surveyed by OfficeTeam say that the most effective way to connect is online networking, and 24 percent say that lunch or coffee is a close second.
Why not do both? Without being too pushy, you need to follow up with your connections both online and in person. Schedule meet-ups to further build a rapport.
Start a Sports Blog
No matter what the field you are getting into, starting a blog on your topic of interest is a great way to show your passion and establish yourself as a credible voice in the industry.
If you want to do photography, start a photo blog. Those pursuing sports writing jobs can use a blog to show they can manage and develop content on a strict editorial schedule. Coaches can use their blog to comment on new trends and sports stories, share insights, and engage with other coaches. Those in marketing or sales can explore their field in all kinds of media on their blog.
The possibilities are endless. Refer your professional connections to your blog to showcase your work, and encourage people to give you feedback. You can start to build a small community on your website, share the content on social networks to expand your professional network online, and learn more about the business and industry.
Register for Programs
Obviously, formal education is often required for most sports professions, so start researching the academic programs that best fit your goals. No matter what your educational background is, it’s always wise to expand your professional network simultaneously, while earning the certifications or degrees you need.
Find what programs best fit your goals and apply. For example, Ohio University’s Center for Sports Administration is one of the most highly respected programs in the world, so consider staying competitive in school by earning higher grades to earn acceptance. If you want an MBA with a focus on sports, look into University of Oregon’s Warsaw Sports Marketing Center.
When it’s time to enter your profession, look for what is needed most and pursue learning that skill. The Workplace Trends’ Global Workforce Leadership survey found that almost half of the companies surveyed note that leadership is the hardest skill to find in employees.
Conduct some research to find a leadership program that’s right for you and register. The Manhattan Sports Business Academy is an eight week program for young professionals who want to understand every level of the business. It involves guest speakers, group outings, mentorships, workshops, and internship placement — all while helping participants build their professional network.
Networking is a fun, engaging pursuit that pays off in a big way if you do it with a genuine interest in making a positive impact on your industry. However, you will trip on the starting line if you only hunt for favors and are driven by self-indulgent interests. Professionals can see right through this, so it’s best to start building a positive reputation now for a better tomorrow. What are some other networking tips you find useful in your pursuit of jobs in sports?