Your search for work in sports can seem impossible. Even after you have determined your values, researched salaries, and identified the perfect sports jobs for your personality, you still feel stuck. You’re not a mind reader, but it feels like you need to be just to earn an interview.

You need a playbook for navigating the hiring process to earn work in sports. We spoke to Jennifer McGovern, the manager of talent acquisition and retention with the Arizona Diamondbacks, to learn more about the entire hiring process.

Here’s a look at the play-by-play to understand how sports employers assess you:

The Application

The application process can be long and frustrating, but it’s important to keep your head up. This is your first impression, so make it count. McGovern said the most important aspect she looks for in a candidate is a relevant experience on a resume:

General resumes aren’t good marketing tools. Your bullet points should be specific to the position.

I like to see candidates who do things they don’t need to do. For example, my volunteering experience sticks out. Also, are they using ‘we’ instead of ‘I?’ They should be given credit to others as well.  

I like hyperlinks in resumes, especially if I’m hiring for a creative role and want to see their current work. Adding links also shows me you’re tech-savvy and want to show me more of who you are as a professional.

The bottom line is I’m looking for candidates who provide a great presentation of themself. Their online presence, such as Linkedin profiles and personal web pages, is vital.

I tell young professionals to invest in building a web page now. They’re free. Start in school and update it every quarter. Add your work experience, school projects, and professor recommendations. Plus, your web page tells me a lot about you. I can see how you organize and get an idea of your creative problem-solving skills.  

The Candidate Research

As McGovern emphasized, employers want to see a strong online presence. In fact, our survey found that 22 percent of employers say the first thing they do is search for candidates online after they see an application.

She mentioned that while online presence is important, expectations vary for each role and candidate. For example, candidates interested in marketing should already be building a strong personal brand. If you don’t demonstrate your skills in your personal brand, it’s hard for employers to see if you can handle their marketing needs.

With a methodical approach, McGovern provides job seekers with the chance to impress and stand out:

When I check LinkedIn, I want to ensure the candidate has a profile and see if it’s current. I’m looking for business-appropriate photos and professionalism.

I read every resume. If I’m interested, I will often reach out via email to request a phone interview, then see how candidates respond. Things like grammatical errors, misspelled words, and other simple errors make me nervous. Remember, I have a job opportunity for you. Be mindful of how you respond.  

During the phone call, I look for personality and openness. Are they genuinely answering my questions and having a conversation with me? Or are they simply reciting memorized responses?
Are they speaking about past experiences using ‘we’ or ‘I?’ I want to hear them giving credit to colleagues, but I also want to see them take ownership when they mention negatives. If you’re putting blame on others, you won’t be a good cultural fit in our organization.

I can tell if someone does their research. When I hear, “I just want to work in baseball,” it shows you didn’t put 30 minutes of your time into doing research and making this a productive meeting. It’s as simple as visiting our culture page and reviewing our mission and values. When candidates bring these up, they’re invested more than the average candidate.

One specific candidate she deemed the ‘dark horse’ had the perfect response during a phone interview.

I gave him notes on an error I found in his resume,” she said. “He thanked me, said he would fix it, then corrected it and re-sent it.

He didn’t get defensive. He was able to take constructive criticism well. Then, he showed a willingness to improve and actually followed through. That candidate got through to the top three.

The Post-Interview Phase

At this point, the employer is definitely interested in hiring you. As McGovern pointed out, a little respect goes a long way:

If I’m ghosted, the candidate is immediately disqualified. I like to see follow-ups in a timely manner.

Another red flag — my phone number has an Alaska area code. If you’re not willing to pick up a phone call from this number, you won’t get far. Our organization is global. If you don’t respond to me because of an area code, I get nervous. Will you do that to our global sponsors? Our partners? Our fans?

I expect nothing after an interview, but sending an email or handwritten thank you letter looks professional. Also, follow up with questions if you have more after the interview. It’s great when candidates reach out, but follow-ups can also do damage.

Be courteous. Phrases like “If you have time” make you stand out from the crowd. But if you’re rude or your message isn’t professionally written, it will work against you.

When it comes time to assess finalists, cultural fit is at the top of McGovern’s list:

Usually, we look for cultural fit first, then skills and experience second. I don’t have influence over personality, but I do have influence over training. I’d rather have someone weak in skills who is enthusiastic with a willingness to learn and excitement for growth than the opposite.

The Extras

Those who want to work in sports have a passion and love for the industry. But, as McGovern indicated, that’s not necessarily enough:

A significant portion of candidates is most interested in merely working in baseball. The love of baseball is a great reason to pursue work in sports, but sometimes it’s not enough.

Sports is not where you’re getting rich. Our days are long. We ask a lot of people. If you just love baseball but don’t like the role, consider volunteering part-time. So many people expect to work with the team, but you might not even meet them. You will get something greater, though — a chance to contribute to the amazing game of baseball.

Make sure your heart and purpose are in the right place.

One of the best ways to stand out is by focusing on adding value, not just getting a job. McGovern recalled an enthusiastic candidate during an internship application process:

He connected with me on Linkedin before applying and asked how he could help me reach my goals. Instead of asking for a favor, he offered his help.

This was a long intern hiring process, and he sent articles once a week to try to add value to my life. I’m used to people asking for a job, but when it’s not about them and they focus on adding value to the organization, that stands out as a willingness to collaborate and add value.

Don’t settle for the ordinary. Consider what makes you unique and demonstrate how you can add value to potential employers.

How are you navigating the hiring process to find work in sports?