It’s logical that completing a sports internship would lead to getting a job with the same company after graduation, right? You’ve shown your skills, work ethic, versatility, adaptability and let’s be honest, a willingness to do some boring tasks.
“Of our new hires, I’d say about 90% were former interns,” says former CNN Sports internship coordinator John Little, “what made those people get hired was that they proved themselves and we knew that they could be relied upon to take the next step without becoming a liability.”
Point A goes directly to point B – seems simple enough. But there is a problem with that assumption, and its simple math.
Let’s conclude CNN Sports employed 100 interns per year – but in the same time frame they only had 10 full-time openings. Of those 10 full-time openings, nine would likely be filled by interns, arriving at the 90% number Little cites above.
In that scenario 91 CNN sports interns didn’t get hired. Point A didn’t go to point B, the dots didn’t connect.
So how do you make sure you are part of the nine and not the 91?
Western Hockey League Marketing Coordinator Ginelle Polini lived this experience, interning with the WHL in college and then turning that opportunity into a career in the league after graduation.
Read on to find out what she did to turn her sports internship into a sports job.
While attending at the University of Calgary you interned with the Western Hockey League – what kind of skills did you learn while in that role?
Polini: One of the biggest learning lessons from my internship was how valuable it is to build relationships and develop professional communication skills. I was able to refine my writing skills, communication skills and organization skills by working with many different groups ranging from my co-workers, member clubs, sponsors, suppliers and other key contacts that make our organization operate.
It was an eye-opening experience to work at the league level, as I got to see the big-picture of how our operation works from many different perspectives.
What was your approach after your WHL internship – did you stay in touch with managers and people you came in contact with? Did you send them flowers? How did you get them to remember you so when you were ready for full-time work you were top of mind?
Polini: I was fortunate since the WHL office and where I went to University were located directly across the street from one another.
Every few weeks I would call my previous manager and ask if it would be a good time to come by the office and catch up. I was able to stop by once in awhile and get face-time with previous co-workers, stay informed about how the season was going and update everyone on my accomplishments throughout my last year of school.
I believe the biggest reason for allowing me to be rehired was because of the work ethic and relationships I built while I was in my internship role, and continuing those relationships even when I went back to school. I focused on learning as much as I possibly could in the short time that I was there, and I became more confident in myself as a professional. The trust I developed with my manager was a key reason I was asked to return to assist with projects I previously worked on, and from there, was offered the position full-time.
I would encourage others not to be afraid to reach out and ask for what you want. It eventually landed me a full-time job.
Let’s talk about the interview process – what would you say were the main things employers were looking for and how were you able to prove you had the goods?
Polini: I made it clear in my initial communication and interview that I would be willing to put in the time and effort to make the most out of my experience and learn as much as possible.
When you’re new in the industry, you don’t have the experience to back up your knowledge or skills, therefore it really comes down to how much time you are willing to put in and expose yourself to learning as much as possible. Most employers will almost always invest in someone who is new to the industry and willing to learn over someone who has experience but is not open-minded in their learning.
Another tip for the interview process is to use your volunteer responsibilities to your advantage! A good portion of my interview was focused on what I had previously done in my extra-curricular involvements and how it directly relates to the industry.
Just because you were not paid, does not mean it’s invaluable experience.
What are the main responsibilities of your current role in sports marketing?
Polini: My role is to satisfy all sponsorship, promotional, contesting and marketing objectives for 22 Clubs across Western Canada and the Northwestern US. I help create a positive relationship with each of our Clubs’ Marketing Directors and Game Day Staff, with open lines of communication.
A majority of my job is very much “relationship management” with the number of contacts and sponsors we are in touch with on a daily basis!
Overall, my main objective is to ensure sponsors receive the highest level of service possible and fulfill all elements of our sponsorship agreements. This ranges from determining unique activation techniques, to engaging fans with in-venue promotions, and hosting regional events within the WHL and national events with the Canadian Hockey League (CHL).
You’ve been with the WHL for almost a year now, what have you learned is the most important part of being a new hire in the sports industry?
Polini: The most important thing to remember as a newbie in the industry is to never limit your opportunities. You should not place limitations on yourself just because you are young or have little experience. I have made a conscious effort to always say “yes” to any task or opportunity presented to me.
That pertains to my career and personal life.
At the office, if I am asked to take on a new project (no matter how tedious or boring it may be) I will likely say yes. Personally, if I have the opportunity to volunteer or attend a networking event, I will always attend and make the most of that time. The way I see it, doing more work and taking on responsibility will never hurt your career path – Although, you may be a little worn-out some days.
That’s not to say you have to say yes to everything (there is only 24 hours in one day), but taking on responsibility that no one else wants to do may just be the game-changer for you one day.
Hockey fans are a pretty loyal bunch – what are the biggest challenges you face from a marketing perspective?
Polini: That is a very true statement.
One of the most interesting parts of my job is evaluating league promotions and how we can make it exciting for fans across the entire league, which for us is a geographical spread of four Canadian Provinces and two U.S. states.
[color-box]”I would encourage others not to be afraid to reach out and ask for what you want. It eventually landed me a full-time job” – Ginelle Pollini[/color-box]
One of the biggest challenges is how we can service corporate sponsors in the best possible way while still adding value to fans. Sponsors want the most “bang-for-their-buck” and finding that balance takes a lot of negotiation and compromise. Going through the negotiation process has been an extremely exciting learning curve for me, and is something I would like to do more of in the future.
Once it is time to execute, that is where you see your ideas come to life – there is an enormous sense of accomplishment when I get to see contests and promotions run full-circle, and makes the challenges a long the way very valuable learning lessons that can be incorporated moving ahead into next season.
Our CEO worked for the Phoenix Coyotes and actually was their practice goalie – do you ever find your way down to the ice to knock some of these guys around?
Polini: It’s always fun to hang out with the hockey guys around the arenas. Trainers and coaches do a tremendous amount of work for their teams, so it’s always enjoyable when we get to spend some time in their stomping grounds! I’ve learned a lot from trainers and General Managers around our league.
Spending time with hockey operations gives a big-picture view of the entire operation, I would encourage everyone to branch out and get to know as many different contacts connected to your organization as much as possible.
Have a great story or some insight on how you turned your sports internship into a sports job? Share it in the comments below – we’d love to learn from your experience!