Justin Hunt is the author of From Mascot To Agent And Everything In Between and has agreed to write a three part series on breaking into the sports industry for the Work in Sports blog. This is Part 2, if you missed Part 1 start here: I Want to Work in Sports…now what?
A networking strategy is only as effective as the foundation on which it is built.
In Part 1 of this three part series, I emphasized the importance of self-awareness and the steps readers can take to become more self-aware.
It is crucial that you do not skip these exercises.
Remember, the overall goal is to develop a networking strategy and career plan that will help you obtain your dream job in sports. Once adequate self-awareness is achieved, then you can move on to your networking strategy.
Developing Your Networking Strategy
Your networking strategy will be most effective if you focus on two main areas: (1) contacts and (2) content.A networking strategy is only as effective as the foundation on which it is built #sportsbiz Click To Tweet
The core philosophies that guide this approach are not unique to my plan. However, if utilized properly, this approach can be a very powerful tool that will assist you in connecting with professionals across the industry for years to come.
Step 1: Create your contact list template
Your natural inclination will lead you down one of two paths. You will either want to start contacting these professionals immediately via phone call, email or social media, or you will delay and push this aside because you are afraid of potential rejection.
I encourage you to hit pause and focus on developing an all-encompassing contact list template first.
The professionals you will be reaching out to are very busy and won’t tolerate a lack of preparation. Before you start connecting, compile a list of information about the various professionals holding the position(s) of your interest.
Some of the categories in your contact list will be general. Items, such as name, position, organization, email and phone number, are standard columns of information that every sheet should contain.
However, you also need to personalize the information on your list. This is more difficult.
When I created my list, I included columns for information, such as alma mater, personal hobbies, community involvement, professional organizations, and referrals. My referral column has proven to be very beneficial, and it is as simple as finding someone that might be able to connect you with that person on your list.
I encourage you to add this column to your template.
The overall objective is to create an elaborate, carefully developed contact list that contains enough information to draft an email or facilitate a conversation that welcomes a response.
If you are having trouble identifying sources of information that will help personalize your contact list, consider doing the following to familiarize yourself with the industry.
- Join discussion boards and/or professional groups – Look for industry experts, ideally those holding the position you hope to obtain, and read discussions they post or content they generate. This will teach you a lot about the person and the industry that could lead to great questions and information sources that are worth maintaining on your list and bringing up during a conversation.
- Research organization websites – Locate the information organizations make available to the public on their websites and incorporate some of the common themes into your contact list template.
- Social media activity – Scan the profiles and contacts of professionals with whom you hope to connect. You can develop a pretty good understand of people’s backgrounds just by what is available on social media. If you see a comment theme or area of emphasis among these professionals, include it as a column on your list.
Once you’ve completed your research and your template is complete with the appropriate data columns, it is time to start researching the individuals occupying the position(s) you desire to obtain in sports.
Fill in your contact list with the applicable information provided on social media outlets and other websites. Use this information to think of questions for each person, incorporating tidbits of information about them that demonstrates you did your research.
Comments like “In your role as XXX with XXX, did you learn any takeaways from XXX?” will go a long way.
Complete this research and finalize your contact list before you start making calls. After connecting with these professionals, update the information on this sheet. Treat your contact list as a working document that will never be “final.”
Step 2: Establish and build your content
You will discover when making networking calls that it is relatively easy to run out of things to talk about. Small talk may work during your initial call, but it is a recipe for disaster during subsequent calls.
Remember, these men and women are very busy, and they won’t be inclined to help you if they don’t see progress on your end. You need something to keep them interested and vested in your progress towards a career in sports.
I refer to this progress in general as your “content.”
Content encompasses the projects, initiatives and accomplishments that display your substantive knowledge and expertise in a particular area of the industry.
Your content is what will drive conversations, create relationships and establish credibility in the industry.
For me, my content was limited early on. I had my law degree. But I took the advice of professionals I spoke with on my contact list and published law review articles on the salary cap and legal disputes involving the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. The publicity from these articles helped me land an interview and eventually a position in the 49ers’ front office as a salary cap administrator.
I leveraged this short-term opportunity to partner with an existing athlete representation firm and obtain my NFL agent certification. I then used these experiences and the relationships I have formed in professional sports to publish my first book in the industry: From Mascot To Agent And Everything In Between.
Switching gears back to you.
The different volunteer projects and self-driven initiatives that you work on to develop your understanding of the industry will serve as the foundation for your content early in your career.
One of my mentees researched the roster composition based on player acquisition method (i.e drafted players, free agency acquisitions, unsigned free agents, etc.) of the previous 10 Super Bowl Champions to identify an effective personnel strategy in the NFL. He used this white paper to connect with personnel executives and land his first role in the NFL.
Keep a running list of projects and tasks that will equip you with additional content. There are always opportunities to develop your content. If you find yourself at a loss, here are a few suggestions:
- Identify emerging industry trends – Regardless of your specific career interest, industries are constantly changing. The best way to develop content is to identify emerging trends, technologies or business transactions and become an expert in these areas. Research these trends and start to think how this will impact the professional sports league and position(s) of your interest. Take it upon yourself to write a white paper or conduct a study analyzing data in these areas that are up-and-coming in the industry (e.g. the emergence of analytics in operations, presence of virtual reality to further fan engagement, etc.)
- Rely on your network to develop your content – You have to take a different angle than the “I need a job” approach that is all too common with industry professionals. I found that networking is much easier when you request assistance with understanding their area of the business. The executives that helped me draft my different legal notes remain close to me, and a few of them participated in my book. Be creative and find a way for them to help you develop your content without expressly asking them.
- Attend industry events – Plan a road trip and maximize the exposure these events provide. It is very rare that the industry gathers in a single city at the same time. You can learn about the different industry players and attendees at these events. A few examples include the NFL Combine, Baseball Winter Meetings, NCAA Convention and AFCA Convention. Locate these opportunities and plan accordingly.
- Volunteer – You will learn about the industry from other volunteers. In some instances, they can teach you more about the role of your interest and provide insight on information that is very important to consider in the field. This will also give you an experience to talk about with the members of your developing network.
The development of your contact list and content will take time. The more time you spend preparing for your career in sports, the more successful your plan will be. Find a way to build your network through the development of your content and vice versa.
You will get discouraged with your networking efforts at times.
The key is reminding yourself that regardless of the response rate, these efforts will only increase your chances of landing the job you want in the industry.