Approaching Sports Internships from an Employers Perspective

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We’ve established sports internships are vital, but how do you really succeed in the eyes of your employer?

If a college education was a car, internships would be the keys – because you aren’t getting anywhere without them.

So much time is spent extolling the virtues of sports internships, but we so often approach the subject only from the perspective of the student and rarely from the perspective of the employer. Maybe we should flip to conversation on its head just a bit and approach the whole subject a little differently

What does an employer want and expect out of their interns?

What will lead them to give you a positive recommendation or referral?

What are the circumstances that give them confidence in opening up their list of contacts and sharing them with you?

Since sports internships are the primary way to gain real work experience and direct you towards future employment, standing in the employers shoes for a moment will be a very valuable exercise.

What Does an Employer Want and Expect From Their Interns

In every internship situation you are being judged against those who have come before you and those who are there with you. Employers are looking for that person who stands out from the crowd for the right reasons.

“When you go into an internship situation it’s incredibly important that you try to surpass the expectations of those who you are working with,” advises Apryl Evans, Director of Human Resources at RedPeg Marketing.

“If you’re an internship program with others, they are your competition,” adds Evans. “At the end of your internship there may be one full-time positon we are looking to fill. We are assessing you throughout the entire program to see what your strengths are and how you could contribute to our organization and we judge you based on the rest of your group, the entire outside market and past interns who still may be looking for employment.”

The easiest way to show you are the right type of intern – say “yes” to every assignment, ask smart questions and don’t make the same mistake twice.

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No employer expects perfection from interns, they fully understand you are learning on the job, and that is why they want to see a positive attitude and professional growth.

Nothing will get you exiled to the end of the job candidate line than continuing to make the same mistakes. It shows a lack of aptitude and gives off the impression you don’t listen well.

If Not a Job, How About a Referral?

Not every internship has the potential to lead to a paid position, therefore the next best thing is gaining trust in the form of a referral from your internship manager.

“Most people that have been in the sports profession would tell you that most sports jobs do not come with an ad in the paper,” says George Washington University Athletic Director Patrick Nero. “It is someone picking up the phone and making a call for you. There is power in being able to ask your internship coordinator, ‘I see this job open at the NBA league office, do you know anyone there? Is there a call you can make to help me at least get an interview?’”

If you are not the ideal intern, this conversation, and this power of networking never comes to fruition. And while it is ideal to get a job directly at the place you are currently interning, oftentimes that is an edge case rather than the reality.

“If you do your internship the right way, you are going to make so many contacts over the six months to a year while you are in the program,” adds Nero. “Those are the people that will help you further down the road in getting a job.”

Internships Are An Opportunity to Build Relationships

If your attitude going into an internship is just to fulfill the requirements of your college degree, you have wildly missed the point. The experience and connections you build in an internship far outweigh the piece of paper your college experience represents.sports internships

Since the goal of college is to become capable of employment, your internships are the closest connection to that finish line. Experience is not gained in the classroom. Mistakes are rarely overcome in the classroom. Professional reputations are not started in the classroom.

Internships give you all that and more.

“Building a relationship and reputation during your internship is really important,” concludes Nero. “When I get calls from other employers asking about a certain person who has been in our internship program, the person on the other end of the phone can tell quickly whether I had a good relationship with this former intern, whether I respected them and whether I truly want to refer them for this job.

“The opposite is true too. I have called a person’s references before and been underwhelmed by the response and my thought is always, there is no relationship here so this isn’t a true reference.”

You Are At The Starting Line

Talk to any sports executive and they will recall a time before they had established themselves, when they had to complete some less that glamorous tasks as an intern. It’s important to stay humble as an intern, take on assignments with gusto and realize there is great potential to establish yourself through any task.

“One of our owners started out about 16 to 17 years ago as an intern,” recalls Evans. “He worked his way up. He did what he needed to do and now he’s part owner. So stay on top of it. Internships are a wonderful opportunity for you to build your resume ad reputation very early on.”

About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the sports media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for &

Recently, Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, do it.

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  1. Callum Mitchell says

    A very useful article. I am a student currently undertaking a placement year in Hong Kong. My placement is not related to the sporting industry, and has made me realize that this is where my passion lies. I was wondering how you feel about the usefulness of general work experience and whether or not this is valued by employers in the sporting industry? After I finish my degree, I am hoping to find a job that I feel passionately about. Would you recommend applying for an internship position, instead of jumping straight in to a permanent position?

    I would greatly appreciate any advice/guidance that you could give me!

    • Callum do internships as an undergrad to help you get the experience you need to step into the sports industry. After graduation there are some post-graudate internships that pay, those are options, but I’d look to get full-time employment. General work experience is OK, but try to get something at least in your field of interest…i.e. if you want to work in sports televiison, getting a job in nightly news isn’t a bad step. Or if you want to work in sports marketing, getting a job at an advertising agency isn’t a bad step. But if you want to work in sports sales and you get a job at the mall selling shoes…not sure that helps all that much. – Brian

    • Callum Mitchell says

      Thank you Brian! I really appreciate your advice. I hope of finding a sports marketing internship in the summer. It is a shame that I only discovered after already finding a placement. I did not realize the expansive range of internships offered in the sports industry. When I return from my placement year, would you recommend partaking in sports related teams and societies at university level? I believe I read in a previous article of yours how employers value such extracurricular activities. – Callum

  2. This article would be more useful if employers actually valued internship experience. But they don’t. You say that we should look for full time employment after having relevant internship experience in college. But all job postings require you to have years and years of full time experience before they’ll even consider you. You constantly make these blog posts claiming how all we need is internships, connections, and a degree, and the moment we graduate we’ll have employers clamoring to hire us. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I have been searching for a full time for more than a year with five internships and extensive part – time experience. Zip. Nada. What do you say to that person?

    • Hey Gin, I am really sorry for the frustration you have endured in your job search, as I have said in many posts, I am sympathetic to anyone on a job search because it is not fun – it is frustrating, emotionally draining and lonely. I get it, trust me I do. There is no one size fits all technique, but there are principles that work more often than not. Internships are extremely valuable because they help you gain a semblance of experience while in school and show an employer you have maximized your time in college. I try hard not to make any guarantees of “employers clamoring to hire” because I have no idea what your (or anyone else’s) college experience was like, what classes you took, what internships you did, what types of jobs you are applying for, what your references say about you etc. I try to stick to principles that work, and trust me the vast majority of people (myself included) will tell you their internships, and the people they met while on them, helped them get full time work. One of my other lasting principles is that it’s about skill acquisition, what can you do that an employer needs. Evaluate yourself. Read countless job descriptions and match your professional skills to their professional needs – if they don’t match, work on that! – best of luck, Brian

  3. It simply doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter if I’m overqualified and have 5+ years of experience. Employers don’t hire based on qualifications anymore, only on whether or not the know your uncle or something. Why is that more important than experience and work ethic?

    • Sorry you see it that way Gin, but trust me employers want experience, work ethic, cultural fits etc. Knowing people helps but it isn’t the only way. Best of luck to you!

  4. Hi Brian.I found this article very useful, and I’m gratefull for your infoes and ideas here. I finished Law and now starting Master studies in Sport Management. In the mean time, my wish is to work in the Professional Sport Club. Following your advices in this article and many others, I got my internship in one of the top european professional handball clubs. If you can give me any additional advice about the moment after we get the internship,eg: communication inside, work ethic, anything that will help me, specialy about communication with professional athletes, to leave better impression, I will be very gratefull. Thank you Brian.

  5. Nice article, Brian. I found it very true and helpful. In the world of sports, it is important to make those connects early and use the internship as a stepping stone to further your career. I am in a transition and many have recommended that I volunteer or do some type of internship so that I can gain better experience in the new field of work.

  6. Hello,

    How are you doing? It has been a struggle still. I was laid off by New Era Tickets in April 2015 to relocate the call center to the Philippines. Also the Philadelphia 76ers decided not to do the Charity Raffle Selling. I have been applying away on my own along with had to apply with Temp Agencies which hasn’t been successful at all. I have been placed with Pharmaceutical Companies which I have no knowledge in the industry. I have attended so many career fairs, drove up and down from Hatboro, PA to Whitehouse Station, NJ, Somerset, NJ, Philadelphia PA for the opportunities I have worked for or still working in. I had a few questions to ask if you are able to assist.

    Do you know of either contacts within the Philadelphia PA Area?

    Do you feel University of Phoenix Degree is valid?

    Do you feel going back for a Masters Degree is necessary? And if it is there scholarships or grants to apply for?

    Does my resume and cover letter stand out?

    We have spoken a number of times, I move into low income housing which is embarrassing and not giving up on what I passion and value of doing.

    • Joseph, I wouldn’t spend the money to get a Masters from University of Phoenix. If anything, I’d look into a program like Sports Management Worldwide – they have sport specific training classes online and help with placement after you finish the course load. Check it out and keep looking on our site for the right opportunity! – Brian

  7. Christina Megan says

    Great article! Especially for a college student-athlete weighing the importance of internships and capitalizing on those experiences and platforms now.

  8. I was in the industry already since 1999. I was offered the opportunity with the Reading Fightin Phils, completed the internship from January 2017 to August 2017, and still not in a career in Sports. I am not sure what else I am suppose to do. I applied at Aramark and Kohl’s in which I had to stop working at Aramark with working 12 to 14 hours a day. This has been exhausted, draining, see other colleagues being hired by teams, and being promoted. I am ambitious, passionate, hard worker, and not sure what else I am suppose to do to stand out.