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.
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.
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.”