A Step-by-Step Guide to the Sports Interview Process
At each phase of the interview process, there are different things the hiring manager is looking for and expects. Once you know their motivation in each moment and what they want to hear, the whole process becomes more natural.
You’ve nailed your resume, mastered the techniques of job searching, studied and prepared for the most likely interview questions - and now you wait.sports career advice
You wait for the phone to ring and the voice on the other side to be more than just pleasant, you want it to invite you in. You long for someone to say, “Do you have time in your schedule to discuss our open position?”
When that call comes, don’t cheer. Stay calm. Pretend you’ve been there before and you are mature enough to answer – yes, I do have time – with poise.
Once you hang up, celebrate. But only for a moment, because you haven’t won anything yet and now the real preparation begins.
To go into your job interview with confidence, you have to know what to expect.
1: What do the employers want?
Whether you are conducting your first interview for a particular job on the phone or your 5th interview face-to-face, there is a simple fact to this entire interview process that you need to remember:
They wouldn’t have called you in the first place if you didn’t already pass their skill requirements.
Think about it, the recruiter knows what they want out of their next hire, they’ve got plenty of resumes to choose from, and they called you.
That means they feel pretty confident you have the skills for the job, and now they want to discover if you are the right fit.
That doesn’t mean you have the job in the bag, or they won’t press you on questions connected to your skills or expect you to expand upon your stated knowledge in various ways - but it does mean they have some confidence you meet their technical requirements.
Again, they don’t call everyone, but they are calling you because you appear to complete the first level of their expectations. This is very important to know because now you understand the wants and needs of the employer.
The reason they are calling you is to verify your skills and start learning if you are a fit in their culture:
- Are you passionate?
- Are you a leader?
- Do you have room to grow?
- Are you coachable?
Each employer will have a different definition for what “cultural fit” means, but the more you can begin to show your personality, professionalism, AND enthusiasm for the role, the more likely you are to advance beyond phase 1.
2: Get Ready to Prove it
The sports industry hires based on skills. Not will, not GPA, not clubs you were president of in college. Skills.
Ask yourself before every sports job interview – what can I do to make this organization better?
If you don’t know the answer to that question, don’t bother showing up. Sounds a little harsh, right? Well, it’s true – so consider yourself warned.
When Jeremy Ross was interviewing for a social media internship with the New York Mets, he had to demonstrate he could deliver.
“After the first round of phone interviews they asked me to create a comprehensive social media campaign to push a few Mets into the All-Star Game,” recalls Ross. “This presentation secured my internship, as a week after I submitted it they offered me the first social media internship in the organization’s history.”
Sports is a results-oriented business, not just on the scoreboard but in the ratings, the revenue and the merchandising. Employers want to know that you can turn your talent into results.
Matter of fact, they are daring you to prove it.
As part of a class field trip, Krista Staudinger attended a pre-spring training media luncheon for the Seattle Mariners. Later, when she was in pursuit of a Media Relations position with the team, she was put on the spot.
“During my interview, the one question that came as a surprise to me was when my interviewer asked about the pre-spring training media luncheon I went to,” says the University of Washington graduate. “She wanted to know what I would do differently if I were in charge of the event.
“I thought of something on my feet, but it was the one question that got my heart rate up!”
Here’s the thing – employers aren’t looking for you to nail the entire on the spot project perfectly, they are looking for how confident you are, how decisive you are, how creative you are, how enthusiastic you are.
They are looking at both your hard and soft skills – do you have the tactical and strategic skills to know what goes into a marketing campaign, and do you also have the characteristics of someone who can thrive in this industry.
Maybe not in the first phone interview, but at some point of the interview process expect to have a business problem thrown at you that you’ll have to solve creatively.
My suggestion – do it with enthusiasm, speak with confidence and conviction – this is your moment to shine. When a pitcher has to make a pitch with a game on the line, they rely on their training their practice, their comfort — this is where you rely on your training – if you are qualified, you know this stuff, now’s just the time to execute.
3: Someone is Always Watching
In my career, I’ve always been a big fan of the interview process. As a self-described control freak, being able to steer the conversation through questioning is an enjoyable endeavor.sports career advice
On the flip side, interviewing 20 people for a job can also be repetitive and boring. Hearing the same cliché’s coming out of different voices can put you to sleep better than any lullaby. ‘I just want to work hard!’ and ‘I’m willing to do whatever it takes’ can get so monotonous.
I wanted to mix things up a bit and see if I could break people out of their ingrained cliché answers, so I developed a trick, and it worked like a charm.
After a round of questioning I would offer a break to tour the newsroom – I’d explain the workflow, point out the producers, the assignment editors, the reporters and anchors – and then out of nowhere I’d have someone come up and tell me that I was needed immediately for an “important decision”.
Feigning alarm, I’d tell my interview subject to hang out in the newsroom, I’ll be back shortly, and we’ll continue.
As you probably guessed by now, there was no imminent decision. Instead, there was an opportunity to observe this person in a working newsroom and see how they would react.
Very National Geographic if I do say so, observing the beast in its unnatural habitat.
One of three things would happen:
- The candidate would pick up their phone and drift off, seemingly uninterested in their surroundings
- The candidate would observe everything the staff was doing, tempted to say or do something, but instead, decide to watch with interest rather than thrust themselves in
- On rare occasions, the candidate would leave the provided seat almost immediately, start wandering around and observing first-hand, asking questions and introducing themselves to staff
Before you ask, there is no right or wrong answer; it was just another data point I was collecting about each candidate’s personality when they didn’t think I was watching.
The lesson: When you are in the building for a sports job interview you are “on” the whole time – always put forth your best and be present in the moment.
I know others who have done even trickier tricks during their sports job interviews, but I can’t share others people’s tricks…that would be breaking some unwritten rule, like not attempting to bunt during a no-hitter.
4: Is this Multiple Choice?
To work in most sports careers requires sports knowledge. Sounds kind of obvious right?
The truth is I’ve known more than a few people trying to work in the sports industry without any real knowledge or care of sports. Well, these people are usually weeded out a pretty early stage in the interview process by the sports quiz.
Usually the process I’m about to explain only happens for entry-level job interviews where knowledge is paramount to success (think content creation, social media, media relations, team operations, etc.) Chances are if you’ve worked somewhere else in the sports industry that’s proof enough you know something about sports, or at least enough to fake it.
I’ve either taken, given, or seen sports quizzes administered by all the major sports networks, and have heard of them conducted by professional teams, marketing groups, publicists and more. Some organizations may not give you a full 25 question quiz, but they might ask you a few pointed questions about their history and players.
You have to know what you are talking about!
Here’s my advice –
- You likely don’t have to know how to calculate WAR (wins above replacement), but you should know how to figure the basics, like ERA. That is unless you're applying for a job in analytics, then expect to calculate everything (of course!).
- If you’re interviewing with a team, know their history inside and out. Award winners, playoff appearances, most successful coaches/managers, rookies, prospects…details are essential.
- Know more than just NFL, NBA, MLB & NHL. The majority of the questions will come from the major four, but the ones people usually get wrong are individual sports like tennis, golf, and Olympics events. Show you are well-rounded.
The first question on my sports quiz for CNN/Sports Illustrated was “who were the two most recent NFL expansion teams?” It couldn’t get any easier, at the time (1996) it was Jacksonville and Carolina.
After that question, my nerves settled, and I thought – ‘I’ve got this in the bag!’
The next question: “Franco Harris caught the immaculate reception, who was it intended for?”
I got it wrong and started to panic, but in the end still ended up getting hired (it was John “Frenchy” Fuqua…I think I guessed John Stallworth).
The lesson: You don’t have to get everything right to get hired so don’t panic, don’t overthink it, and don’t choke. The sports quiz is just another data point in the process. Generally speaking, the concept behind the sports quiz is to conduct it early in the interview process to weed out potential bad hires, not necessarily to qualify good hires.
5: Soft Skills for Sports Jobs
Finally – Don’t underestimate the importance of eye contact and attitude.
Getting hired in sports is about the skills you have to do the job, but it is also incredibly important that you have the rest of the equation and by that I mean, confidence, work ethic, enthusiasm.
- Amber Cox VP of the Connecticut Sun told me that she looks for people with sparkle – that’s energy and enthusiasm.
- Josh Rawitch Sr. VP of Content and Communications for the Arizona Diamondbacks told me that he looks for people with unparalleled work ethic.
- Carl Manteau, SR Director of Group Sales with the Milwaukee Bucks told me that he looks for people with a willingness to learn and a determination to succeed.
None of them said, “I need someone who understands a revenue worksheet, or a non-linear editing system, or a CRM system” If you made it to the interview phase, they pretty much know you have the skills and check off the boxes for the job requirements, now they are trying to determine if you have “It.”
Each employer sees “it” differently, but it’s that inherent ability to get the job done, to stand strong under pressure, to make the people around you better, to make certain choices, to work late when it is necessary without whining…all these things go into a cauldron and come out with “it”
That is the person who gets hired.
Confidence works. When I hire, I want someone who believes in themselves, can articulate their skills and will fit in culturally. If you are prepared and follow these job interview tips, you can be the most confident version of yourself during the interview, and that person is likely to get hired.
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