Don't Know Anyone? Here's How to Start Building Your Network

No matter what industry you are in, you can build a network of great contacts if you put in the work. Here is the work you need to do.

Hi everybody I’m Brian Clapp Director of Content for and this is the Work in Sports podcast ---

As many of you know I was out earlier this week, no podcast on Monday or Wednesday because I was in Phoenix at our corporate offices for our quarterly summit. We get together from all corners of the country and work up strategies and tactics for our business moving forward.

I can’t really tell you what we are up to, because we aren’t there yet, but it was an exciting week. I will tell you this, much of the feedback I have received through this podcast, through our private facebook group and the email inbox was discussed and embraced.Your Sports Career Questions Answered

You folks gave us some good ideas that we are putting into action and I can’t wait to tell you about. Some very cool features, tools and well some other stuff, that’ll add so much value to you in your job search.

I’m excited. This is my excited voice.

My first day back the northeast office, which is just me and my podcast studio north of philly, I interviewed Andrew Howard Communications Manager for the NFL and it is going to be an awesome episode come Wednesday.

If you are into the behind the scenes inner workings of NFL events – think combine, draft, super bowl, playoffs – you are going to be really into this discussion.

My conversation with Andrew lined up very very well with a question we received this week from Ellen, a junior in college who is struggling with building her network. Now, as you know Ellen will get a free month at Work in for having her question read on the air – which means she will gain immediate access to our over 7,000 active sports jobs, our matching technology, our resume database that is available to our over 8,000 employment partners – it’s a gift that will help Ellen!

You can send your questions to – or join our private facebook group by searching for the WorkinSports podcast on facebook. Being a part of that group will get you an incredible network of contacts – many people I’ve interviewed on the show are in that group…and there are hundreds of sports areer minded people, helping each other out in the battle to get hired – so join in.

Also, I probably don’t mention this enough but – subscribe to this podcast, and tell your friends and fellow students… we love growing our audience and sharing all this great information with all of you! So subscribe already…don’t miss an episode!

Alright on to Ellen’s question:

HI Brian, love the podcast I’ve listened to all of your expert interviews, often more than once and I love you QA sessions which is why I am writing in. In the expert interviews you consistently ask how someone got started in their career, and I listen anxiously hoping to hear someone who didn’t have an “in” in the industry. Alas, it seems so many of your experts say – we’ll I knew such and such which led to a chance. Just being honest here, I don’t really know anyone. I’m worried my lack of connections will really hurt me getting a job in my near future – what do you suggest?

Ellen great question and one that many people struggle with so let’s dig into it.

First I want you to know there is hope, I got my first job without knowing anyone. Truly, I knew no one. But my skill profile helped me get noticed and then it was up to me to nail the interview and sell them on me.

And that is a really important disclaimer here – even if you have all the connections in the world, you have to have the right skills, you will not be hired for just knowing people or having a relative in the business, you need the skills and the ability to sell yourself.

Knowing people just gives you a chance, you still have to deliver.

But let’s get to your networking question.

The reason I said this meshed up well with my interview of Andrew Howard of the NFL is because he shared how he got started… but, also had a great addendum.

As you’ll hear in the upcoming interview, Andrew had a connection with a high ranking official in the USC athletic department, who helped him with a connection in the NFL which led to his first job as a public relations coordinator.

To my earlier point, he also had interned with the San Jose Earthquakes, Golden State Warriors and wrote for the Daily Bruin covering the football team at UCLA…so he had the chops to match the connection.

But here’s where it gets interesting.

While in college, and even to this day, he reaches out to people in the industry he thinks he can learn from, he asks questions and asks for advice. He doesn’t ask for a job, he asks specific questions.

This very much fits in line with my personal philosophy. Only a small percentage of you are going to have a family connection to some high-ranking league official, or team HR rep… the rest of you will have to hustle for your network.

So let’s talk action items.

I think Linkedin is the biggest tool on your tool belt, and you need to leverage that as best you can.  Now, please don’t all of you flood me with your personal questions, which tends to happen whenever I do this, but I will tell you when people ask me well thought out specific questions I always put in an effort to answer.

Many of you in the audience listening right now are probably nodding your head, because I’ve done it for you.  In fact, I just gave a few of you a strong lead on a job with the Cleveland Cavaliers that my friend Jon Horton is looking to hire.

So how’s this for role playing. You listen to one of our podcasts interviews, and you reach out via linkedin to the person we just interviewed. You say, “hey I just heard you on the work in sports podcast and loved your interview – I’m trying to break into the industry and I had one follow up question if you don’t mind…”

Start a dialogue! The smarter you are, and less needy, the better your relationship will become. Don’t ask too much, provide value back to them if you can, and it will deepen your connection.

Here’s another real life example –

I know someone who made a connection with one of our expert guests, asked some questions, had a dialogue started…and then sent them a personal thank you note, with a T-shirt of the team they were interning with. Saying something like I just got this opportunity, thanks so much for the advice you gave me, I wanted to show you a little token of appreciation!

For the cost of a $20-30 t-shirt they gave back to the person who helped them. Or it could be a keychain or a bumper sticker… doesn’t matter.

The attempt here is to make it a two way street, not just a one way. Not just a you get something, their advice, and they get nothing. An exchange of goods always works, and it shows a level of appreciation for their time.

Target people through LinkedIn – and I’m not suggesting you reach out to Theo Epstein, look for someone in an entry level role you may be interested in, or a mid level manager, it doesn’t have to be with the exact team you want to work with, but maybe it’s in the same league. You’ll find it’s a small world in sports and many of us know each other.

So let’s say you build a up a bit of a relationship, a rapport, with someone with the Maine Red Claws of the NBA G-League, and after a little bit you see a job opening with the Long Island Nets … it is fair game to say hey, I just saw this opening with the Long Island team would you happen to know anyone over there you could get me in touch with?

The reason this works is because you’ve built trust and rapport already.

Do not do this early on! Do not come out and ask for help getting a job from someone you don’t know. That is a major turnoff.

Here’s the deal – treat networking like a sport, you have to compete for connections. There is a rhythm to it, it’s almost like booking guests on our podcast --  in the beginning you’ll reach out to many people, and many won’t respond… who cares! Don’t take it to heart. But someone will, and you'll start to dig in to that relationship.

Keep reaching out to more people, keep up your activities! I say set goals for yourself like – I’m going to reach out to 10 people each week on LinkedIn and I’m going to follow up with people who have responded to me every two weeks.

Set a standard you can replicate and keep up the routine.

Bringing this full circle, Andrew Howard in college started reaching out to people to build his network and that helped him when he started in the NFL because he already had some team connections. So the network you build isn’t just about getting a job, it’s about flourishing in it when you get one too.

Here’s your big takeaway – a network is rarely something you are given, it’s something you have to work at. And the best way to do that is by being curious, respectful of someone’s time, specific, and make the connection go both ways – help them too.

That’s it for this week – have an awesome weekend and I’ll talk to you all on Monday!

By Brian Clapp | May 11, 2018
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