Job Interview Tips for Sports Careers: Three Things You Should Expect

job interview tips for sports careers
You’ve nailed your resume. Mastered the techniques of job searching. Studied and prepared for the most likely interview questions.

And now you wait.

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?”

And 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 true preparation begins.

To go into your job interview with confidence, you have to know what to expect.

Job Interview Tip #1 – 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, a senior at the University of Michigan, 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.”

job interview tips for sports careers
Jeremy Ross had to prove his skills with a social media campaign for the New York Mets prior to being hired. This infographic is something he did his first week on the job.
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 was in charge of the event.

“I thought of something on my feet, but it was the one question that got my heart rate up!”

The Lesson: Understand your skills, know what you bring to the table and put yourself in the shoes of the interviewer. If you were interviewing someone for this job, what would you want to make sure they knew how to do? Think like a hiring manager and you’ll find the whole process will get easier.

Job Interview Tip #2 – 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 really an enjoyable endeavor.

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 engrained cliché answers, so I developed a trick and it worked like a charm.

After a round of questioning I would offer a break to go 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:

  1. The subject would pick up their phone and drift off, seemingly uninterested in their surroundings

  2. The subject 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

  3. On rare occasions, the subject 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.

Job Interview Tip #3 – Is this Multiple Choice?

To work in sports 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 this only happens for entry level job interviews, because 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. You have to know what you are talking about.

Here’s my advice –

  1. You don’t have to know how to calculate WAR (wins above replacement), but you should know how to calculate the basics, like ERA

  2. 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 important.

  3. 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 the 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 over-think it… and don’t choke. The sports quiz, like my earlier trick, 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.

Final Thought:

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.
By Brian Clapp | August 14, 2017
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