Sports Jobs Q&A: Transitioning From Student-Athlete to Employee

sports jobs for student athletesI'm excited about this weeks Sports Jobs Q&A because a former student-athlete is looking for guidance and I believe her scenario is one that many, many people face every year.

That's the joy of this column, trying to answer the questions that can help the largest number of people.

As a reminder, if you have a question you want to ask us, just add it to the comments below and you could be featured in an upcoming Sports Jobs Q&A column.

Let's get to it.

The Q:

Mr. Clapp,

I came across your name and profile through the WorkInSports email alerts that I receive. Your profile really stood out to me and I would love it if you would be willing to lend some career advice. I'm a former women's basketball player and graduate of Tulane University. I am currently seeking a career in the sports industry but not quite sure exactly what all my options are or the proper steps I should be taking. I'd really appreciate it if you could take a few minutes to lend out a few pointers. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Thanks!!

Brittany McDonald 

The A:

Brittany, let me start off by saying - nice work. The world of college sports has become so demanding on student-athletes, I marvel at athletes like yourself that are able to find time to practice, work out, travel, eat healthy, compete, study, take tests, write papers... it's amazing and you deserve to be commended.

student-athlete to sports jobs
Brittany McDonald in action at Tulane University
Your question is one that I get often in various forms - from the classic, "I love sports, what should I do for a career?" to the desperate, "sports are the only thing that makes me happy, what should I do for living?". I cringe almost every time I get the question, because in all honesty how the heck can anyone tell another person, that they don't know, what they should do with their life?

In these situations I find myself giving out generic advice, and I hate generic advice. I want every word I type to have purpose, meaning and intention.

But it is different coming from an athlete like yourself, because there are skills that I know go into being an athlete - and there are undeniable attributes like focus, dedication, organization, passion, competitiveness and so much more. This is my roundabout way of saying, I can't determine what each individual person should do for a living, but for an athlete like yourself, I think I have some pretty good ideas.

Building Your Skills Into Your Resume

Let's start off with something I heard at the Sports Industry Networking and Career Conference in Washington D.C. earlier this year. During an Human Resources Q&A session a student-athlete in the crowd asked, "How can I leverage being part of the  gymnastics team in college on my resume?"

I want to focus on one panelist response in particular:

Michael Gettlin, Director of Compensation at the NBA: "When I see a resume that mentions the candidate has been a student-athlete it absolutely helps tell the character of a person, but some of the acquired skills need to be spelled out. One thing that student-athletes have to deal with his time management. That is, balancing very strong and competing priorities - studying and passing classes while also knowing your playbook, working out, practicing, travelling and competing. I think that you have to demonstrate the skills you have acquired as a student-athlete to an employer, you can't assume how they will interpret your intercollegiate athletics participation. Remember, it's not just the fact you were an athlete, you have to spell out the skills your learned and how that experience helps make you a better candidate for employment."

I wanted to point this out first before delving into potential sports job landing spots, because it's imperative not to let your experience competing go to waste. If you just put that you were one the Women's Basketball team at Tulane on your resume, that doesn't tell enough of a story. Really dig deep into why it makes you different and better. You have done something, and been exposed to scenarios most people only dream of - that is a differentiator in the job marketplace!

Now let's talk jobs.

Sports Jobs for Former Student-Athletes #1: Media Relations

A few years back a former MLB relief pitcher asked me what he should in is post-playing career and the first thing that came to mind was Media Relations.

It makes sense, the primary function of a Media Relations coordinator is to work as a liaison between athletes and the media, and who would know and understand both sides of that scenario better than a former athlete? You know what it is like to fulfil interview requests, to speak after a tough loss, to participate in charity work and so much more.

You have walked a mile in those shoes - you get it - it's such a logical step!

Here is a recent job posting on for a Media Relations Coordinator opening at an MLS team. Check out the skills & requirements:

media relations sports job description

Media relations is a high ceiling career choice for a student-athlete. You could start at a small college, work up to larger schools, go to the pros, work in publicity for athletes, work within a sports agency - the possibilities are endless.

Find sports jobs connected to media relations right here.

Sports Jobs for Former Student-Athletes #2:  Director of Development, Major Gifts & Donations

We're getting creative here (like I said, I loathe generic advice)

When I worked as a sports producer at  CNN/Sports Illustrated, one of my main responsibilities was the production of our NFL preview show. I loved it. Talking and watching football for a living, can't beat it.

One of our analysts was former NFL head coach Ron Meyer, he would fly in on Saturday's to discuss the show, do the show Sunday morning and fly back out. After a while I asked, what do you do when you aren't you work or just play?

He worked, and it was fascinating to me what he did.

During the week he "worked" at the Rio casino in Las Vegas - he'd entertain high rollers, talk football, tell stories and generally make people happy and comfortable. As he put it to me, "everyone always has respect, questions and stories they want told from an NFL coach."

Here's the point.

As a student-athlete you are somebody. You have done things most people haven't. You've competed in front of thousands, you've had your name in lights.

That, is a natural ice breaker and an easy way to get in with important people.

Collegiate athletic departments seek out donations to help fund all of their activities, especially to help fund the sports that don't pencil as well as big time football or basketball. There is an entire staff, at big schools and small schools alike, dedicated to recruiting donations from alumni and other interested fans.

Here again is a recent job description posted on our site from Bowling Green University:

student athlete sports jobs


Another logical fit. To find sports jobs as an athletic director and in donations and gift-giving, often called "development" click here

Sports Jobs for Former Student-Athletes #3: Sports Marketing

Whenever sports movies come out, I always look to see who they hired as a technical advisor (i.e. the real person who ensures the movie isn't devoid of any realism). I read recently that during the making of the movie "Draft Day" Bill Belichick was consulted with to make sure the script made sense and was an accurate depiction of a draft day war room.

Kind of a cool side gig for a coach.

Sports marketing agencies often look for such technical advisement in their day-to-day business. Their job is to create a lasting image, website, advertisement or sponsorship activation that grabs attention and makes sense. A former student-athlete is a huge asset in sports marketing, because they see the world through a different lens than so many of us.

Also, time management is a huge part of sports marketing, a skill honed by student-athletes who have had to manage multiple conflicting schedules and priorities during their playing career.

Find Sports Marketing jobs right here

Final Thought

Of course, student-athletes can do anything, and so much of it depends on your degree and passion, but these are a few sports careers I believe cater to the unique skill set college athletes acquire while in school. Being a student-athlete is unique, use that to differentiate you from the crowd!

Have any other words of advice for Brittany in her transition from student-athlete to sports employee? Add it to the comments below!
By Brian Clapp | April 11, 2014
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