Archive for the ‘Networking’ Category

I am excited to attend tonight’s networking event hosted by The Business of Sports. It will be held at Slattery’s Midtown Pub in New York City from 6:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. This is the perfect way to cap off my summer before I head back to Georgetown for my senior year. Sports networking events are not completely new to me. I have attended the Sports Events Marketing Experience (SEME) as well as another sports networking event at the Verizon Center, both earlier this year. Based on my experiences and what I have read about networking, here are 5 Do’s when attending these types of events.

Do’s

1. Bring business cards – Sports business professionals in attendance are bound to bring a stack of cards. While you can certainly get someone else’s business card, it is definitely impressive to bring your own. This is a great way for you to differentiate yourself from other students trying to make connections. It will increase your chances of being remembered when you follow-up with a contact via email after the event.

2. Be interested – When you talk to people in the business, take a genuine interest in what they are saying. They could potentially be the person to get your foot in the door some day. Make sure you look them in the eye and smile while they are talking to you. Listen actively, and try to relate their experiences to yours. Show them that you care.

3. Be yourself – There is nothing worse than acting like someone you are not at one of these events. Be honest when answering questions and informing others about your background. No one likes a liar. If you try talking to someone and it does not go so well, it is not the end of the world. Move on to the next person and learn from your mistakes. The more you practice networking, the better you will become at it.

4. Make your personal brand known – Before going in to one of these networking events, think of a few points about yourself that you would like to get across to each person you meet. You could talk about skills, interests, experience, etc. Be careful not to brag about your past, but make sure the person you speak to understands what makes you tick.

5. Follow-Up – This is what I like to call the X Factor. Getting a sports business professional’s business card is great. However, having that person’s contact information is essentially meaningless if you do not take advantage of it rather quickly. If you feel like you had even a slight connection with someone you met, be sure to send them a polite follow-up email the next day. If your interaction went really well, a personalized handwritten note might blow that person away. In your message, it is a good idea to mention a few of the things you conversed about with that particular person, particularly something that you learned. Ask them if it is okay if you check in with them every now and then. If they are okay with that and you plan to follow through on your request, give yourself a pat on the back. You have now added someone to your network!

If anyone reading this post will be attending tonight’s event and wants to connect, send an email to mjr89(at)georgetown.edu or tweet @LifeofRiley29.

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In Master the Power of a Handwritten Note: Part 1, I talked mainly about the importance of writing personal thank you notes to people in the industry who have helped you in some way. This is definitely a great way for you to make a lasting impression and start a genuine relationship. Make sure you extend this habit to all areas of your life, whether personal or professional.

In the context of breaking into sports, the other type of handwritten note you can write is one that is directed towards someone in a position of power at a sports organization. This person can be an idol of yours whose job you hope to have one day or simply the head of an organization you really want to work for.

So far, I have tried out this tactic once to no avail. After reading super-agent David Falk’s book The Bald Truth, I decided to compose a handwritten letter. It made perfect sense for me to reach out to him. He grew up on Long Island. He is arguably the best basketball agent of all-time. I believed in a lot of the principles he outlined in the book about his personal code of ethics. He represented some of the best Georgetown basketball players including Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning as well as basketball god Michael Jordan. His firm is located in Washington D.C., not far from Georgetown.

With all these things in mind, I wrote him a letter, hoping I would hear back from him like I did with DeMaurice Smith. The letter was very genuine, and I did not ask him for a job. I simply wanted to take him out to lunch and learn more about his career. Although I never heard back from David, I still plan on crossing paths with him in the future.

That being said, writing a handwritten note  to a senior level executive of a sports company is another way for you to stand out from the competition. Blindly sending an email or resume is not the way to go. You will get lost in the clutter. The most important thing you can to when writing these letters is to personalize them as much as possible. Do your homework on the person to whom you are writing. Find out as much as you can about their background and draw comparisons to your own. Show them how you can add value to their company. What separates you from everyone else who is dying to work there? Make them want to get back to you.

Just like in sales, you have to play the numbers game when sending these letters. If you want to work for an NFL team, write all the GMs or owners. Do NOT send them a cookie cutter letter. Take a genuine interest in their career paths based on your research. All you really need is that one response that can change your life. I would recommend writing out a short list of people whose careers match your interests and reaching out to them through the power of a handwritten note.

Nowadays, email is increasingly becoming the most common method of communication, whether it is personal or business-related. Getting ahold of the email address of a sports executive is not all it’s cracked up to be anymore, unless you have some personal connection to him or her. Just think about the hundreds of emails these people are receiving on a daily basis. In all honesty, the majority of the messages others send will be more important than whatever you are sending them. Therefore, your email will probably get buried in their inbox, never to be seen again.

All hope is not lost. If you really want to get a sports professional’s attention in this day and age, I would recommend sending them a handwritten note. Depending on your objective for reaching out to this person, the length of the note will vary.

Based on my experience over the past couple of years, the most common handwritten note sent is the “thank you” note. You might be thinking that one should only send these types of notes when receiving gifts. Wrong. If you want to make a lasting impression on someone and truly appreciate whatever help he or she gave you, say “thank you”. Sure, you could thank the person via email. Without a doubt, he or she would appreciate it, but it is likely that it will be forgotten down the road. If you want to really impress someone and plan on continuing your relationship, you will write them a short, personalized note. This requires slightly more effort than email, but it is well worth it given its more permanent nature. Just like my mentor Rachel Mech taught us about how it is more memorable to speak with people on the phone vs. email, the same applies to handwritten notes.

Just to illustrate the power of the handwritten note, I want to share a little anecdote with you. Back in September 2010, I got a chance to see NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith speak at Georgetown University about the state of the NFL. This was long before the actual lockout took place, but it was certainly looming at that time. He spoke about issues including the success of the league’s business model as well as the risk of concussions for players. See below for the introductory part of Smith’s presentation that night.

After Smith’s 2 hour presentation, I left the auditorium as a more informed football fan. I was happy I attended, so happy in fact that I wanted to thank him for it. After looking up the local NFPA’s address, I sent DeMaurice Smith a note thanking him for speaking and putting my confidence in him to get a deal done with the owners, hopefully before the CBA expired. About a week later, I received a handwritten note in the mail from DeMaurice Smith’s personal stationery. He thanked me for the feedback and support I provided him. Enclosed in the envelope was an NFLPA lapel pin. All because I wrote him a nice handwritten note. Since then, I have kept his note in my desk as a reminder of the power of the handwritten note.

If I can get the attention of someone like DeMaurice Smith, there is no reason you cannot get in touch with sports business professionals that you idolize. So, go to your local pharmacy or bookstore and buy yourself some “thank you” notes!

If you want to learn more about current internship and job opportunities in the sports industry, it is probably a good idea to attend a sports-themed career fair if possible. Given that I am entering my senior year and will most likely pursue an entry-level job in sports (or otherwise attend law school), I could not pass on the opportunity.

Last Thursday, I traveled to the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey to attend the Madison Square Garden Sports and Entertainment Career Fair (note that the Garden is currently under renovations for the summer). I paid $40 for a ticket to that night’s New York Liberty game in order to gain admission into the fair, which lasted from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Along with hundreds of other attendees, I waited for nearly an hour outside in the 90+ degree heat before entering the Prudential Center, much to my chagrin.

When I finally got past security, I took the escalator up to the main concourse, where I was immediately immersed in a throng of internship and job-hungry candidates. The basic set-up of the career fair included tables with representatives from sports and/or entertainment companies followed by long lines of attendees looking to separate themselves from the pack. The companies who were in attendance included the following:

Major League Teams: New York Jets, New York Rangers, New York Knicks, New York Red Bulls, New York Liberty, New Jersey Nets, and New Jersey Devils

Other Sports Companies: CBS Sports, Gazelle Group Sports Marketing, Aviator Sports and Events Center, and FirstJobinSports.com

Professional Leagues: NBA/NBA Development League, WNBA, NASCAR, and National Lacrosse League (NLL)

Minor League Teams: Providence Bruins (hockey) and Newark Bears (baseball)

Entertainment: Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall

Other: Coca Cola, MetLife, and Northwestern Mutual

It was quite a thorough representation of sports and entertainment companies located in the tri-state era. Attendees, myself included, were forced to allocate their time accordingly given the long lines. Based on my interests, I made it to the New York Jets, New Jersey Nets, New York Islanders, Coca Cola, New York Red Bulls, and FirstJobinSports.com. Some of the companies were offering internships, while others full-time positions. The majority of the available jobs were in Inside Sales, which is basically selling over the phone. This is definitely a very common path into the sports industry, so start sharpening those phone skills!

Due to the large number of attendees, the company representatives often spoke to groups of 2-3 people about current opportunities as well as answered any questions. Depending on when you got there and how popular the line was, you might have gotten some one-on-one time. Some company representatives handed out business cards, while others did not. When you left a table, you came away from it with someone’s name and information about how to apply to his or her company.

What people probably enjoyed most about of the fair was the fact that they could drop their resumes off with any of these companies. In my opinion, this did not really mean much to me because of the sheer amount that were collected by teams, leagues, and the like. Unless you asked a memorable question, you became just another name in the pile. I did my best to remember the names of the people I met and follow-up with them via email. Hopefully, it will set me apart from the rest.

Overall, I am glad that I went to the MSG Career Fair. I had been to a sports networking conference before, but this was my first sports career fair. It was nice to see what is out there and how the fairs typically work. The main thing I disliked about it was the impersonal nature of most of the conversations I had with employers. This is not to say that were rude; they just could not give everyone the appropriate attention given the time pressure and over 1,000 attendees. I am much more interested in getting to know the employer representatives on a more basic level, i.e. where they are from, where they went to school, how they broke into sports, etc. Although this was not quite possible given the circumstances, I hope to stay in touch with people I did meet and develop genuine relationships. Definitely attend one of these career fairs to know what the experience is like, and take it from there.

As I alluded to in my earlier post Did You Say…..”Networking?”, just knowing someone in the sports industry is not going to cut it these days. The only exception might be a family friend who you have already established some kind of rapport with. Let’s face it. Most kids trying to break into sports do not have such a connection.

However, you might think you “know” someone in sports just because you collected their business card and sent them a generic email once. If that email had an eye-catching subject line, there is a good chance that your new contact responded to whatever your inquiry was. To you, it might seem like you “know” someone who works in sports, but to your contact, you are just some kid who they met and helped out once. This is where I like to say, “You separate the men from the boys.” Most students would stop the relationship here and revert to that contact only when they needed something from them. At the point, your contact is likely to have forgotten about you and may not even respond.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to stay in touch with members of your professional network, especially those fortunate enough to work in sports. To have a contact “know you,” you have to check in with them from time to time. I try to do so once a month if I can. You are probably thinking to yourself, “What is something interesting that I have to say that they would want to hear?” It might feel awkward or forced at first, but you have to take a genuine interest in that person’s life. Ask them how they are doing. Google them and their company so you have something relevant to say. Make them want to get back to you. If you can keep the conversation going and connect with the person on a level beyond sports, that is what counts. That person will remember you, and you will become an active member of their professional network. You are what author Harvey Mackay says, “digging your well before you’re thirsty.”

American author Napoleon Hill once said, “A goal is a dream with a deadline.” When you were a kid, you probably dreamt of being a professional athlete, the President, an astronaut, or some other profession that you have most likely moved on from by now. Over the years, your interests have changed, and consequently, so have your dreams and goals.

Currently, your #1 career goal is to break into the sports industry. That is the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel.” The real question you should be asking yourself is, “How do I accomplish that goal?” The answer is, “Set smaller goals.”

When I tell you to set smaller goals, I do not just mean thinking about the things you are going to do that will help you accomplish your ultimate goal of landing a job in sports. You have to write them down for them to become more real. This way you will not only constantly remind yourself about what those goals are, but you will also feel more committed to them now that they are on paper. Let me tell you firsthand that it will be that much sweeter when you are able to cross off a goal written down on paper.

As for the goals themselves, I would break them down by categories that include but are not limited to the following:

1. Research –  Spend ___ hour(s) every week learning more about the different sports careers you might want to pursue.

2. Networking/Informational Interviews – Email ___ sports business professionals every week about meeting them so you can ask them out about their jobs and for career advice.

3. Mentoring – Every week, reach out to ___ high school or college alumni that work in sports and ask them if they would be willing to be your mentor.

4. Resume/Cover Letter Work – Set aside ___ hour(s) every week to update your resume and tailor your cover letter to internships or jobs that you plan on applying for.

It might be difficult to focus on each and every one of these categories on a weekly basis given your time commitment to school and extracurricular activities. I would recommend spending time pursuing at least one of these categories each week. Do something different the next week, the week after that, etc. It is important to develop a routine, yet vary your goals to ensure that you touch on the different categories. After all, this is your career we are talking about. You have to take it seriously. Once you get into the groove of accomplishing these small goals on your journey to breaking into sports, you can set your sights on more ambitious, long-term personal and career goals. The sky is the limit.

As a matter of fact, I did. Networking is a term that makes many high school and college students cringe. The thought of talking to a total stranger and turning that conversation into a lasting relationship can be a scary one. Why? It might be because you are afraid that the other person will not like you. Maybe you feel uncomfortable presenting yourself. Perhaps you are not the world’s best conversationalist.

If you feel like any of my comments above describe your attitude towards networking, all hope is not lost. I, too, was in your position not so long ago. Before Georgetown, I admit that I was a pretty shy person when it came to talking to adults. However, when I got to college, I quickly discovered the importance of networking for a successful business career. I promised myself that I would be more outgoing and change my approach to meeting professionals for the better. So can you. It is never too late to leave the past behind you and start putting yourself out there. Let today be the first day of the rest of your life.

After all, the sports industry is all about networking. There is no shying away from the fact that the sports business is a people intensive one. Establishing contacts and building relationships are vital for anyone who wants to make it in sports, let alone any profession. Networking can lead to a variety of opportunities including new business leads, friendships, job leads, etc.

At some point or another in my life, I have come across one of the most popular quotes associated with the concept of networking. The saying goes, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” While this statement over-emphasizes the significance of networking, there is definitely some truth to it. Just think about attending your high school reunion years down the road. Undoubtedly, some of the kids you thought were not the brightest will be more successful than some of the other intelligent kids you knew in high school. The reason for their success might be what you call “luck,” but what they call “networking.” There’s a good chance that those people outhustled the smart ones to land the better jobs.

As you re-evaluate your attitudes towards networking, I will leave you with a more modern interpretation of the above quote that I have heard since my time at Georgetown. Instead, the saying should read, “It’s not who you know, but who knows you.” There is more on this quote to come in future posts.