SBJ/May 14-20, 2012/Opinion

After prayer, what job seekers should do to get noticed

There are college students graduating this month who spent their senior year taking the necessary steps to prove to companies that they have what it takes to be future stars in the sports business. The opportunities they stalked might include small starting salaries or job descriptions filled with menial tasks, but they are embarking on their dreams of working in sports because each of them understands what it means to “bloom where you’re planted,” as my friend Mark Dyer is fond of saying.

For those of you among this year’s graduates who have done little to no legwork, the gates of hell are about to open. I was recently asked by a student what I would do if I was one of the latter, and I offered two pieces of advice: Read the following Mark Cuban quote, and then pray.

“[This is the] worst possible business in the world for a college graduate to try to get into because it doesn’t pay shit [and] there’s a thousand people applying for every job,” said the Mavericks owner, recently addressing the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. “I get 20 résumés a week, minimum, minimum, saying, ‘I’ll work for free. I just want a chance.’ I get some — I get one or two a month [saying] ‘I’ll pay you to come work.’”

It’s an intimidating comment that’s purposefully meant to scare some of you away. Sports, like politics, attracts some of the best and brightest for jobs that pay better in other industries. The aforementioned student, undeterred by the Cuban quote, replied, “OK. So what do I do after I pray?” We hold a monthly networking meeting in Charlotte for people seeking jobs in sports, and this is what we tell the ones who are diligent enough to ask.

Network like crazy

There are more networking options readily available today than at any other time in the history of business. Social tools like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook are the preferred communication platforms of your generation, but not mine or many other hiring managers.

Pick up the phone; attend networking events in your area; ask for a five-minute meeting (before, not during, working hours); and prepare your elevator speech. Create a map of people you meet and let them know other people and organizations with whom you’re communicating. Don’t “spray and pray” your résumé — a great phrase I recently heard. Did you like that job you found this morning on Career Builder? It was filled three days ago.

Fandom is not a qualification

Unless you’re applying for a job as assistant general manager or a fantasy sports editor, no one cares that you won your roto league seven years running. We look for type-A people who are highly self-motivated and want to rule the world — and might have different opinions on how to get there. We want ethical people who take the high road and aren’t afraid to ask, “Is this the right thing to do?” But the magic dust is that they’re collaborative. They want to be part of a team, not pretend to own a team. And the old press box rule applies across sports: “Don’t ask for autographs.”

Preparation

You know what turns off hiring managers? Someone who takes 30 minutes to prepare before coming to see them. In the agency world, we spend hundreds of hours doing background work just to prepare to approach a single potential client, so it’s obvious to us when a job candidate only visits our website to prepare for the interview. If they’re only going to consume a tiny amount, that’s how much they’ve told me they want it.

Seek out people in your network who know about the company. If you don’t have one, find one. The best way to cut through the noise is to get someone to call on your behalf. And never take the introduction for granted because you’re risking the reputation of your reference.

“I have kicked more people out of my office because they weren’t prepared,” said Louis Cunningham, a longtime sports marketer. “There was a friend of mine whose son came to me, and I guess he thought that because of my relationship with his father that he was going to get it easy, and I probably lit into him the hardest because he took advantage of his father’s relationship with me.”

Thank-you notes

Write a note to every person you meet. You’re elevating yourself. You’re differentiating. Make them remember you. If you’re under 35, you’ve grown up in a paperless culture, but you still need to follow your mom’s rule about thank-you notes. If you send me an email three minutes after our interview, I know you sent it in the parking lot, which doesn’t take any effort. I open up every handwritten note I receive; I unfortunately can’t say that about emails.

The bad news if you’re a new graduate without a job? You’re standing on the starting line of the Ironman Triathlon. The good news? If you put in the work to get the work, you’re about to embark on a rewarding career that will bring so many memories that you’ll forget half of them.

Any job search includes challenges and frustrations and discouraging times, but even on the bad days, make the choice to do something: volunteer, write two more letters and make two more phone calls.

Remember the advice from Cuban, but find inspiration in the words of author Mary Anne Radmacher: “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”

Mike Boykin is executive vice president of sports marketing at GMR Marketing. Follow him on Twitter @Mike_Boykin.

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