Using a Conference to Take Networking to the Next Level

After last week’s guest post on the Ivy Sports Symposium, I took a minute to read through the latest tweets from Ivy Sports Symposium (@sportssymposium) and saw where they had retweeted a student’s comment about a phone call he had as a result of attending their conference. I was intrigued by the opportunity to bring you all a first-hand account of how attending a conference can present opportunities, so I tracked down the tweet’s author: Rob Hoffman, a senior Sports Management student at Rutgers University.

I’m excited Rob has agreed to share his story with you all. There are actually two mini-lessons to look out for here: how to use Twitter make connections and how attending a conference can help you establish a relationship with industry professionals. These are topics I will continue to elaborate on, but for today I want you to hear Rob’s story.

Guest Author: Rob Hoffman

One of the things that has been stressed to Rutgers students such as myself is the importance of networking. From people already working in the field to professors to the Exercise Science & Sport Studies department heads at Rutgers University, we have been told that the best thing we can do for our careers is to network.

The first ever networking event I went to was the summer after my sophomore year. It was the first annual Lakewood BlueClaws Sports Management & Networking Seminar in Lakewood, New Jersey. The event was organized by Josh Feinberg who was a Regional Sales Manager for the BlueClaws at the time. I had actually “met” Josh online on Twitter through people we mutually followed and interviewed him for a class project. He also stressed the importance of networking and told me about his upcoming event. It was my first ever professional networking event of any kind I had attended. I’ve remained in contact with the people I met at that event. I learned a lot about how to network — so much emphasis is put on the necessity to network, yet many students don’t know how to do it. The most important thing I have learned is this: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ever. Every professional you talk to was in your shoes at one point or another and will be able to relate, and they want to help you.

Fast forward a few months to November of 2010. It was now my junior year. At the recommendation of Mike Finkelstein, one of my professors and my department adviser at Rutgers, I bought a ticket to the 5th Annual Ivy Sports Symposium. Professor Finkelstein is an active member of the Princeton community and had attended the event in the past. He was going himself and said it was a large networking event, so I figured it was definitely worth a visit. It ended up being an enjoyable and great networking event, especially being just a junior in college. It was really student-friendly and a great experience.

Among the many people that I met was Jason Belzer, President of Global Athlete Management Enterprises, Inc. He graduated from Rutgers in 2007 with the same degree I am attempting to complete and was full of advice. Jason ended up becoming an adjunct professor at Rutgers starting in the Fall 2011 semester, teaching a class that I was a student in.

I decided to go again this past November, my senior year at Rutgers. Jason Belzer, as well as a few other students and I convinced more people in our major and club at Rutgers to attend this past Symposium. This year’s Symposium featured over 80 speakers. Prior to the event, I researched what the panel discussions were going to be and who was going to speak. One panel and person that stood out to me was a panel on Media & Technology with Bill Schlough, the Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer of the San Francisco Giants, as well as the Interim President of the San Jose Giants.

During this panel, there was a really good conversation going on about social media, and the discussion ran later than the scheduled 4:30 PM end time. Right as we were concluding, the event coordinators were ushering us to the main lecture hall for the closing keynote roundtable, meaning there wasn’t really time to talk to Mr. Schlough or any of the other panel speakers. I quickly introduced myself to him before working my way down to the lecture hall where roundtable discussion was going to occur.

After the closing discussion was over, I couldn’t find Mr. Schlough (or anyone else from that panel) again. The next day, when I got home from Philadelphia, I sent Mr. Schlough a connection request on LinkedIn with a little note about how I met him and had a few questions, asking if I could e-mail him. He responded a day or so later saying that a phone call would probably work better for conversation.

We ended up speaking for a solid 30 minutes on some random Wednesday afternoon in December about different topics — what the Giants do in regards to technology, what he does personally, and so on — but more than that, he asked a lot about what I was doing with my career plans, internships, and school. We discussed what my focus was, the experiences I have had, what my goals are, and so on. I ended up asking him for a lot of different advice about how he got to where he was, advice for a student such as myself, what he liked the most/least about his job, and more. It was a really productive and useful conversation.

More than that, it was special for a few reasons. It was more proof that every professional in the field has been in our shoes at some point. They really do want to help us. Mr. Schlough made sure that the conversation was also about me and what I’m doing and what I want to do. He was willing to help and give advice. Mr. Schlough is currently working two really busy jobs, yet still took time out of his schedule to talk to me. It was a true testament to how down-to-earth he is. It shows that you can’t be afraid to ask questions. In all honesty, I was not expecting him to go as far as taking a phone call from me and speaking for as long as we did. I’m just a college student while he’s an established and successful professional in the sports business field who undoubtedly has a busy schedule. But I wasn’t afraid to reach out to him and ask a few questions, and it ended up being a fantastic experience.

If you wish to network with me, you are more than welcome. My website is http://www.robhoffman.net. I’m graduating from Rutgers University in May with a degree in Sport Management and a minor in Digital Communication, Information and Media. You can follow me on Twitter @rob_sports or find me on LinkedIn.

**Editor’s note: I have two side notes to add. First, although Rob’s experience with Mr. Schlough hasn’t led to a job at this point, it is encounters like this that often do lead to jobs in the future. Who knows where Mr. Schlough will be in one, five or ten years. If Rob maintains his relationship with him, there’s no telling how they might be able to collaborate or help one another. Start building your network early and continue to cultivate it as you navigate your career in sports.

Second, I want to acknowledge how impressed I was with Rob’s website. Is it necessary that you have something like this? No. However, I spent at least 20 minutes on his website last week and feel like I have a solid idea of who he is and what he wants to achieve. If you can do this and do it well, it certainly can’t hurt. You never know who will stumble upon it!

Published with permission of author.

0 Comments

  • Alicia
    Posted Thursday, January 19, 2012 10:33 am 0Likes

    Great story. As a recent graduate from a Sports Marketing program and completion of an internship with a pro team, my greatest challenge is keeping in touch and cultivating a relationship with those I’ve met in the industry.

    Any tips on how to keep the communication line open?

    • kristidosh
      Posted Thursday, January 19, 2012 10:39 am 0Likes

      I did a post on how to make contact immediately after meeting someone, but haven’t done one yet on how to keep in touch long-term. I’ll add that to my list for next week though!

      • Alicia
        Posted Thursday, January 19, 2012 3:14 pm 0Likes

        Thanks!
        Just came across your blog (via twitter) – great stuff you’re doing!

  • shruti singh
    Posted Thursday, January 19, 2012 12:43 pm 0Likes

    Yes! super thought…

  • shruti singh
    Posted Thursday, January 19, 2012 12:54 pm 0Likes

    1st prepair list we Should meet whom?

  • Josh Feinberg
    Posted Friday, January 20, 2012 12:15 am 0Likes

    You the man Rob! Thanks for the heads up about this post. Networking (especially within the Sports Industry) creates endless opportunities…it’s an amazing concept if done properly, effectively, and most important – respectfully. Keep it up!

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