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Tips on Working in Collegiate Athletics

Last week I spent six days in Dallas at the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics convention. Groups focusing on facilities, marketing, development and other areas of collegiate athletics also held annual gatherings alongside NACDA, meaning the hotel was literally swarming with people who work in athletic departments.

Not only were there quite a few panels and breakout sessions that focused on building a career in various aspects of collegiate athletics, it was a common topic of discussion in the hallways and lobby areas. Since many of you who read this blog are interested in working in collegiate athletics, I thought I’d share with you what I learned:

  • Start at the bottom and be willing to work for free. I’ve said this over and over, but I still get emails and tweets asking if your situation exempts you from this requirement. Best I can tell, the answer is no. I discussed this topic with no fewer than two dozen people from young professionals just starting out all the way up to ADs. Every single one of them worked for free in the beginning as an intern or volunteer. Every. Single. One.
  • It’s all about who you know. I often emphasis the power of networking. Perhaps nowhere is it more important than college athletics. I won’t go so far as to say every person I talked to – but the vast majority of people I spoke with told me they got at least one of their jobs because of someone they knew who either hired them or recommended them for a job. I cannot emphasis enough how important networking and building relationships is in this industry, and really any industry.
  • Two different Division I ADs I spoke with told me they skip right over your education and go straight to the experience section of your resume. Obviously many of these jobs have minimum education requirements, so not meeting those probably means your resume would never make it to the AD. However, once your resume is in his/her hands, it’s all about experience. Going to a certain school or majoring in a particular area is FAR less important than the actual hands-on experience you’ve amassed.
  • If you’re struggling to get into sports but want to set yourself up to get in down the road, look for jobs with skills that translate into athletic departments. For example, any type of fund-raising job. Development is a huge part of athletic departments and is often a key skill for those that make it to AD. Ticket sales is another area, so try to find a sales job that involves that same skill set.
  • If you really want to work in college athletics, mark your calendar for this convention next year! I’ve never been to a convention or conference where members of the industry were so available and open to networking. One professor told me students don’t come to this as much as something like MLB Winter Meeting because there’s no job fair attached. True, although there is a job board that gets filled with postings. However, I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is better. Outside of the job fair at MLB Winter Meetings, I don’t believe there are a lot of opportunities for students to meet and speak with executives in professional athletics. The networking at this convention is unparalleled. Never will you get the chance to meet so many people working at all levels in collegiate athletics. Trust me – put it on your calendar.

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