I had originally planned for my first post to be about what you should be doing before you attend a conference. Then I realized that for some of you half the battle might be convincing you to attend the conference in the first place. So, let’s start there.
I know you’ve got excuses – you’re too busy, you can’t afford it, you’re too shy. That’s fine. Just know there will be other people there who dream of the same job you do and the connections they make might mean they’re offered the job without it ever being posted on that job board you scour every week.
Save up vacation time, put aside some money, maybe even find someone you can split gas and a hotel room with – just go.
Which conferences or events should you go to? Ones where future employers will be. There is certainly value in attending events that will be mostly attended by people at your peer level (because one day they might be in a position to hire you or otherwise assist you), but I think it’s even more important to meet the current decision-makers. For example, if you ever want to work at any level in professional baseball, you should be attending the Winter Meetings in Dallas next week. (My friend Maury Brown over at BizofBaseball.com has a great guide to the Winter Meetings.)
One of the beauties of the Winter Meetings is that you don’t even have to pay to attend. In fact, if you’re a student you probably can’t, because you likely don’t meet their registration qualifications. However, the most valuable areas at Winter Meetings are open access and free of charge: the hotel lobby and bar. I can think of many other conferences full of league and team professionals where the same holds true. If all you do is go hang at the hotel bar each night, you can still make the experience valuable.
Ok, so I know the idea of sitting in a hotel bar by yourself terrifies some of you, but do you want to make your dream come true or not? If so, check back in a couple of days for my tips on what to do while you’re there. For now, I’m going to focus on convincing you to show up.
Let me give you a success story as an example. My friend – let’s call him Al – attended a conference last year where he met an executive for a team he would love to work for. Al kept in touch with the executive (which I’ll detail in a later post) periodically over the past year. Al recently attended another conference where this team executive spoke. He approached the executive after the conference just to say hi. After a few minutes of chatting about the conference, team executive said, “You know, we have an opening you might be interested in. It hasn’t even been advertised yet. If you’re interested, you could email me your resume and I’ll pass it along.”
Al attended two conferences in the course of a year, sent a few emails and talked to this team executive for less than a half hour at the two conferences combined. Yet, Al ended up getting a job that never got posted on the team’s website or any job board. He’s heard the other candidates interviewed included a classmate of one executive’s son and the nephew of a front office assistant. Like most industries, sports can be all about who you know. If you don’t know people already, then go to conferences and other industry events and get in the know.
Will you land a job if you attend conferences and follow my tips? Not necessarily, but I’m pretty sure your odds will be better than the guy or gal who sits at home and watches an online job board that may or may not ever have a listing for their dream job.
Oh, and my friend Maury Brown I mentioned earlier? I quoted Maury in a paper I wrote in law school in 2006. A couple of years ago, I found Maury on Twitter (a tool I’ll preach to you about in a later post) and developed a digital relationship. Last year, I met him at Winter Meetings (which I saved and forked out the money for myself, ahem). A seasoned veteran, he took me around and introduced me to dozens of media members and MLB executives. Maury has been an invaluable resource and sounding board for me while writing my book on MLB collective bargaining. He’s even shared documents and information that’s been hard to come by. If you’re interested in a career at all related to MLB, go to Winter Meetings. Meet your Maury.
Check back tomorrow for my pre-conference planning guide. I’ll take you through the exact process I’m going through this week as I plan to attend both Winter Meetings and IMG/SBJ’s Intercollegiate Athletics Forum next week.