Sorry for the little hiatus I’ve taken from the site, but between the start of college football season (which means lots of travel for me) and selling my house, I’ve been a little overbooked lately.
I’m going to start a new mailbag feature with questions I receive from you all. If you want to submit a question, email me.
Today’s question comes from a college senior and is about the path he should take to become a CFO for a professional sports league. Not being a CFO myself, I couldn’t answer his direct question, but my answer applies to any of you who have a question about your career path….
I wanted to ask you a question about a career in sports. I am a senior finance major at the [University of X]. I will be graduating May 2013 with a Bachelors In Business Administration with a concentration in Finance. I’ve been doing a lot of research lately on careers in sports business and have been really interested in pursuing an NBA or NFL front office position as my long term goal. I noticed all CFO’s in the NFL have a CPA. I know what a CPA is but I am not sure how to go about it. I have taken 9 hours of accounting classes (I believe you need 27 to take CPA) and I understand that CPA certification is state by state (so if I got a CPA in Kentucky I can only use that in Kentucky). Problem is, there are no professional teams in Kentucky. How do I plan for this? Let’s say I want to work for the Miami Dolphins. Do I move to Florida and try to work my way into the organization and THEN take the CPA? Or should I go to Florida and take the CPA with the risk that a) I may not break into the Dolphins organization and b) Another opportunity may come up in another state with an NFL team. Thank you for your time and I look forward to your response.
First, I think it’s a great question, because this young man is trying to plan ahead. I always have a list of short-term and long-term career goals, because oftentimes the short-term goals are to help me achieve a long-term goal. The one thing I hate seeing most in my inbox is a student who has graduated asking how to get a job in sports and they’ve never done an internship in sports. No one wants to work for free with a degree, so it’s important to know you need to intern while you’re still in school and (hopefully) more able and willing to work for free (or for class credit).
Second, I’m totally unqualified to answer his question directly. The advice I did give him applies to anyone who has a question about their career path though. Basically, seek out someone in that position and find out how they got there. People generally like to talk about themselves, so while not everyone will answer your email on this subject, the odds that someone will are fairly high. When I was graduating college and in the early stages of law school, I emailed quite a few attorneys at firms I wanted to be at to fish for advice. Maybe only 1 in 10 replied, but one of those just happened to keep in touch with me throughout law school and I ended up at his firm.
There are four levels of people you want to email, and here’s the order:
1. Someone you’ve met who’s in that position, even if you only met them briefly at a conference. You all are always asking me how to follow-up and stay in touch with someone you met at a conference, and I know it’s most intimidating to contact those in higher up sort of positions. This is the perfect opportunity. This young man’s question is great and shows he’s thinking ahead and serious about his desire to work in sports. So, my first advice to him was to email anyone he’s ever met who works as a CFO in sports and simply ask them how they got there.
2. Someone at your school or a grad of your school. Even though the student who emailed me specifically said he wanted to work in professional sports, I suggested he go speak to the CFO in his university’s athletic department. That person is right there on campus and fairly likely to agree to meet with a student. I’d also suggest taking a look to see if any of the CFOs in positions you want are grads of your school. I’ve found it’s easier to get someone to respond to you if they’ve met you or you have a mutual connection, whether that be a person or your alma mater.
3. Someone you heard speak. If you attended a conference and heard someone speak who is in a position you’d like to be in, that’s another logical choice for an email. Even though you didn’t meet them (hopefully you tried!), you can say in your email that you heard them speak and enjoyed it. You’ve now shown your interest is high enough you made the effort to go to the event, and also you’ve complimented them – flattery will get you everywhere.
4. Anyone with the job you want, even if you can find no connection to them. Lastly, reach out to anyone with the job you want, even if they don’t fit into the categories above. It’s always worth a try. If you’re not willing to put in the time to send an email, you don’t really want to work in sports that badly. It’s that simple.
Remember, it’s just an email (or even try Twitter if you can’t find their email). The worst they can do is not answer. Unless you repeatedly harass them, one email is never going to hurt. They won’t think you’re stupid or annoying. If they’re too busy, they simply won’t answer. Put in enough legwork though and someone will answer…and you never know where that might lead!