Workshop Wednesday (on Monday) – November 12, 2012

Each Wednesday I randomly select a cover letter sent in by sports job seekers and critique the letter. Since I’ve been absent the last few Wednesdays, I’m giving you a bonus Monday post! If you want to know more about how it works or how to send in your cover letter, see this post.

I have left comments open, but I will only approve comments with respectful questions or comments.

Please note, names and companies have been changed to protect anonymity. This person is applying for an internship with an NFL team.

Dear Mr. [Johnson],

NFL Blitz ’97 on the original Playstation was my favorite video game growing up. My father and I played every day, and with each passing game, he taught me more and more about football. Whenever we played, my team was always the [NFL team].

I groaned audibly before I finished the first sentence. I see so many letters where the person focuses on trying to prove they’re the team or sport’s biggest fan instead of why they want to work in sports and what they bring to the table. At this point I have no idea if you go into the more important parts, and I worry that some people would just quit reading. I’ve spoken to many people who hire in the sports industry who are annoyed by people thinking they’re meant to work in sports just because they’re a fan. Don’t risk it. Show you’re passionate about the work (the actual job duties), not about the team or the sport.

Fifteen years later, I’m still a fervent [NFL team] fan, but for different reasons. I haven’t played NFL Blitz in over 10 years. I’m about to graduate from the University of [X] with a degree in sport management and journalism, and I no longer consider myself “just a fan”. I’ve grown up a lot and now, the things I admire most about the [NFL team] organization aren’t the names on the backs of the jerseys, but the mindset, attitude and outlook of the team and the club as a whole. In short, I’ve moved past the thrills of being a fan of the team and now I’m a fan of the organization.

Basically, you just wasted an entire paragraph trying to prove you’re not just a fan. You wouldn’t have had to do this if you hadn’t included the first paragraph – so, you’ve essentially wasted two paragraphs now.

I bring this up because, like the [NFL team], I know it’s important to have a vested emotional interest and a deep personal connection in the work that I do. Without that connection, it’s difficult to relate to the fans and everything the [NFL team] are about. I’ve been a [NFL team] fan since I was seven years old. That’s 15 years of devotion and emotional highs and lows that I know can’t be found in any other platform besides sport.

I always say to show you’re passionate about working in sports. This isn’t the way to do it. Being a passionate fan and being passionate about your work aren’t the same thing.

Trust me, I get it. I was such a big Braves fan growing up that I refused to even apply for internships with other teams. Ridiculously stupid mistake. You know where my cover letters proclaiming my passion for the Braves got me? Nowhere. They never even interviewed me. It also meant I graduated college without a single internship in sports.

My passion for baseball got me my start in sports media, but not because I told someone I’d spent virtually every summer night of my life watching the Braves on the screened-in porch with my dad. I got my first break because my passion for baseball lead me to study baseball’s collective bargaining history in law school and write a paper on the subject that was published in a legal journal. If I were writing a cover letter for a job in baseball, I’d talk about how my passion led me to become an expert on the MLB CBA, not about those nights spent watching baseball with my dad.

Bottom line: show you’re passionate about something that translates to job functions. Do not try and prove passion through fandom.

Check out my previous post on whether your passion will translate into a career in sports.

I also know that the field is very competitive, but I’m very qualified for this position. I have extensive journalism experience having been a staff writer and assistant sports editor at the [college newspaper] for three years. I’ve had multiple articles published on ESPN.com and Boston.com (Boston Globe) and my photos have been published in travel guides for different cities across the country. I’ve come a long way in 15 years, and I know I could be a valuable asset to the [NFL team] organization.

It took until the fourth paragraph to learn anything about your experience and abilities. Big problem. Spend more time on this and drop the fan bit. I know it’s tough to resist the urge to express your passion for the team and why that would make you the most dedicated employee ever – but resist. Trust me.

In the summer of 2010, I got my first taste of working in the sports industry, and I absolutely loved it. I did an internship with the San Luis Obispo Rattlers, a summer collegiate baseball team in California and I served as the head of the statistics department and the team’s color commentator on the radio.

This is where your meat should be. Get into some specific job duties and experiences and how they translate into the job for which you’re applying. This should be the focus of your letter. And don’t get too much into how much you loved it and everything it did for you – you’re trying to sell yourself, the person reading this letter wants to know what you can do for them, not what they can do for you.

Living across the country for an entire summer taught me a great deal about myself. I learned that I loved travelling to a new part of the country that I’d never visited and I learned the value of world experience. Growing up in rural Vermont, I was hesitant to jump into the California experience at first. Looking back, it’s one of the best decisions I ever made for myself. I met some amazing people and helped bring a great product to a vibrant and friendly city. I learned that life doesn’t just happen as you sit there and watch it. You have to go out and chase your dreams, and that’s what I did during that internship.

Cut the entire last paragraph. This isn’t the time to wax poetic about your growth experiences. Save that for a blog entry or your future memoirs.

Growing up, I never could have imagined myself working for the [NFL team]. It would have been a dream come true then, and to be completely honest, it still is. Those games of NFL Blitz with my father are the very base of why I’m a sport enthusiast, and they’re directly connected to the Broncos. That’s something I want to pursue. I didn’t expect to be at this point in my life 15 years ago, but now I know I’m finally ready.

Cut the entire last paragraph. A large percentage of sports fans think it would be a dream come true to work in sports. That doesn’t mean they’re qualified to do so. Again, this is about what you can do for the team, not what they can do for you.

I thank you for the opportunity to apply for this position, and I enclose my resume for your consideration.

Respectfully,
John Doe

To be safe, I’d say the word “fan” shouldn’t be used in your cover letter. The only exception I can think of is a position being marketed specifically for fans. I have seen some contests that involve hiring a fan for a position based on a showing of their extreme fandom, but outside of that I’d say stay away from trying to prove your fandom will make you employee of the year. There’s nothing wrong with being a fan, but it doesn’t set you apart from the tens or hundreds of thousands of other fans who attend your team’s games each year.

If your passion for a team or sport has led you to work experiences or research projects that make you qualified for the position, then by all means mention those. Just be careful about using the word “passion” – be sure you’re showing and not telling.

To reiterate today’s bottom line: Your passion or fandom only matter if they make you uniquely or highly qualified for the position because they’ve led you to experiences that translate directly to job duties. This requires you to detail those experiences. For example, don’t just say your passion led you to do two internships in baseball during college. Give examples of actual work you did during those internships and then connect the dots and show how those skills can be applied to the position for which you’re applying.

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