Op-ed by Jackie Servais
I work in the communications department at the PGA TOUR. I travel 20+ weeks a year to serve as a liaison between players and media. The travel can be grueling, but I was equipped for the task thanks to my lengthy internship run leading up to my first full-time gig.
It all started in 2011 when I drove an hour from my high school to sort files for the University of Colorado, Colorado Spring Athletic Department. It was my first internship, but a valuable one. It’s where I learned to become an avid eavesdropper and networking enthusiast. It’s where I solidified my desire to both play a sport at the collegiate level and help athletes share their stories.
When I became a student-athlete myself, I was exposed to the other side of what would be my future career. I was the story that was being shared and it was up to me to control the narrative. I knew I loved sports, that my family had a background in sports, and that I wanted to be the one to help other athletes shape their narrative, but how could I go about being in a position to help them do this?
In order to acquire as much experience as possible, I interned at four major sports organizations; the Los Angeles Angels, the Seattle Seahawks, the Carolina Panthers and the Office of the Commissioner for Major League Baseball. While securing a dream internship in professional sports can be difficult, I was able to leverage each position to help me land the next one, learning different skills along the way. Whether you have a desire to pursue a career in sports or not, there are a few simple tips that will guide you in landing an internship and advancing your career.
Reach Out the Right Way
You won’t get very far alone; it’s going to take a lot of people to help get you there. The faster you make time to connect with people outside your usual realm, the faster you will get to where you want to be. Throughout my internship run, there was never a point where opportunities arose solely from what I did. While I may have made the first step, at the end of the day it was always because of the relationships I built and fostered. Begin to reach out the right way and make a genuine network of people and watch your opportunities broaden.
Make the content specific to your contact
Don’t just copy and paste drafted e-mails from one potential contact to another with a simple name change. Dive in a bit more by adding a sentence or two specific to their company, or in the case of athletics, their team. Maybe the team made a deep run in the playoffs, or the person you are writing to has a mutual acquaintance, or you stalked their LinkedIn and they shared an interesting article that you liked. Finding a common ground or, at the very least, acknowledging something unique about the company, team or person is paramount in ensuring a response and building a connection.
What I did…
Points for creativity is a real thing. When I would send my resume, I would ask myself “is this creative enough that someone would give it more time than just a glance?” I made my resume specific to each organization I reached out to. My name would be displayed in the team’s specific font as an eye-catching, familiar touchpoint. My thought was that my viewer probably sees that font at many points throughout their day, so seeing my name in their font may help my viewer to already see me as a member of their organization. I went as far as changing out the black and white of a standard resume, to finding the exact color codes of each team to stylize my resume and match their brand identity.
Make the Interaction Mutually Beneficial
This is hard to do but, in my experience, the best way to ensure a response. Try to find a way to make the reason for your e-mail worth the other person’s time so that it doesn’t feel as if they are just doing you a favor. Tell them what work you’ve done and how you believe your talents can help a specific part of their organization.
What I did…
I was visiting a friend for a long weekend in a city with a vibrant sports scene and could envision myself as a future resident. I reached out to a prospective contact and asked to buy them lunch in exchange for their time. I wanted this person to not only know the paper version of me, but the real me. While no future job came from this meeting, I was able to build a relationship that to this day impacts my current role. When opportunities are presented at the PGA TOUR that could potentially align with this individual’s organization, I am often presenting mutually beneficial opportunities.
Second Time’s the Charm
The saying “third time’s the charm” isn’t applicable when it comes to e-mailing potential contacts. The first time you reach out is your first real shot to make an impression, but the reality is an online interaction will never be as impressive or memorable as a face-to-face meeting, so there’s a buffer here for a second attempt.
What I did…
I gave myself a two-e-mail limit, 30 days apart. The first e-mail might have caught their eye, but it was lost in the weeds of life. It happens to everyone. Maybe they didn’t hate you like you might be thinking, but instead right as they received your e-mail their office caught on fire… you never know. Don’t assume the worst but go back by forwarding your original e-mail with a genuine follow-up. It’s ok to reiterate your desire, but there is a fine line between being pushy and being persistent. My time limit between e-mails was around 30 days, which justified enough time for a response and enough time to where I felt like I wasn’t that annoyance at the top of their inbox.
No Two Paths are the Same
I know you’ve probably heard this before when it comes to comparing life paths, but I’m simply just talking about when it comes to finding opportunities.
What I did…
I exhausted just about every avenue I could think of to get my foot in the door with teams. I started with a basic internet search and when I saw an internship that caught my eye, I applied and e-mailed the No. 2 or No. 3 person in charge of that department (never the top dog – that person has enough on their plate). But finding the e-mails addresses for No. 2 or No. 3 in the department took some digging. From the team’s official website, to trial and error of how teams structure their e-mail addresses (LastName.FirstName@TeamName.com or FirstInitialLastName@TeamName.org). They all varied, but if I could find the correct way to structure the e-mail address, I could get in their inbox.
There was a specific case in my career where an internship was not listed, and I took a more unorthodox path. I was in search of an internship with a professional sports team in the Charlotte area, so I cold e-mailed the No. 2 in charge of the communications department with the Carolina Panthers. With the Panthers already in Training Camp mode, I was late to the internship game and I came with constraints still being in college full-time, but I was determined to start gaining career experience.
I wrote to the No. 2 and asked if I could clean the office floors, sort files, anything that was going to get me in the door. The team had already filled the allotted two internship positions for the year, but I pressed once more and then I waited. About three weeks later, the communications department was restructured and in need of a third intern. The position was never posted, but my persistence was memorable enough that it warranted a follow-up. I took my first job in the NFL and that year the Carolina Panthers and I went to the Super Bowl.
Even though an internship isn’t posted online doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist and if it really doesn’t exist, it might eventually. Remain passionately persistent and continue seeking avenues to reach the contacts you want most.
The 50/50 Rule
One of the most surprising things since entering the workforce is the notion that even if someone is not the best at their job but people like them, their likeability can often outweigh their inefficiencies. In no way am I telling you to be bad at your job, but with this in mind just think how valuable you would be to a company if you were good at your job AND a good person.
What I did…
Early in my internship-career, I was so focused on being good at my job with the thought of getting hired on full-time that I let the ‘good person’ part slip. I put my head down and often had to remind myself to lift it up. While it is obviously important to do a good job on assigned tasks, it is equally as important to give people around you your energy. If 50 percent of the job is the hard-skills that were known when you applied for the job, then the other 50 percent is the soft-skills; the time you ask a co-worker about their dog, comment on their new haircut or extend an invite to happy hour. It sounds simple, but as I look back on my collegiate career, I realize I wanted my performance on the court to equal the strength of my relationships in the locker room. Now the same applies in the workforce.
People want to hire people they want to be around, so be someone people want to be around.