Friday, June 14, 2013

How to Get a Sportz Job

So. You want a sportz job.

Most you probably don't know this, but I didn't. 

I grew up wanting to be many things, the list is painfully bizarre, ranging from writer to actor to publisher to stock broker to archeologist to accountant to god knows what else. But one thing I never mentioned was working in sportz.

When I was in middle school, I started a baking "company." I  baked a variety of goods, then dragged them around my neighborhood. I took cookie orders around holidays. I had honest to goodness business cards, care of my dad (they were seriously awesome, thanks again, Dad!)

The boring story of my life is how I wound up in communications and marketing strategy. The more interesting one is how I wound up working in in sportz.

After several years of teaching a variety of fitness classes, I wound up in love with running, but burning out in teaching and being a trainer. I theorized on new gyms - what that would look like - where fitness was the focus - not money. But, I knew I didn't have the capital for the overhead and I knew no savvy investor would trust a young 20 something with little to no gym management experience. Then, I built a race, down to the logo, obstacle design, and began on the cost analysis. That one is still simmering on the back burner of my mind, but I'm off track.

So you want a sportz job. Here are a few things you should know:

1) Work for free.

I know a couple people who have stumbled into a job with a major race organization literally by accident, but most people with sportz jobs have worked their tails (and fingernails) off to get them, and here's the important part: they worked for free.

If you really believe in what a race is selling, volunteer for them. There are only three things that can come of that:
a) You will appreciate the race and it's core team
b) You will decide that this is not a job you want
c) You will have a better candidate to work with the organization

1b) Work for free - happily.

God help you if you complain about the work you're volunteering to do with the same mouth you're professing to love the organization. Seen it.

I'll humble brag and use myself as an example: when I worked as a major exchange manager for Ragnar DC, I had the mud pit field. Our generators were delivered to the wrong field (several miles away) and it was about 11pm when we started work. By the time the first 50 teams showed up, we were already losing shoes in the mud, and my tutu was dirty. I pushed 11 (ELEVEN!!!) vans out of the mud. We had to call AAA for a tow truck for another one. The coffee percolators stopped working, everything started to stink the way a bog does after a rain...But you know what? I was all smiles. You know why? Because I was working for my dream company. I was a part of the most amazing race experience and if I was a raving bitch, how would that affect people who were tired, muddy, and exhausted and PAYING for the experience?

I went home after our shift ended. Thanked each of my volunteers profusely. Then I cleaned myself up and went to the finish line to see where I could help out. Which leads me to...

1c) Work for free [happily] and add value.

Anyone can stuff flyers into a bag. My relationship with Ragnar started not when I became an Ambassador, but before, when I needed to find a way to fulfill our volunteer requirement for DC. I helped stuff all the goodie bags for DC before I'd even done the Ragnar. I saw a better way to get the bags done faster. I redirected other volunteers and Kent, the then-race director, now good friend, saw it.

The next year, I worked SWAT (muddy story above) and when I went to the finish line, I saw that things were getting hectic, so I jumped in where I could and made a better system for getting runners their gear, checking in safety flags, and cleaning the finish line. I proved I could add value, even when no one asked me to. 

2) Networking isn't just for corporate America

While volunteering at an expo for Ragnar one weekend, I struck up a conversation with some of the staff who was in town from race HQ. I didn't even drop hints. After having proven that I could work hard and happily (for free), I told him that I was willing to do anything to work for Ragnar, even learn to drive a truck, would he keep me in mind if something opened up in his department? Could I have his email address?

The next time a different staff member was in town, I went out of my way to meet up with them briefly and talk shop. That was the staff member who alerted me to a posting for a position in the company.

It didn't hurt that I'd tried to meet every race director at each event I did. I thanked them, asked them questions that were on my mind, and continued to be a brand ambassador - all for free, all happily.

I went through the interview process with Ragnar for a position that wound up not working out due to some organizational changes, but I had the chance to speak with everyone from the CMO to the CEO to the founder of the race while I was out there. The CEO called me the other week just to check in. When the part time position in DC opened, I was the first person they called (at least, I hope I was!).

I will admit, I was heart broken when I didn't get the dream job with them. But I didn't send a horrible email to them. I didn't burn my bridges because even though I didn't get the job, I still believed in the race, the experience, and couldn't turn my back on the one thing I love more than anything.

2a) Networking happens all the time

So, maybe you don't volunteer with a race. Maybe you just enjoy racing and find yourself at expos and events frequently. Do you know what makes my day when I'm working an expo? When someone stops to talk to me about working for Ragnar. If you're curious, start a conversation with someone at a booth, get their information, follow up.

I wound up as an ambassador for Pearl Izumi not because I am an amazing athlete (hint: I'm not), but because I'm passionate about my sportz, passionate about the community, and because I've networked myself into becoming a connector/influencer (oh my god, I hope so, because they think so).

Talk to people. Be passionate. Ask if you can help. In an industry in constant need of a set of hands, you will be surprised how well connected you can become.

3) Dream Bigger

When I met C.J., we were both ambassadors for Ragnar. We'd talked here and there, but at some point, god knows how, we wound up talking about improving the sportz community. I should really give C.J. all the credit here - he's a man of HUGE ideas. When he approached me about a business idea (now called The FitBase), I was interested. I went to a few meetings, but when push came to shove, most of our initial interested team couldn't see the big picture. But I saw the opportunity to take over the operations side (cue being a little a lot OCD and my project managent background).

Now, a few months later, we're in the initial stages of launching FitBase. I couldn't be more proud of our team and more excited about the future of our company. At our launch party last night, all I could think about was how amazing it was that we'd gotten this far and so soon.

Sportz is an industry rife with opportunity for change. If you can dream it up, start talking to people, get advice, share ideas, then roll up your sleeves and push vans out of the mud.

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