by Rocky Harris – October 2015
I get asked all the time what it takes to get promoted in the sports industry. Over the last 15 years the industry has encountered rapid growth, which has provided more professional opportunities and raised expectations for getting promoted faster.
When I got my first full-time job with the San Francisco 49ers, I felt lucky to have an entry-level position. It was highly competitive. No one seemed to get promoted or leave for other jobs. Upward mobility was more aspirational than realistic. Today, people enter the industry expecting to become athletics director, president or general manager by the time they are 30. Somewhere along the way, we stopped worrying about excelling at our current jobs and only focused on reaching the next step.
How to advance in 8 easy steps
Instead of trying to reverse the course of the industry, I have some direction for those looking to advance their careers.
- Excel at your current job: Many people think all they have to do to get promoted is meet the minimum expectations for their current positions. I always tell my staff that the first step is to excel at what you were hired to accomplish. AEG Senior Vice President Nick Baker, who started at AEG as an intern and worked his way up, explained: “You have to have proven excellence in your current role before you can be considered for additional responsibilities and opportunities.”
- Impact other departments: Once you effectively manage all current responsibilities, the next step is to positively impact and contribute to other departments. It shows you are a team player. Other leaders within the organization will notice your contribution in helping them reach their goals.
- Focus on solving organizational objectives: I was told early in my career to solve the problems of the most senior decision-maker in the department (president, athletics director, owner, etc.). After perfecting the job you are hired to do and helping other departments reach their goals, spend your spare time figuring out ways to solve organizational problems. Delivering a solution to an issue that keeps the team owner up at night will help you get noticed and promoted.
- Know your strengths and weaknesses: Focus on using your strengths to deliver short-term results. Develop and display a skill set relevant to the objectives of the organization. Example: If your boss is a luddite, and you are tech-savvy, your technology skills can deliver value to the organization that no one else can that sets you apart.
- Dress for the job you want, not the one you have: One employee asked for a promotion because he felt he was ready to take on a more senior role. I told my boss about his desire for advancement and we were considering it. The next day, the employee walked in to the office with tennis shoes and his shirt un-tucked. My boss said he refused to promote him, regardless of the work he produces, until he learns professionalism.
- Find mentors: I wouldn’t be where I am without the help of others. It is critical to your professional development. Mentors can help you develop your personal plan and provide much-needed guidance.
- Build relationships: Have a positive attitude. Be the kind of person people want to work with. Leaders can easily identify divisive people. Dividers will not be promoted regardless of the results they drive.
- Be open to change: Executive Director of Compliance at Arizona State University, Steve Webb, has lived in four different states to pursue his goals in the sports industry. Webb said, “In the sports industry, you have to be willing to change jobs, move and take on new roles in order to grow. The more flexible you are, the more likely you will move up the ladder quicker.”
These steps do not guarantee you will fast-track to the top of an organization. But, if that is your goal, these pointers will give you the best chance to reach your career goals.
Cover photo courtesy of Pascal.