What I Learned in 2014

2014 marked the first year of my career that I had a full time job working in sports. It was an exciting, crazy, emotional year and I learned a lot. Here are some of the lessons I'll take with me for the future and I hope you do as well:

Use your voice: It took me nearly the entire year to realize that I have an important voice in this industry. My ideas are valid and can benefit the company I work for. I used to shy away from speaking my mind or sharing my vision. Now I jump at the chance. If you never share things with the people you work for/with, you miss out on opportunities. Grab the bull by the horns and go for it. You never know when your next idea could turn into something great.

If you don't ask, the answer is always no: I've been turned down so many times in my career, I lost count. But I also have had a lot of success. I would never have gotten where I am today if I didn't put myself out there. You will hear no and it will hurt. But you will grow from picking up the pieces and moving on. Each no will make you hungrier. Learn from the times you are turned down and use them to make you better. It will only be a matter of time before you get a yes.

Don't dwell on your shortcomings: Yes I'm the minority in my office. Heck, I'm the only woman on my team. For a while, I let that hold me back. I constantly thought the industry and my company were against me because I'm a girl. Once I stopped thinking about it and just did my job to the best of my ability, both myself and my team saw my improvement instantaneously and I quickly became a leader. Now I have so much confidence and I'll never let my gender hold me back ever again.

It's okay to show your personality: Yes you need to be professional at work, but you don't need to be a quiet drone that just sits at their desk and does their job. Tell a joke, laugh, get to know your coworkers. You will become more likable and bond with your peers. And if you are enjoying yourself, it will show in your production.

Focus on the positive: At one point this year, I wanted to give up. I started searching and applying for other jobs. I was unhappy because of the hours I was working and wasn't looking at the whole picture. Once I realized how lucky I was to have a job in this industry in the first place, and how many people would kill to be in my position, I was happier. I realized that nothing in life is permanent. If I keep working hard and proving myself, those things that made me unhappy probably will change. I didn't give it a fighting chance. If you dwell on the negatives, it will show in your work and you will never get where you want to be.

Find some way to do what you love: Working in sports is great and I enjoy what I do on a daily basis. My dream, however, is to write. I would love to compose features for Sports Illustrated or work for a team and be behind all their media. So I started this blog. It has not only become an outlet for me, but is something I can use in the future to market myself for jobs. I also got a part time job working with a professional team in their PR department, which is my end goal. Take a little bit of time each day to put towards your dream career. It could pay off big time in the future.

Don't give up: This is easier said then done. It's human nature to give up when something becomes too hard, but getting through the tough times will only make you stronger. If you give up, you will never forgive yourself. Keep pushing if it's something you truly want. Your passion, tenacity and drive will touch someone along the way. It may take 10 weeks, it may take 10 years, but sooner or later you will get where you want to be. 

You = Your Own Worst Enemy

Yes we face an uphill battle being women in a male-dominated industry. We will be scrutinized and forced to prove ourselves more than the typical man. What we don’t realize though, is sometimes we are our own worst enemy.

We can’t dwell on the fact that we are the only woman. Our gender doesn't define us and our abilities. If we go into a situation not trusting ourselves because of what society has deemed the norm, our confidence suffers. The sports world is full of women who conform to society’s ideals. I’m pretty so I can be on television, but I expect that no one takes me seriously or thinks I have a clue what I’m talking about. If that’s the way we present ourselves, that’s the way we are seen. 

It’s time for women to have more of a presence in this industry, more than just based on their looks, but their knowledge and opinions of the sports they cover. Rachel Nichols is a great example. She asks the tough questions regardless of how it may make her look. And she does her research and people respect her. We need to strive to be leaders, instead of settling for lower-level jobs with less power.

We need to be confident in our knowledge and abilities. If we didn’t know what we were talking about, if we didn’t work our tails off, we wouldn’t be where we are now. Instead of constantly telling ourselves we can’t do something because we are a woman, we need to feel empowered and push ourselves to the limit. We need to stop saying I'm doing this IN SPITE of being a woman, and start saying that I'm doing this because I worked hard and I'm knowledgable.

Being a woman doesn't define who we are. It is just our outer shell. What matters is our brains, not our bra size. We need to strive to do big things, huge things. Next female president? Next female general manager is more like it.

The Ugly Truth

I can still remember one thing my mentor told me when I first started working in sports: if you really want to work in this industry, relationships may have to take a backseat.

It sounds harsh, but it's the truth. Not only does working in sports require long, irregular hours but travel and inconvenient job placement. Finding opportunities are hard enough so if you are given one, regardless of the location, it's hard to turn down. If you are lucky to find something near your significant other, the hours and travel can be grueling on any relationship, even a strong one. 

The easiest solution is to date someone else in the industry. Someone who understands that you may not be able to go to their sibling's wedding because you are on the road. Unfortunately, it's not as easy as it sounds. And a lot of times you enter the industry with a significant other and neither parties are prepared for what it entails. 

Working in sports is extremely rewarding and has a lot of bonuses, but it also includes sacrifice. If you want to fulfill your dreams and reach your highest potential, sometimes you will lose relationships because of it.  You may be forced to make a decision: your career or love life.

There will be partners who are able to put up with your grueling schedule or location, and I urge you to hold onto those and be thankful. One of the biggest reasons we find success is because of the people who support us. If you don't have someone, I urge you to throw yourself into your career wholeheartedly. You'll never forgive yourself if you give up the opportunity of a lifetime just to sustain a broken heart.

How to Market Yourself

With social media on the rise, portfolios are no longer the norm for marketing yourself and your brand. There's now more ability to get your resume, work samples and name out there. Unfortunately this means more competition. Here's some tips on how to market yourself to get more exposure, and more importantly, the job!

 Be active on social media: This is obvious, but making a Twitter account isn't enough. You need to be active on your sites. Also, it's good to focus on the field you are trying to work in. For example, if you want to work in sports, tweet about games you're watching, connect with writers or athletes by responding to their posts, and try and keep it professional. Employers aren't going to care about your relationship problems or what you ate for dinner. They want to see it as an extension of the position you want. Follow teams, writers, and predominant people in the field you want to work for. I got my first sports PR job because I followed the team and saw a posting for the position. Use it to your advantage and keep the party pictures to yourself.

Start a blog: Find what it is you are passionate about and start a blog. Whether you use it for photos, articles, or just to post your resume, it shows you have the ability to create a website if needed. Most sites like WordPress and Squarespace are really easy to use even if you have no HTML experience and aren't tech savvy. When you write a post, share it on your social media sites. The more exposure you can get, the better.

Create a brand: Do you remember everyone's name when you first meet them? Most people don't, so having a brand can set you apart and make you more memorable. Use it across your social media so people can find you easier. For example I'm the Feminine Tomboy. My website, Twitter and Instagram all include that brand in their user names. It'll make it more easy to market yourself in the future and gives you a chance to show off your creativity.

Make a LinkedIn account: It surprises me how many people have yet to join LinkedIn. It's an extremely useful tool to network and find jobs. You can use your connections to reach out to their connections for opportunities, post examples of work, contact potential employers and put it out there on a professional social media site that you are looking for a job and have your resume, references and work all in one place. 

Make business cards: You never know who, or where, you are going to meet someone who could help further your career. Have business cards made that have your contact information, job title and social media sites on them and keep some with you at all times. You can be creative with them, but make sure the important information is there and legible.

Go to events: No one will see you if you don't put yourself out there. There are constantly sports events going on where you can market yourself. Teamwork Online has networking events at professional sports games and a lot of leagues have job fairs and GM meetings. You can even network when you are going to a game as a fan (just don't do it when you are drunk). Stock up on those business cards and go out there and meet people. You can never have too many connections.

Be confident: Be confident in your knowledge, experience and skills. If you exude confidence, employers will take notice. Dress the part and have your business cards ready. Think of one career milestone that makes you unique to pull out of your back pocket. Remember that you have the most important thing you need to succeed, and that's passion.


What To Do When You Hear the Word 'No'

I've heard 'no' in my career more times than I can count. I've been passed up for jobs because I didn't have enough experience,  because I was a woman, or because I just didn't have the right qualifications.

The last time I heard the word 'no' was yesterday. I had been reached out to about a potential promotion and had interviewed for it. I really wanted the job and thought I had a good chance. Unfortunately, it came down to me and another person and I didn't get it because of seniority. I was and still am heartbroken, but I know my opportunity will come.

Here's some advice I have if you hear the word 'no':

It's okay to cry: Wait until you are alone and let it out. Cry until your head hurts. But tell yourself once you cry it out, that it's time to move on. You are never going to be on your game for another opportunity if you are still moping about the last one you missed out on.

Use it as an opportunity to learn: I got some great feedback from my interviewers about how I did in my interviews. They told me that I actually beat out a bunch of senior people because I showed a passion for the company and did a great interview. They told me that it was very close and came down to the fact that I had been there less time than my opposition. Soliciting feedback from your interviewers will only make you better for your next opportunity. Which brings me to my next tip...

Follow up: It's always good to follow up, even after you don't get a position. Let them know how thankful you are for them considering you and use it as an opportunity to get feedback on how you could be better next time. Mention that you'd love to be considered for a future position. You never know, something could open up that you are perfect for and you reaching out could get you the job.

Work harder: Use their 'no' as fuel to your fire. Throw yourself into your work. Try and take on more responsibility. Prove to you and them that you deserved the job, even if they don't actually know it.

Keep trying: It's very easy to give up, especially in the sports industry, if you hear 'no'. If it's something you are passionate about, don't let someone else keep you from your dreams. Someone along the way will see your talent and passion and give you a chance. Focus on your work and keep searching for opportunities you are interested in. Like I keep telling myself, it's just a matter of time before someone says 'yes'.

My Secret Interview Tip

I'm going to let you in on my best kept interview secret. Feel free to steal it and use it.

Back in 2006 when I was 16 I applied for a job at a local restaurant as a hostess. The interview went well and I really wanted the position, but I had one obstacle to overcome: the restaurant typically hired highly attractive women. I know that is fairly sexist, but I understand it as a marketing ploy. Anyways, I'm not a 10 by any means (I'd say I'm a solid 7), so I had to do something to stand out. 

I wrote him a handwritten note. Simple I know, but in my experience has been very successful. Everyone sends a follow up email. A note is more personal, and like I said, it stands out.

Here's how to write a successful thank you note:

  • Send it out within 24 hours of the initial interview. You want to make sure they get it before they make a final decision and while the interview is still fresh in their minds.
  • Highlight some part of the interview. If they are looking for someone good at social media, mention your success running campaigns in the past. If you forgot to touch upon something that made you an ideal candidate in the interview, mention it.
  • Be professional. Choose a plain card (unless there was something in the interview you could highlight with a different card) and use professional language. Thank them for considering you. Let them know how interested you are in the position.
  • Keep it short and sweet. It should be about the same length as a follow up email will be.

And to answer your question, yes, I got the job at that restaurant. The manager told me the reason they decided to hire me was because of the note I sent. He and I are friends to this day.

How I Got My Big (League) Break

I wish I could say my big break came in a glamorous way. I wish Theo Epstein had walked up to me and asked me to work for the Red Sox. I wish my first job just fell into my lap. The truth, however, is not glamorous. My first break came with a lot of hard work and, you guessed it, networking. 

My first job in sports wasn't in public relations or journalism. I didn't get to mingle with the coaches or players or write stories. I did, however, learn how to make a mean ballpark hot dog. A mean hot dog I still put on my resume to this day. My foot in the door was as a concession stand manager. I worked grueling hours covered in grease and always left smelling like popcorn and nacho cheese. It may have been one of the hardest jobs I ever had, but I learned a lot. I learned that working in sports requires long hours, a positive attitude and passion. The latter two helped carry me into what I like to call my 'big league break.'

I got my first opportunity with a professional sports team my junior year of college. I had just transferred to a new school and had no connections to the city I was in. Luckily, I was a social media savvy. An internship popped up in my Twitter feed that seemed like the perfect opportunity for me and I jumped on it. I was lucky that the concession stand job I had was with the team's minor league affiliate, so I had a connection. A connection that ultimately led me to my career 'light bulb' moment. 

That was not the first job I got because I had connections. I never would have broken into the NFL if it wasn't for a classmate I met in college. That experience led me to work for other NFL teams because I could use my contacts from the previous teams. Ultimately, my networking built my resume. 

I still keep in contact with most of my connections to this day. If an opportunity arises that I am interested in, I email them for a reference. If I see them at games or events, I say hello and ask how they are doing. Most appreciate my tenacity and are more than willing to help me out in any way I can. 

The moral of the story? Build and maintain relationships at the companies you work. It doesn't necessarily have to be a boss or a coworker. Branch out and talk to people in other departments. If you are interested in what they do, let them know. It's through connections like these that you get opportunities. Stay in contact even after you leave a job. Even if an opportunity doesn't arise from these relationships, you could develop a long-time friend or mentor.

Tips

Here I some tips I have if you are a woman looking to pursue a career in sports:

1. Dress to impress: You will already be judged for being a woman in the locker room. Don't give the players, coaches or other employees a reason to doubt your intentions even more. Always dress professionally and cover up. You want to get attention for your work, not your breasts.

2. Know your stuff: I can't highlight this enough. Because we are women, we always have more to prove. It will always be suggested that we don't know as much as the men. We will have to study harder, prepare harder, and work harder. But there is nothing more satisfying than shocking the heck out of men around you because you know as much, if not more, than they do.

3. Build relationships and network: This industry is all about who you know. Make and maintain relationships with your former bosses, coworkers, and peers. You never know when an opening could come up in their company. They also know a lot of people and can recommend you for jobs down the line. Network, network, network.

4. Don't be afraid to fail: And if you do make a mistake take ownership of it, promise it'll never happen again, and move on. Everyone is human and no one is going to hold it against you if you are honest about your shortcomings. If you place the blame on others, that's when you can get yourself into trouble.

5. Ask questions: Your bosses and coworkers will respect you if you ask questions. It shows you care about what you are doing and want to get better. When you assume, bad things can happen. Also, if you never ask the answer is always no. Ask about that raise. Ask about that time off. The only person you are hurting when you don't is yourself.

6. Act professionally: Pretty obvious here. Don't try and get autographs or photos with the players. Don't make comments that reflect the company or team poorly. Don't say or do things on social media that you wouldn't want your employers to see. You may get approached by an athlete or coach. Be polite and turn them down kindly. Working in sports you are always in the public's eye and you want your impression to be a good one.

7. Stay true to yourself: if someone puts you in a situation you don't feel comfortable in, get help. Just because we are women, we shouldn't be objectified or treated inappropriately. Your bosses should be on your side in these situations and if they aren't then you may be working for the wrong company. Your safety is of utmost importance and you should never sacrifice it for a job. Ever.

So you want to work in sports...

So you've made the decision to pursue a career in professional sports. Here's what you need to know:

It's not easy: Not only are you competing with other women trying to break into the business, but you are also competing with men, and lots of them. You are going to have to work extra hard to prove yourself and it's not going to be an easy road. This field is not for the faint of heart and people work for years to reach their ultimate career goal.

You WILL get turned down: There were several times in my career I wondered if fronting my resume with Alex instead of Alexandra would get me a job. I was turned down for a couple potential opportunities just because I was a woman. I've heard excuses about how difficult it would be to coordinate trips with a woman on staff (separate hotel rooms, etc) and how I'd be uncomfortable. In the end, the right company will work with you and you don't want to work for something who constantly thinks it's a burden that you are a woman. You are an asset.

You WILL be treated differently: Not a shocker here, but you will be oogled and stared at and judged pretty much on a regular basis. All you can do is act professional, dress properly, and know your stuff. There's nothing better than shocking someone with your knowledge and showing people that even though you are a woman, you know the difference between a wild pitch and a passed ball.

You probably will work for free: Unless you work for a professional sports team right off the bat, you will probably start out in an internship and it will probably be unpaid. Though your wallet may not like it, this will be the starting point in your career and will catapult you to bigger and better things. You have to decide at the beginning if you are willing to live off Top Ramen for a few months to reach your bigger goal. On the plus side, if you work at a ballpark you may get all the free hotdogs and pretzels your little heart desires. Don't be afraid to take an opportunity just because it's unpaid. It may be your way in.

You will work long hours: There are many bonuses to working in sports. The hours are not one of them. 9-5 jobs typically don't exist in sports. News can break at any time and you must be prepared. You won't only work the 3-hour baseball game, but the 8-hour shift before and a couple hours after. You will probably miss out on important events because they don't work with your schedule. Relationships may not survive. You have to decide in the beginning if it's worth it and you have to be willing to give up certain things to be successful. 

You will have the time of your life: Working in sports is an experience many would love to have and for good reason. You get to meet and mingle with professional athletes. You get to call a ballpark your office. You will have great stories to tell your friends, family and children. People will envy you. There's a reason jobs don't open up often, because people don't want to give them up. If you get an opportunity, try and enjoy every minute and be thankful you got the chance to work in such a fun, crazy industry.