Landing your first full-time job in intercollegiate or professional athletics is often difficult. Sure you have your undergraduate degree and you have practical work experience for the open role that you are applying for, but so do the vast majority of applicants that are also pursuing that same role! How are you going to separate and positively differentiate yourself from the crowd, amidst a deep and quality applicant pool, so that you can get your foot in the door to the sports industry?
A friend of mine had recently finished up a graduate assistantship with a Division 1, Power 5, women’s basketball program. He had great grades, credentials, and experiences in coaching basketball, but it seemed that no matter where he applied, for open entry-level positions, his applications never seemed to progress past the initial review stage. Though he experienced frustration, he put his best foot forward by staying positive and trying to go to as many professional development events as he could. One of those events was at his undergraduate alma mater, where he heard a head coach of an NBA franchise speak. The talk by that head coach really resonated with my friend, and though my friend tried to meet him after the talk, he was unable to, due to prior engagements on the itinerary for the speaker.
Disappointed with the outcome of not being able to meet that individual in person, my friend then looked up the physical mailing address for that NBA head coach’s team on Google, wrote it down on the exterior of an envelope, and began to write him a handwritten note. In this note on traditional card stock that you can buy at a CVS or Walgreens, my friend noted how the coach’s talk resonated with him, that the talk encouraged him to keep pursuing his dream of coaching basketball one day, and if there was anything that my friend could do to help support the coach, to have the coach let him know. My friend made sure to provide his contact information in the note as well. Lastly, my friend made the note out to the coach by adding the coach’s name to the envelope, and my friend added a stamp and dropped the envelope inside a mailbox.
A few months later, my friend was still applying for jobs in the basketball coaching sector, when his phone began to ring. It was from the same area code where the coach to who my friend had sent a “handwritten note” to was living. The phone call could have easily been spam or for another reason or purpose, but my friend picked up the phone call and answered it. To his surprise, after he had answered the call and had introduced himself, on the other end of the line was the NBA head coach, who had spoken at that previous alma-mater event, and to my friend's surprise, had received and responded to my friend's hand-written note! They had an engaging conversation about life and basketball over the phone, and though my friend was in need of a job, this conversation wasn’t about employment per-se. This conversation was about building a depth-oriented connection and a relationship, where each individual could support one another in sport and in life moving forward!
As my friend had his Master's Degree conferred he was still in the process of seeing what was in store for his next chapter post-college. Over the summer, he and that coach continued to build a relationship, and the coach provided my friend with advice, best practices, and wisdom as he continued the job search process. One day my friend, still very diligent with applying to open positions daily, received a call from that coach, about an opening as an Assistant Video Coordinator on his staff. The head coach noted that the position would be competitive from the quality of applicants' perspective, but that he thought my friend would be a good fit for the role and that he should pursue the opening. After an extensive interview process, my friend landed that Assistant Video Coordinator role with the NBA franchise, working with that NBA head coach, who had impacted him with a talk and who had received his handwritten note.
A handwritten note isn’t an exercise that is complicated or difficult, but it is one that carries significant meaning and purpose. In a world where everything is digital, and where we can accomplish tasks at the click of a button, a handwritten note can seem “countercultural”, “old-school” or “a waste of time”. In my experiences in athletics and with Managers On A Mission and Uncommon Sports group, I’ve actually found the opposite, in that handwritten notes can be significant “game-changers” in helping you separate yourself from applicants for open roles, and that they were vital in any job opportunity that ever came across my desk. But why was this the case?
Handwritten Notes show people that you care and value them. By writing a handwritten note instead of an email, you are showing that person that though it might take longer to write them something personal and not digitally, that handwritten note is worth being written and mailed because that person is worth being handwritten too. Time is one of our most precious assets because it is a fixed resource, there is only a limited amount of it. By taking the time to write someone a handwritten note, you are really showing that person that he or she is worth your time and that that person really matters! Everyone reading this blog receives in all likelihood 50+ emails per day. It can often be challenging to respond to all of those emails while remembering the key information in each one. Now think of a time when you received something physically in the mail. The excitement that you have, coupled with the elements of unknown or surprise of what could be inside the envelope or box that arrived to you. Receiving these hard mailers means more, yes because our society is so digital, they are unique, but also because there was intentionality and care in those hard mailers being sent to you, so that you could open, process, and enjoy what you have received.
Handwritten notes can be used in a variety of contexts in the athletics realm, but three usages stick out to me. The first is stewarding existing relationships with established professionals in the sports industry. Amidst busy seasons, receiving a “handwritten note” carries a lot of significance to those whom you already know. it shows that amidst the busyness that you still are thinking about them and that you are for them. Stewardship comes to play as well here because you are valuing and prioritizing those whom you know in a way that shows them that they still matter to you.
The second primary usage for handwritten notes is to build new relationships with established professionals in the sport industry that you don’t presently know, but that you desire to connect with. These can include individuals that you have heard speak at conferences or events, have connected with virtually, or have read about their respective journeys, but have never connected with in-person before. As we stated earlier, with most of these professionals receiving 50+ emails per day, writing a handwritten note can differentiate you enough that they might be more inclined to respond to your handwritten note request to connect, as opposed to someone who reached out to connect to that individual via email. Not all of your “cold-call” handwritten notes will receive a response, but I personally have had much more success with handwritten notes initiating new reach outs, than I have had with direct email reach outs, to those working in intercollegiate or professional athletics!
The third primary usage that I have found for “handwritten notes” is leveraging and using them amidst a present interview process that you are walking through with Human Resources. As you are going about an initial phone or video interview, write a handwritten note to EVERYONE that participates in the interview process with you. As you progress each interview round, write a handwritten note to all individuals that you connect with. If you are moving through the process, potentially towards the final round of interviews, which would likely be in-person, bring some handwritten notes on card stock with you, so that you can drop these notes in a mailbox after your interview. Hopefully, these handwritten notes are not only received well by those who interviewed you, before they make a final decision, but those handwritten notes would be received physically by the committee, and those notes would help separate you from a pool of finalists who in all likelihood didn’t take the time to write handwritten notes their interviewees.
In terms of tips for writing handwritten notes, they vary based on which of the three types you are writing above, BUT they all have several all-encompassing traits or key areas for emphasis. First, articulate a sense of gratitude to whomever you are connecting with. Really show that person that you are thankful for them, even if you haven’t met them before. Second, emphasize specificity as much as possible. Don’t be vague or general when writing your handwritten note. Be specific, personal, and intentional with the person that you are connecting with. That specificity will go a long way in making that person feel valued and appreciated, them remembering you or you resonating with them, and will lead to a higher likelihood of that person responding back to you. Lastly, be specific in your desire to connect with that individual further at a later date. That will help in regards to follow-up being swifter and allows a streamlined process for a relationship to be further developed and built over time.
In closing, my hope is that this narrative was helpful in seeing how you can use handwritten notes to help you grow your depth of relationships in the athletics realm, and also how they can be used strategically to help you get your foot in the door to a career in the sports industry. Take the initiative, go to a CVS or Walgreens and buy a set of card stock, envelopes, and stamps (shouldn’t be more than $10), and start your handwritten notes journey today. You won’t be disappointed! If you have any athletics professional development questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our Uncommon Sports Group staff, and we’d be happy to assist you with your questions and journey!