This post is going to address two topics: primarily research and a little bit of networking, the second of which I know I have written about multiple times. In this post I'm going to address how they are sometimes tied together, whether people realize it or not.
I frequently get emails asking for advice about where to look for a job or help getting a contact into somewhere I've worked. Often when people contact me, I'm their first stop on the research path. This is incredibly annoying! Often, I will talk with people who tell me they want to work at New York Road Runners, for example, yet when I talk to them, they haven't even looked at the NYRR website. I don't mind giving them information on things that are really only available from talking to someone who has worked (or is working) in an organization, such as what the culture might be like or what the leadership style of a department VP might be. What irks me is when people don't even take the time to figure out on their own who the organizational leaders are or ask me questions such as whether I know if NYRR has any open jobs. Check the damn website! If there isn't a staff directory, which there isn't on the NYRR site, there are press releases and photos and videos and Flickr links and Facebook links, and on and on. You can find out a lot of information there. I even had one student (not one of mine) ask me if I could recommend where in New York City he should apply for sports jobs, not even a specific area of sports, which still would have made it a bad question, but narrowed down a bit. I, and others in his network, are not the "job bank of New York City" to start naming off organizations. This was someone I had talked to once and now he was asking me to be his personal scout. Not gonna happen! Now, if he had said something like, "I'm looking at NYRR, Korff Enterprises, the US Open, Madison Square Garden, and Eventage and have read up on each of them. Do you happen to know anything about those organizations?" That's a different question. It shows me someone who is trying to help himself and find a job but needs a little help versus a person who wants someone else to find a job for him. It would also have been different if this were someone I had talked to more than once. That's just the cold hard truth.
It is the epitome of laziness to not research the basics of an organization. As an example, if a student told me that she wanted to work for Under Armour, and then I asked her what she would say to Kevin Plank if she ran into him in the lobby at a conference, I would often get blank stares and the question, "Who is Kevin Plank?" People in sports are willing to help you, but you have to be willing to help yourself and do a little bit of work before you talk to them. When she gets around to answering my original question--what would she ask Kevin Plan if she ran into him in the lobby at a conference--she would likely answer with something pedestrian, such as "I would ask him how he got the idea to start Under Armour." Read an article for that! It's pretty well documented why he started the company. It's even on the "About Under Armour" section of their website. This is a fictitious example, though admittedly not too fictitious.
Another area is when you are applying for jobs. If the position states that it reports to the general counsel of a football team, for example, guess what, most pro teams have a staff directory listed on their websites. Here is an example for the Kansas City Chiefs. Mouse over "The Team" and the drop down has a link called "Coaches, Staff, and Execs." I wonder, though, how many people would address their cover letter and resume generically to the HR manager or generically to "Attn: General Counsel," assuming they send their resume directly to the Chiefs in addition to applying online (discussed in previous blog posts).
The synopsis is: Don't waste peoples' time, and just as importantly, don't waste the opportunity you have to speak to them with questions you can find answers to on the Internet, in a book, or in a magazine. Leave them feeling like they just talked to a person who is a young sports business professional rather than an unpolished student.