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January 15, 2013 • Athletic Administration

Positioning yourself to climb the athletic administrator ladder

Networking, taking charge and picking the best job play critical roles in your success

If you currently are at the beginning of your professional life or an entry-level athletic employee hoping to take the next step, it’s time to stop hoping and take action. You are in control of the direction of your career.

As someone who has been promoted twice in the last four and a half years, there are some principles I followed and decisions I made to place myself in a position to succeed.

Take advantage of professional development

Willingness is the first step to growing professionally if you hope to advance in any career. Constantly invest in your future by pursuing professional-development courses, and it will pay off. By doing this, not only are you reaping dividends in your current role, but it also provides you a competitive advantage as you seek to move from your current position.

Advancement in this profession comes from understanding and addressing current shifts in athletics, such as compliance rulings and marketing trends. Attending conferences of national organizations provides an opportunity for education and to build your network. With so many people connected today via social media, you need your own group of “followers” and “friends” when pursuing a new opportunity.

Employers would much rather hire a person who is positively referenced to them.

Peers provide you with most of your network, but conferences are a fantastic place to find a mentor. Leaning on an experienced industry professional who is willing to assist in your development is critical to career advancement.

When I graduated from college, my long-term career goal was to become the director of athletics at a NCAA Division III institution. I met the former director of athletics at Wheaton College (Ill.). He had been the athletic administrator for close to 30 years when we met, and his advice and investment continues to be an immeasurable resource to me even in his retirement.

After attending a convention, be sure to ask your boss for a few minutes in the next staff meeting to present what you learned and how it may apply to your organization. It’s important to do this even after you read something interesting about leadership development or coaching strategy. Take charge and show your co-workers you are serious about honing your craft.

Have a clearly defined career goal

What is your ultimate career goal? If you don’t know, try to define it by asking others what they see as your strengths. Think about how those strengths match with your passions. As you sort through this, identify people who have jobs of interest to you. Seek them out and set up informational interviews with them. Try to discover how they worked to get where they are today and what steps you need to take to do the same.

Once you know what you want to do, set a specific goal. You can’t pursue what you haven’t defined. Decide, define and do the work necessary to get where you want to be.

Establish yourself as a leader

It’s never too late to establish yourself as a leader. Your goal must be to grow your leadership ability while getting others to see you as a leader.

A great place to establish this begins in staff meetings. Participate in discussions on improving your department. Remember that all supervisors want to hear solutions, not problems, so be sure you are contributing in a way that offers solutions. By bringing new ideas for departmental advancement, you show you are committed to the success of the organization — something every employer desires.

If you do not have any direct oversight of full-time staff members, work on your management of student employees or your team, if you are a coach. Many of the same principles that apply to leading full-time staff members apply here.

After you begin to excel in the areas in which you have oversight, it’s time to move to the next step. Offer to take on new responsibilities within your department. In higher education, the opportunities are almost endless with examples such as volunteering to work at home baseball games during spring break when extra help is need or offering to be on search committees. Even try looking for other areas on campus outside of athletics to serve.

Look internally first

If you enjoy working at your current place of employment, try to find internal openings to advance your career. This requires a conversation with your direct supervisor.

As you prepare for this meeting, consider what you want your future to look like at this company, what’s the ultimate professional goal you hope to achieve by working there, and what specific dollar amount you hope to earn in the future. Only you know if these questions are appropriate to discuss with your employer.

Constructively work through these issues with your boss. If that’s not a possibility, it may be time to begin the job search.

Picking the right job

Even when the economy is struggling, institutions are still hiring. This means you are not stuck in your entry-level role. You need to take control of your career. If you are ready to begin to search for your next position, start with two things:

1. Search for a job with growth possibilities. Consider how many people have been promoted from within or how often a person has left the company for a better job. For example, if you are applying to be an assistant director of athletics, try to find out how many people have been in that role at that school and left to become a director of athletics.

2. Search for an employer who is willing to invest in you. Will this person assist in preparing you for your next position? If you are hoping to continue to advance your career, you do not want to spend years working for someone who is overbearing or controlling. Instead, you need to work for somebody who embraces the opportunity to mentor you and groom you to be successful in the industry, both now and in the future.

Uncover the organizational mission

Don’t forget to consider the type of organization that is the best fit for you. Your job satisfaction comes from supporting the mission of the organization. Consider if you’re passionately interested in furthering the mission of a public, private or faith-based school.

Make this decision before accepting a job offer or risk jeopardizing your potential long-term happiness and effectiveness. Ultimately, you must buy into the big picture of what an athletic department is trying to do, which comes down to you supporting the organization’s mission.


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