Be proactive in the job search process

by Jack Warren, Athletic Ops editor and host of Ops Nation

As I mentioned in my last column, waiting on job postings is not always a good strategy when looking for that next position. In fact, it is quite often the quickest route to set yourself up for disappointment. You see, in many cases — especially with state schools — postings are mandated by various regulations and are quite often just a way of ensuring that their school is in compliance. Many times, a coach or athletic administrator have a good candidate already in mind, but must still jump through these regulatory hoops. However, schools and other organizations also want good candidates, so those doing the hiring have also learned that this process frequently produces more good candidates for the pool.

That said, what can you do to put yourself in a position to succeed in a job search or career advancement? Here are just a few tips to get your thinking started in the right direction.

Build a network

First and foremost, build a network. Get to know others who are serving in positions to which you aspire. A great percentage of NCAA D1 schools now have at least one operations staffer in each sport. Smaller schools and athletic departments quite often have a handful of people serving many of the teams. Get to know these people. And look for people who serve in these roles at other schools. Reach out to these folks. The mere fact that they’re in operations means that they love to help and to serve. You’ll often find that they would be very happy to help you.

Find out where these people hang out — both physically and virtually. What events to they attend? What online resources do they utilize? What organizations are they members of? This will serve both to familiarize you with the profession and to let you know who all the players are.

Look for trends

Stay on top of what’s going on in the operations field by following key people and organizations on social media. Also, keep abreast of trends and happenings by paying attention to the news. News such as this will key you in to critical information that will help position you well in your decision making. For example, late this past summer, a news item noted the fact that the University of Illinois athletic department had just hired five operations people. Too late for you to act on, but good information to know as an indicator of current trends. And as a secondary benefit, take time to read through these articles to find out what kind of people filled these positions and perhaps some information on how the search was handled.

Don’t wait for openings

Want to set yourself up for disappointment over and over? Only apply for positions that are posted. Here’s a little exercise for you — find five current or past director of operations staffers. Ask them how they landed their position. You may be surprised to find out that many of them did not go through a “traditional” job search and hiring process. Knowing that somewhere this week, several people will land operations positions, you should learn to anticipate and be ready to pounce at first mention of even the remote possibility of an opening.

Keep in mind that some organizations do not require the same rigor in hiring. Exploit that fact. Act quickly on rumors (from your previously mentioned network) that an opening may be imminent. Perhaps a posting will become unnecessary.

Create your own position

I can’t tell you how many people I know have ended up in positions of their own making. A discussion over lunch. A chance meeting at an event. An introduction from a mutual acquaintance. All of these interactions could lead to situations in which a discussion opens the door to the realization that you could help an organization or team with their operations. Perhaps it starts as a volunteer position or a graduate assistantship. Maybe you can create your new role while working in your current job. Think creatively! It doesn’t have to be an “either/or.” Make it an “and” situation. Don’t follow the old rules. Think about how you can help a team or organization and then approach the decision maker(s). You might be surprised at the response. Frankly, those not even willing to consider the possibility are probably the folks you don’t want to work for anyhow.

If you’ve got a story of how you landed a current or past position in a non-traditional or creative fashion, please let me know. Drop me a note at




Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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