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Advancing Your Career in Athletics Administration

Right now the focus is on women and minorities because often the pool is thin

Athletics administration doesn’t have to be an old boys’ network anymore. These days, moving into prime roles isn’t about who you know—it’s also become about what you know.

That’s the belief of Andi Seger , a consultant at Alden & Associates , a national executive recruiting firm that special-izes in sports administration. She is emeritus director of athletics at Ball State University IN, where she served for 27 years, including 12 as senior woman administrator and seven as AD.

Emphasizing that resumes, work experience and strategic networking are what women need to advance in sports administration, she addressed a packed room at the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators (NACWAA) conference in Sacramento in October.

Taking stock

The first step, said Seger, is to perform an honest self-assessment. Ask yourself, what makes you tick? What makes you happy? What are your goals? Where do you see yourself in two, five, or 10 years? What makes you thrive profes-sionally? Are you happiest leading or managing?

This introspection will help you to determine what you want from a job, helping you to form job criteria so that you aren’t just guessing whether or not a job would be a good fit.

During this step, said Seger, it’s important to let go of perceived challenges that unfortunately still exist, including:

  • Women can’t run entire programs.
  • Women can’t raise funds, especially from male donors.
  • Women can’t supervise male coaches.
  • Women work best in a “second” position.
  • As an AD your life is under a microscope.
  • As an AD you lose control of your life.

“I can’t tell you the number of times people have asked me how I did it,” she said. “These ideas are still out there, with hiring officials, boosters and fans, in both big and little programs.” The last two may have some validity, she said, but the others have none at all.

Broadening your resumé

The next step is to broaden your existing resumé. Determine the areas that you need to focus on to advance, such as fundraising, supervising personnel, contracts, marketing, facilities or supervising revenue sports.

“You don’t have to become an expert in any of these areas,” she said. “You just have to be able to hire a staff and build a team.” Learn the terminology so that you can converse about the subjects, and be willing to learn from other people.

To be extra marketable, consider exploring new avenues in each area. Learning about new media—such as podcasting—as a revenue source for sponsorships could be a resume enhancement, and an extra value that you could bring to the table for a new employer.

Don’t think that these two steps can wait until you find your dream position, said Seger. Opportunities can arise very quickly, and you have to be able to rise to the occasion and make a decision just as quickly. You should be preparing for these all along. (Seger moved into both the women’s athletic director and AD positions at Ball State unexpectedly and with no time to prepare.)

Seeking a mentor and network

Once you know what you want and have your resume in order, it’s time to start networking and seeking some mentors.

“Everyone has to define networking and mentoring for themselves,” said Seger. A woman may have five different mentors—one for each area of her career. She may have one to advise her on facilities, another on television and others for other areas. You can do it any way you want, said Seger. Mentoring is just developing strong relationships. The important thing is to ask to be mentored.

And while mentoring and networking are important, don’t fall in to the “it’s all about who you know” mentality of job seeking. Advancing is about your resume, your work experience and what you can offer an employer, said Seger, emphasizing that search committees are diligent and serious about finding the best person for the job.

Using search firms

An essential component of your networking should be with search firms, hired by a school to help with the search process by providing information and organization to the hiring official and search chair. Often, explained Seger, a school’s hiring official and search chair is not the same person because the hiring official doesn’t have time to deal with the minutiae of the search, which often includes daily contact.

Some schools have larger search committees; Division IA schools often have a committee of three, usually composed of a chancellor or president and a VP or major university benefactor.

As a part of the vetting process, search firms perform due diligence to provide info on candidates, including:

  • Civil and criminal checks
  • Public record searches
  • Drivers license/Social Security background checks
  • Educational degree verification
  • Credit history examinations
  • NCAA checks with the Office of Infractions

If there’s something on your record that could turn up during these checks, disclose it to the search firm early. Otherwise, you could be very embarrassed—and the search firm probably will not want to work with you again.

Other search firm duties include organization, sourcing and recruiting. Sourcing, explained Seger, is when an associate calls around seeking names to add to an applicant pool. For example, calling NACWAA, ADs or commissioners to say, “I need someone with fundraising experience for this pool.” The better the search firm, the wider its circle of calls. Recruiting is when you call the person after you get her name to see whether she’s interested in applying.

Being recruited doesn’t guarantee you’ll get an interview, however. It’s up to the search firm to compose a list of people who are interested, then narrow the list down to a short list of those they want to pursue. So don’t be discouraged if you get a call but no interview.

Because a search firm’s primary job is to provide a quality pool of candidates, firms maintain databases of potential candidates. Right now the focus is on women and minorities, because often the pool is thin, said Seger.

Often it’s up to the firm to source quality female and minority candidates who weren’t included in the original pool. “But we won’t put them in the pool if the school really isn’t open,” Seger promised. “We’re not going to waste your time or ours. It’s not in anybody’s best interest. If you get into one of our finalist pools, you’ve got an equal shot at the job.”

Marketing yourself

To work with a search firm, put your name out there. Let everyone know who you are and what type of job you aspire to have. When she’s sourcing, said Seger, “people will provide a name and then say, ‘Well, I don’t know if she wants to be an AD.’” Guys tell everyone all the time what they want, she said—and women need to start doing the same.

Take the initiative in telling people what locations you want to be in as well. Let people know what part of the country you want to go to. But, do recognize that it narrows your opportunities. Seger advises that you agree to go somewhere for two years early in your career. It’s a short time to try something out, and it could open many doors for you.

When you are promoting yourself—something every woman needs to learn to do—find opportunities to get known. Before national meetings, find out what consultants from which search firms will be there. Contact them to schedule a coffee meeting to introduce yourself. That’s what they want, said Seger.

After you’re in their database, keep in touch by sending emails detailing your recent accomplishments, or providing your updated resume. That’s not being pushy—it’s being proactive.

 The NACWAA Web site (www.nacwaa.org) has a list of openings by job titles in athletics administration, job descrip-tions and contacts. Alden and Associates also has a Web site ( www.aldenandassoc.com). If you’re interested in a position, said Seger, come forward—you don’t have to be recruited.

Finally, said Seger, it’s important to work with our peers to help each other move into senior positions. She had the group break up into small groups, to brainstorm professional activities that they could be doing to enhance their career advancement in certain areas. “If women want to advance, we need to work together,” she said.

Contact Andi Seger at
andi@aldenandassoc.com

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