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Guy Behind the Guy: Breaking In

by Mike Sundheim / Carolina Hurricanes
On July 18, we posted a job opening in the Carolina Hurricanes Media Relations department. This is the third season we’ve had our Media Relations Coordinator position, a part-time, graduate-assistant-type gig in which the primary responsibilities include game notes and assisting with the @Canes_Gameday Twitter account.

Mike Sundheim
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Despite the fact that the job has irregular hours and a salary that requires an additional form of income, we received nearly 300 resumes in just a few days.

It’s a stepping stone job – more involved than an internship, but not a full-time, salaried position. Last year, after a year as an intern with the Hurricanes, Pace Sagester served in the role. This summer, Pace joined the Washington Capitals in a full-time role as Media Relations Manager. That’s pretty much the playbook for how we want the job to work – a launching pad to full-time sports PR employment.

Ultimately, we narrowed the candidates to five and then hired Brian Verdi for the job. Brian had all the qualities we were looking for: an extensive writing background that included a degree in journalism, experience writing game notes for multiple sports franchises and a strong knowledge of hockey. He spent this summer interning for the New York Yankees, after previously completing internships for the St. Louis Rams and Charlotte Bobcats and holding a full-time job with the Sporting News.

I am asked fairly often about careers in sports, and how students can best prepare to work in the field. After completing this hiring process, I wanted to share some general thoughts for those of you who are in high school or college and want to break into the industry:

  • Scarcity: On average, NHL teams have about three full-time positions in PR. That’s 90 total jobs. By comparison, there are 690 available roster positions for players to work in our league. Unless you can skate like the wind or fire a 100-mph slapshot, you’re probably not in line for a job as a player. So, like Brian, you have to work to separate yourself from the crowd. Even then, there is no guarantee. We have two full-time media relations positions at the Hurricanes, and we have had exactly zero openings in the 10 years since Kyle Hanlin was hired in 2003.

  • The Job Description: This obviously applies to any application for employment, but if you are applying for a job, you should probably know what you are applying for. The job description doesn’t just tell you what you would do if hired, it explains what we are looking for. So structure your cover letter and resume to show us how you are prepared to handle the job.

  • Salary Range: Like many other job posting systems, TeamWork Online has a line in which an applicant can list “salary requirements.” This is a useful space if you have a full-time job that you are happy with and know exactly what it would take to convince you to leave your current position. But if you’re applying for a part-time, entry-level position, you might want to think about leaving it blank or temper your expectations. More than a dozen applicants typed $80,000+ there. For a seasonal, part-time sports job. Man, if only.

  • Social Media: If you don’t think employers are going to Google you before hiring you, you’re kidding yourself. We’re a few key swipes away from an easy character check. So think about what they might see on your Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. I found one of the candidates for our position on Twitter, and more than half of his tweets were expletives directed at @KingJames. If you hated The Decision that much, at least have the common sense to not tie that Twitter account to your own name.

  • Internships, Internships, Internships: I say this every time I speak to a class or student group, but it is close to impossible to break into sports without gaining experience while still in college. A walk down the fourth-floor hall at PNC Arena puts that on display. Turn left and look at the names on the doors to the right: Brian Tatum (interned for the Canes), Ron Francis (in the Hockey Hall of Fame), Mike Sundheim (interned for the Canes), Kyle Hanlin (interned for the Canes), Doug Warf (interned for the Canes). So, basically, unless you’re a Hall of Famer, you probably want to consider an internship. I instantly eliminated about 75 percent of the resumes I received because they had zero sports experience.

  • And don’t just intern: Every summer, there are three or four job openings around the NHL. Often, when there is one, the PR Director in the market will send an email around, asking if we have any strong candidates. Sergey Kocharov with the Caps did this, and I sent him Pace. I didn’t do that because he went through the motions every day as an intern, texting his friends and playing on Facebook. I did it because Pace had excelled as an intern, working his tail off and making us a better department. His drive to make an impact is what convinced us to hire him as Media Relations Coordinator and the reason Sergey ultimately brought him on full time.

This post is not meant to discourage anyone who wants to sit in my office someday. I love what I do, and if you are dedicated to being a part of this field, you can as well. That being said, in choosing Brian to fill our open position, we honestly did not care what his GPA was or even where he went to college. (It was SUNY Cortland, and I had to glance at his resume just now to remember.) Brian got the job because he has shown complete devotion to being a part of this field – holding internships in three different states and volunteering for events in several more – and his references from those positions unanimously agreed about his professionalism, character, ability and work ethic. That’s how you break in.

And if you’re a junior or senior at N.C. State, UNC, Duke, Shaw, Elon, Campbell, NCCU or anywhere else within driving distance of PNC Arena, we’re looking for interns right now.

Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeSundheim, and feel free to tweet at him for information about internships in the Hurricanes media relations department.

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