Managing Monday: Asking For (And Getting) What You Want
Managing Monday is Alicia’s weekly career advice series. Check back every Monday for stories on how you can further your career and follow your dreams. If you have story ideas for this series, email Alicia.
Mick Jagger once sang, “You can’t always get what you want.” While that may be true, the sure-fire way to never get what you want, is to fail to ask for it.
One of the earliest, and most important lessons, I learned early on in my sports media career, is that you cannot be afraid to ask for what you want.
Asking for what you want, and subsequently getting it, requires several steps. Here, I will break down those steps in an effort to help you use this measure to achieve your career goals.
1. Define what you want
Before you can ask anyone to assist you in furthering your career goals, you must first define what your goals are. Oftentimes, objectives necessary to achieve goals are confused for goals themselves. In order to fully understand what it is you are trying to achieve and what help you need from others to get there, you must hash out your goals and the objectives required to achieve them.
Ultimately, there is no shortcut or clear and easy way to define what your goals are. Defining goals requires personal reflection, soul-searching, and likely, putting pen to paper and writing your goals out. Before you ask anyone for anything, you should first and foremost fully define what it is that you are seeking.
Here is an example: Say that you are seeking a job as a sports lawyer. In order to fulfill this goal, you will likely need to meet numerous objectives. First, you will need to graduate from law school. You will likely need to obtain some sort of sports law related work experience. To obtain this work experience, you will most likely need to attend sports law events, network with sports lawyers and educate yourself about sports law issues. Thereafter, you will need to take and pass the bar. Then, you will apply and interview for sports law positions, and hopefully obtain one.
In achieving this goal, you may consider reaching out to other sports lawyers for their assistance. Before fully defining what you are seeking, you may consider simply asking them, “Can you help me become a sports lawyer?” It is likely that some lawyers will bite at your question and respond. However, by fully defining what you want and the objectives you must achieve to reach that goal, you will be better prepared to ask for specific help. Asking for specific help will better allow those to whom you are reaching out, to give you the response that you want.
For instance, say that you are seeking advice about which law schools offer the best sports law programs. Knowing that you are seeking this specific information, you can reach out to sports lawyers who graduated from certain schools that you’re looking at and ask them about their particular experience. This gives you and the person you are reaching out to (who is likely a stranger) a common interest and starting ground to build a professional relationship upon. More importantly, by avoiding the general question of “how do I become a sports lawyer,” you set yourself apart from others who may also be reaching out to the contact. This is important, as it is likely that this person is contacted by many people to discuss the subject you are contacting them about. By approaching them with a unique and specific question targeted to their interests, you are ensuring that your name sticks out in their mind.
2. Understand the importance of community
I am a true believer that every experience in life shapes you for something bigger. For that reason, I am grateful that one of the first people I met in my sports media career journey was Rafer Johnson. Rafer is the 1960 Olympic gold medalist for the decathlon. He has lived one of the most interesting and integrity-driven lives of anyone I have ever heard of. In preparing to interview Rafer last fall, I read his autobiography, The Best That I Can Be.
Reading that book is one of the greatest things that ever happened to me, and my career. In the book’s pages, Rafer constantly depicts how he was only able to become the best that he could be through the help of others. He constantly stresses the importance of community in achieving one’s dreams.
While much can be learned by the way in which Rafer has lived his life, anyone seeking to fulfill their own dreams would be amiss to not realize that they hinge on the help of others. Thus, you will find many points throughout your career that you need to ask someone for something to get what you want. However, getting them to say “yes,” can be difficult if they feel no sense of loyalty or commitment toward you.
For this reason, it is important to understand the value and need for community. While at the start of your career, it is unlikely that you know the top professionals in your field who may be able to help you get to where you want, that should not prevent you from reaching out to them. Rather, when you do reach out to them, you need to be cognizant that in doing so, you are building your professional community. In that regard, be sure to be professional and courteous in every exchange. Furthermore, be willing to share about your background, so that the person can get a sense of who you are and where you are coming from. Demonstrate that you are aware of their background, by noting some facts about their background that impressed you or that you found interesting.
In this virtual day and age, it is not uncommon for strangers to reach out to one another seeking advice or help. However, you cannot expect a complete stranger to respond to your request for help if they do not feel some sort of connection to you. For that reason, it is important that you work to build a sense of “community” into your first request for assistance.
3. Be bold
As I noted above, the one way to never get what you want is to fail to ask for it. I launched my sports media career a mere 13-months ago. I know for certain that I would not be in the position I am today if I didn’t make bold requests from my peers. Yes, I have been told “no” (or even worse, received no response) several times. But, for the large part, I’ve received favorable responses and assistance from my peers.
One of my favorite examples involves Albert Pujols. In the winter of 2011, Pujols signed a monster contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. In celebration of signing him, the Angels hosted a press conference, open to the public on a Saturday afternoon. I reached out to the Angels’ Director of Media Relations, whom I had met through writing for RulingSports.com, asking if I could obtain a media credential to the event. At this time, RulingSports.com had been in existence all of five months. I figured his answer would be, “no,” but I decided I would ask anyway.
When I arrived at the press conference, I wasn’t sure if my credential request had been approved. I was nearly crestfallen when I saw thousands of people standing in front of Angel Stadium, figuring I wouldn’t even be able to catch a glimpse of Pujols. Realizing that if I was going to be able to cover the press conference, I knew that I was going to have to be bold and march up to the media station. Bearing no credential on my chest, I was quickly stopped and the guards tried to turn me away. I told them I had applied for a credential, but that I had not heard back from the Angels’ Media Relations Director. They asked me for my name, went and found him, and minutes later I was being ushered into the second row of the Pujols press conference.
That day marked my first appearance on major sports networks. I asked Pujols a question about how moving to the American League would affect his ability to play into the twilight of his career. It was aired repeatedly on ESPN and other networks. Nobody would have heard my question had I not been bold that day and asked for what I wanted.
4. Don’t Give Up
Sometimes, a person you reach out to will tell you “no.” Or they won’t respond. Don’t take either for an answer.
It is unlikely that the person you reached out to is the only person who can answer your question and help you on your quest to find what you want. Do not let “no’s” deter you. Rather, reach out to as many people as you can think of whom you believe will be able to answer your question. The more people you reach out to in an attempt to build a professional community and seek advice, the larger your network will become. Subsequently, the greater of an arsenal of advice you will have at your disposal.
In what I do in sports media, I rely a lot upon the insight of others. As such, it is not uncommon for me to email 25 athletics directors in one day, or ten NFL teams. Sometimes I am greatly surprised by the positive response I am given to a request. Other times, I am grateful that I asked many people for help at once, as only a few will positively respond. Ultimately though, because I know what I want, I will not let someone’s “no” prevent me from getting there.
What methods have you used to achieve what you want in your career?