Advice on how to break into the Outdoor Industry

Advice for getting entry-level positions in the outdoor industry and finding successful career paths.
We are fortunate to have many clients in the athletic, outdoor, and sporting goods industry. Recently, many of our contacts inside and outside the industry have had kids or relatives in college who are interested in “getting a foot in the door” for entry-level positions. Here is the advice we have given to them:

Don’t get your foot “caught in the door”

“I want to get my foot in the door” is a blanket statement that people say when they have no idea where they want to go or what they want to do. The best candidates will have already determined the general route for their career. Think of it as getting on the highway, you need to make sure that you are headed in the right direction.

Learn the details of the jobs you are targeting

College students are often not sure what options are available to them, so they say things like: I want to be in “sports marketing” when they in fact mean that they want to be in marketing for a sporting goods company. The difference is that in a sporting goods company, sports marketing may or may not be the focus. Only companies that sponsor athletes or events or are in the sports business have sports marketing.

There are many facets to the “marketing mix”, but students often do not understand the difference or how to articulate it. For example, a student might be interested in pursuing product marketing, brand marketing, public relations, or marketing communications. All of those things fall under the umbrella of marketing. It helps to be as clear as possible. A lack of awareness will make you look clueless. I have found that the students who have made an effort to actively pursue internships tend to be more aware of the direction they want to go and are better equipped to articulate their interests.

Do the research

In addition to pursuing internships, my recommendation is to use LinkedIn to identify and research what job titles and career paths exist within the industry. Try to look for themes and determine what things you think you would be best at doing based on your knowledge of your strengths and interests. There are many types of outdoor and sporting goods companies too, so be specific about what you are targeting. What type of experience do you want to gain? Use LinkedIn to research and follow companies. Determine what the entry-level jobs are and find people to connect with regarding those jobs. Again, it helps to be specific and to be able to genuinely communicate how and why you align well with the job and career path.

Make a list of target companies, go to their websites and look for internship programs or recent college grad programs in the career page area. If they do not have it on the site, then call them and ask to talk to someone in HR about internships. Use your career center resources at your college or university to connect with Alumni.

Recognize that you need to start from the bottom up

Too often, naive recent college grads tell me that they want to be in a “management role.” My response is that you can’t manage something that you know nothing about, you need to learn the business from the bottom up and work your way up based on merit and performance. There are no short cuts.

What is most important is to be the best that you can be no matter what level job you are performing. If you are successful, patient, and make your aspirations known, you will eventually make progress and break through to a successful career path.