How to Make It Big:
Iíve made many mistakes trying to develop my career in strength and conditioningótoo many to list here. However, I donít want anyone else making those same mistakes. Iíve walked the walk when it was time to send the resumes, and Iíve shot the exercise videos, prepared for phone interviews, and made the decisions that ultimately made or broke my future career. Fortunately, I was very lucky to come from a great undergraduate program, which prepared me to handle the demands of big time strength and conditioning programs. My former professors, coaches, and supervisors have all been an integral part of my development into a young, strength and conditioning coach. Without their support as well as that of my family and former teammates, I wouldnít be where I am today.
The first part of this series will be geared toward how to solidify a solid strength and conditioning internship. That internship will hopefully put you in line for another one, line you up for a graduate assistant position at the same school, or get you that big name on your list of references.
In the second part of the series, Iíll explain the importance of professionalizing yourself as a young coach, how to research and find the right school/location for your internship, and most importantly, how to prepare yourself for the big interview (you will be interviewed). The final part of the series will address the importance of professionalism during your internship and how you can make the most of your experience, whether itís the best in the nation or simply not what you expected.
Here are the basic but almost always overlooked tips, in no particular order, on how to get that big internship to start your career.
1) Go to class often and on time.
This is as simple as it sounds, but how many of you are doing it? Iím not talking about going every day, sitting right up in front, and gawking at your professor. Use the free absences. If youíre allowed three, take three. Just donít get carried away. We all know how tough it is to wake up at 7:45 am for your 8:00 am anatomy class after a night of pounding down $1.00 drafts and riding the mechanical bull downtown. However, your professors will notice if you donít go to class often, especially if you attend a small school.
If youíre looking for a recommendation from your professor, are you going to get a solid one if you barely show up to his or her class? What if you always show up late, walk in hung over carrying a breakfast sandwich from the cafeteria, and then start texting on your cell phone during the lecture? These little things add up when it comes time to look for an internship. My advisors have told me thisótheyíre always evaluating you.
2) Go big or go home.
Like Martin Rooney says, ďevery rep, every set.Ē Getting Cís and Dís in exercise science, nutrition, and kinesiology-related courses simply wonít get it done. Think Iím joking? In one of my internships, I had to sort through all of the incoming applicantsí transcripts and throw out the ones who did poorly in any of those above mentioned classes, regardless of how good a resume they had. Dropping your exercise testing class twice and picking up a C- in basic nutrition will most likely hurt your chances of getting an internship that requires a college transcript. As my college line coach told me, ďDo it once, do it right!Ē
3) Meet with the professionals around you.
This is one point that I never saw my classmates take into consideration. They would only attend class. Thatís it. How is your professor/advisor going to get to know you when you never raise your hand or you only get 45 minutes of face time three days a week? These professors are your advisors for a reason. That doesnít mean see them once a semester just to pick out classes. Get to know them. Get to know who THEY know.
Networking is the most powerful tool in this field, and Iíll bet everything I have that your network is nowhere close to the size of your advisorís. If your advisor isnít a strength and conditioning guru, find out who is. You can still meet with your advisor on class selections or school problems. However, a good advisor will direct you to another faculty member in the department who can assist you in reaching your career goals.
4) Build the resume.
This is the most important aspect of selling yourself to a school, gym, or other job. This can make or break your chances of an internship or employment. This one piece of paper can separate you from the pile of donkeys in the trashcan or the starred names near the phone. Hereís what you do.
Before you even send anything out, bring your resume and cover letter to your college career center. A good career center will have counselors available for you to meet with. They can help you fix up your resume or cover letter and give you tips on how to make any further changes all for FREE. They may even have someone designated for your department (i.e. a resume person for business-related majors, history majors, etc.). These people are getting paid to help YOU get a career. Why not take advantage of it?
I regret not going to the career center until the end of my junior year. I thought I had listed everything that I needed to list, put it in the right place, and described everything as thoroughly as possible. How ignorant was that? I learned that my resume would always be changing. Hopefully, there will always be another award, internship, or degree to showcase on there. Once you get a format you like, keep it as current as possible. You never know when your boss will say to you, ďThe coach at XYZ University called me and said thereís a GA opening. Send your resume as soon as possible.Ē This, of course, is the ideal situation and may not happen to most of us, but you must always be prepared. Keep your resume up to date.
After you get a solid resume format, itís now time to build your career with what you have. What if youíre a freshman and you donít have any experience yet? Or what if you were a standout athlete back in the day? Thatís all fine. You need to learn how to use whatís available and market it.
If you donít have much experience, try to include as many things as possible that relate to your career. Fill in the empty space with exercise, athletics, leadership, academic awards, honors, and experiences. Here are some examples of things you can include:
Iím not going to lie and say it doesnít suck. Nobody wants to work for free. However, you have to realize that everyone in this field has in one way or another volunteered their time to get where they are now. Want to be a big time strength coach? You have to make the sacrifice.
Two of my internships were unpaid, and I had to drive 150 miles roundtrip daily and move across the country twice just to get my foot in the door. Was it hard? No question. Did I feel like I would never make it? Sure. But when you pack everything up, say goodbye to everything around you, and live on the bare minimum for a couple of months, thereís something inside of you that will refuse to let you fail. Volunteering is like investing. Nobody wants to put the time and money into it now, but in the end, if done correctly, you will yield substantial gains guaranteed.
5) Join the network.
If youíre not volunteering, make sure you join the network. No experience? No problem. Make up for it by joining the governing bodies of the field. This can be an entire section on your resume titled professional memberships or professional certifications.
Become a student member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Athletic Training Association (NATA), or any other gold-standard organization. Not only will you be a step ahead of your classmates who wonít join until they get certified, but youíll also have access to thousands of pages of strength and conditioning information that will only make you a better student, educator, and coach. In addition, the NSCA has a job/internship section for students who are looking to get their foot in the door.
6) Get certified.
Are you too young to get certified? Not enough credits? Look into other certifications that are subsections within the gold standards. You canít get your Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certification until youíre a college senior, but you can sign up and become a USA Weightlifting Level 1 Club Coach well before that. Try looking into the CPT certification from the NSCA or the National Academy of Sport Medicine (NASM). Stay away from organizations with cheesy endorsements that promise you a certification overnight or for a small, one-time fee. Chances are theyíre bogus and not even worth it. Ask your professors or coaches for recommendations.
7) Get to know the people in your field.
Travel around. Once you join these organizations, there will be dozens of conferences around your area that will serve as a gateway to developing a strong network. I wish I had had more time during college to attend these conferences while balancing my time between football and work.
Meet other coaches. Donít worry if you donít have any experience. If they speak at a convention, introduce yourself afterwards in the lobby. Tell them that you enjoyed their presentation. Share with them what youíre studying and that youíd be interested in volunteering some time at their facility. Everyone loves free work. If you can get your name in the field, by all means do it. Who knows? Maybe by the time youíre a senior, that facility, school, or fitness center might be looking for a full-time intern, graduate assistant, or employee. It can all start from that one day in the lobby when you slipped some guyís business card into your back pocket.
Again, these are basic tips to set you on the right path. In the second part of this series, Iíll assume that youíve prepared yourself to search for that internship and send everything out. Weíll make sure that youíre professional, courteous, and most importantly, the right person for the job. Also, Iíll give you some tips on how to avoid dive bombing on your phone interview. Stay tuned.
Adam Feit received his B.S. in Exercise Science with high honors from Springfield College (MA) in 2006. He has completed strength and conditioning internships at Springfield College, University of Connecticut, US Olympic Training Center-San Diego, and Arizona State University. After only a year as a GA Strength Coach at The Citadel, he is now a full-time Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach for a Division I Big East football team. He can be reached at email@example.com.