Image credit: Years ago, A.J. Preller was roaming the lobby of the Winter Meetings looking for that first job in baseball. Now, he’s the general manager for the Padres.
If past history is any guide, somewhere in the lobby of Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas during the 2018 Winter Meetings will be a future general manager looking for their first job in baseball. There will also be future assistant general managers, farm directors and directors of analytics looking for their first big break.
Many of the current GMs and front office officials were roaming the lobby themselves years ago, and the next generation of front office officials will be doing the same thing this year. But there will also be a lot of people who are going to end up disappointed and whose dreams will be given a rough dose of reality.
With that in mind, Baseball America contacted a number of front office officials who have both gone through the process (and hired others) to gain some insight into how prospective job candidates can improve their chances of getting that first job.
Don’t just show up at the Winter Meetings hoping for a chance meeting in the lobby or an elevator. For one thing, as the Winter Meetings have gotten bigger and bigger, general managers and most of their lieutenants spend most of their time sequestered in their suites far from the lobby, so you will rarely bump into decision-makers. And when they do pass through the lobby, they generally aren’t looking to loiter and chat.
Teams are planning to fill positions and internships at the Winter Meetings, but they do so in large part by setting up interviews in advance. With proper planning, a job candidate can spend a lot of time interviewing at the Winter Meetings. Without planning, a candidate can spend a lot of fruitless time wandering around the lobby.
“My advice is to apply to positions and set up interviews beforehand. Some people go and just wait in the lobby,” said an AL pro scouting director.
DON’T AIM TOO HIGH
Unless you already know a general manager or team president (and if you do, lucky you), you shouldn’t spend time or effort trying to get in touch with them. If you’re fresh out of college or a current college student looking for an internship, you’re trying to get your foot in the door. The best bet is to make contact and a connection with someone lower down on the org chart. They will likely have a more direct role in the hiring process and potentially more time to talk.
“Every kid I talk to, I tell them to reach out beforehand and set up a time to talk. And don’t go for the general manager. Go to the assistant general manager or director or coordinator,” said an AL assistant general manager.
LOVE ISN’T EVERYTHING
If you don’t love baseball, a job in baseball likely isn’t for you. The hours are too long and there are a lot of other jobs out there that pay better. Almost across the board, baseball front office jobs pay less than equivalent jobs in other sectors. But if you do love baseball, that does not give you any significant advantage. That just means you’ve joined a very large, very hungry club of thousands of others just like you. There will be many other job seekers looking at the same jobs who share the same passion for the game.
In interviews, it’s wise to show how you love baseball, but don’t believe that such a love will be enough to win a job or an internship. Pretty much anyone prowling the lobby at the Winter Meetings loves baseball. One assistant general manager shared the story of talking to the players of an elite Division I baseball team. He asked for a show of hands of who in that room loved baseball. As you might expect, there were plenty of baseball lovers. The AGM then pointed out that the same thing is true for every college baseball team in the country and there are hundreds of college baseball teams, so even for those who play the game at a high level, loving the game isn’t a separator when trying to land a job.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO?
There are actually two separate job expos going on at the same time at the Winter Meetings. There are plenty of jobs in Minor League Baseball that are filled through the PBEO (Professional Baseball Employment Opportunities) job fair. These are excellent opportunities to work in the game, but these are jobs for people who want to work in the business of baseball, which does not necessarily put one on a path to running a major league front office. If running a minor league team or working in sales, advertising, marketing or public relations for a minor or major league team seems interesting, the PBEO is a great way to get started.
The path from a sales job with the Quad Cities River Bandits to a sales job with the Boston Red Sox is both clear and difficult. But doing an excellent job of selling tickets or doing promotions with a minor league team is not really experience that carries over into becoming a farm director or a general manager of a big league team.
DON’T AIM TOO HIGH, TOO SOON
If you talk to anyone in a front office, they will tell you about aspiring job applicants who have their eyes on the ultimate prize. No one in a front office begrudges a potential intern or entry-level employee’s goal of becoming a general manager or team president one day— many of those front office officials have the same goal. But they do not want to hear much about it during the interview process, especial- ly if it makes it seem like the current job seem beneath the applicant.
Multiple front office officials said questions like, “How long do I need to be in this position before moving up?” are often viewed as red flags that keeps someone from getting that first foothold. The old cliches can be true. You’re better off explaining how you are just here to help the ballclub in whatever way you can.
For baseball players, learning to deal with the grind of a long season is key to success. It’s true for front office employees as well. The best way to make an impact and get noticed is to do an excellent job at whatever job or intern- ship you land. A willingness to handle mun- dane, boring tasks with enthusiasm, excellence and work ethic is an excellent way to stand out.
Having a love for the game doesn’t make a recent college graduate a standout candidate for a job in baseball by itself, but there are some skills that quickly help someone rise to the top. Having excellent communication skills in English and Spanish is a highly coveted ability in front offices. Similarly, being a wizard with R (a statistical programming language) and/ or Python puts a job applicant into a select group.
If you’re a programmer with R and Python skills who is fluent in Spanish to go with either college baseball playing experience or work for a college baseball team? Well, you’ll be taking your pick of which baseball job best fits you. As one front office exec put it, he’d love to find that unicorn.
BE CONFIDENT, BUT NOT COCKY
No one in baseball has the game fully figured out. That includes Mike Trout, Theo Epstein and Alex Cora. Everyone interviewing prospective job candidates knows that, so they don’t take all that kindly to
a candidate who believes he or she has mastered the game. That leads to a certain paradox. When being interviewed, a young job candidate needs to both show that he or she knows enough to help a team, but also doesn’t have a know-it-all attitude that indicates they will not be inquisitive enough to continue learning.
So that means that “I don’t know, but I know how I could find out” is a perfectly acceptable answer. An even better answer is, “I didn’t know, but here’s what I did to figure it out.”
The best front office employees are always learning, so those interviewing candidates want to see that kind of thirst for knowledge from job candidates as well. A job applicant who can show that they have worked hard to add skills and knowledge (ideally by learning baseball-related skills or answering baseball questions on their own) will have an advantage.