Working in baseball operations for a Major League team is a dream job for many baseball fanatics. If front office job-seekers are being honest, the pinnacle would be to one day land in the GM’s chair and call the shots on trades, free agent signings, and draft picks. But in such a competitive field, how do you stand out? What should you focus on to become as appealing as possible to an MLB team in a job interview?
Seven years ago, I polled many MLB executives on their advice for high school students with front office aspirations. With so many new executives in the game since then, I decided to move a bit further down the career path and ask this question:
What one piece of advice would you give to a college student who hopes to work in baseball operations one day?
I posed this question to many of MLB’s top-ranking baseball operations executives. Just like the rest of us, these people are currently sheltered in place with their families trying to get some work done in these difficult and strange times. The following ten execs kindly took the time to answer my question: Ross Atkins of the Blue Jays, Jeff Bridich of the Rockies, Ben Cherington of the Pirates, James Click of the Astros, Mike Elias of the Orioles, Derek Falvey of the Twins, Matt Kleine of the Brewers, Dayton Moore of the Royals, Brodie Van Wagenen of the Mets, and Dick Williams of the Reds. Their answers are below.
I always think of the creative examples of how several of the current team’s GMs and Presidents got their foot in the door when asked this question. Without sharing those ideas specifically, I tell the individual who asked to think of something that they can bring to the table today that would be beneficial for a baseball operations team. Is there something that they do or can do that would have an immediate impact even if very small. It could be data analysis, programming, scouting, performance coaching, or leadership/communication application but ideally in the form of a project or deliverable and in a perfect world something that the organization doesn’t already have.
I believe that if those looking to get into baseball have excelled in other arenas they should think about how they have done that and share that in a way that is applicable to baseball as that is usually an attractive approach to those who are deciding to add to their operations teams. – Ross Atkins, Blue Jays Executive Vice President, Baseball Operations & General Manager
In terms of trying to trying to get into the world of baseball operations out of college, mindset and attitude will determine a lot. Create for yourself a mindset built around relentlessness, flexibility and hard work. The typical college school year and/or graduation timeframe do not lineup perfectly with when most Major League teams are hiring. So there could be some lag time between leaving college and getting hired.
Also, there usually are hundreds, maybe thousands, more applicants for jobs than there are jobs available. So chances are you’ll hear a bunch of “Nos” before you hear a “Yes”. That’s where relentlessness, flexibility and work ethic come into play. Your first opportunity in the baseball industry may not come in the perfect shape, size and package that you desire – but that’s OK. Be flexible in what you are willing to do and where you’re willing to work (be that departmentally or geographically).
At some point in your job search, you may feel like you are being annoying or that you’re bothering team employees too often. But know that relentlessness and persistence often pay off. It’s tough to count up how many times we have said over the years, “You have to give that person credit for his/her persistence,” whether we hired that person or not. If the worst outcome is that you are not hired (yet) but you are given credit for your relentless desire to work in the game, then it’s worth it.
Finally, look at the job search process like it is a job in itself. Put in the time. Make sure your resume is as good as it possibly can be. Ask thoughtful questions of any and all people who could help you. And always be ready – after you’ve sent off your resume and applied for a job, you never know when a team might call you. Those people who are ready for an in-depth discussion at a moment’s notice usually make a good first impression. – Jeff Bridich, Rockies Executive Vice President & General Manager
It’s hard to narrow down to one but if I had to I’d say finding opportunities to solve complicated problems in groups. Almost all of the work we do in baseball operations focuses on assessing, predicting, or improving human performance. Human performance is complicated. Almost none of the work we do in baseball is done by ourselves. Just about everything we do is done by teams of people. So I’d say the more practice combining those two things the better. – Ben Cherington, Pirates General Manager
There’s no magic bullet, no secret code to getting into baseball. All of us have a unique story about how we got here, so play to your strengths and put yourself in as good a position as possible to take any job that you’re offered, even if – especially if – it’s not in the area in which you see yourself long term. Every job is an opportunity to show what you can do, a chance to gain valuable experience and perspective on how the game works, and to make sure that this lifestyle is something you want to take on. Finally, don’t get discouraged! It took a lot of us a long time to get into the game, but it’s worth it. – James Click, Astros General Manager
I think there are so many public forums today to showcase your work online. Whether it’s contract analysis, data analysis, or scouting evaluation that you want to do, you can start to build this body of work on your own, before anyone hires you. It is so helpful when we are interviewing when someone has a portfolio already started. It shows how you work and think, but also shows initiative and that you are truly passionate about this line of work. – Mike Elias, Orioles Executive Vice President and General Manager
I’d recommend that you don’t wait around for the perfect opportunity to come your way and instead find a way to create one. People who want to work in baseball will reach out and say they’re just waiting for that “break” to come their way. It’s not uncommon that a year later we’ll hear from them again still waiting for that opening to show up.
My suggestion – dive into a topic within the game that interests you, learn as much as you can about it, and then generate a work product that shows you have the baseline skills and passion to impact a baseball operation as soon as you walk through the door. Don’t be afraid to try something because you might fail. Of all the resumes we get, it’s the ones that are accompanied by a work product (and therefore a willingness to put yourself out there) that generate the most interest. – Derek Falvey, Twins President of Baseball Operations
My advice to students is to create baseball-specific opportunities for yourself. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Volunteer to capture video, analyze data or operate pitch tracking software for your school’s team. Connect with your Sports Information Director and ask how you can help. Learn SQL. Learn Spanish. Contact baseball-centric websites and volunteer your time. Devise your own work product that attempts to solve meaningful questions you believe are currently unanswered within the public sphere. This is especially important because providing MLB clubs with examples of self-driven work product showcases your curiosity, thought process, and reasoning. It’s equally as important – if not more so – than a strong resume.
Students should also understand that our approach to hiring is shaped by our constant pursuit of the next marginal win. How can the next hire help us win games both today and in the future? Students who approach us with hard skills, novel work product and a strong resume quickly move to the front of that line. – Matt Kleine, Brewers Vice President – Baseball Operations
As it pertains to teams and front office, compatibility is the most important trait. This will only exist if you have an above and beyond attitude with the commitment to do the jobs that others simply find meaningless. You must have an “others first” mindset and model that behavior. Finally, never stop looking at this game from the eyes of your youth. – Dayton Moore, Royals Senior Vice President – Baseball Operations/General Manager
1. When interviewing with a prospective employer/executive, be specific about the area in which you want to work. Prove to your audience that you have you done the research in his/her area of focus. This will enable you to be versed enough to hold a meaningful conversation. Those who want a “PARTICULAR job” are much more compelling than those who simply just want “a job.”
2. Be willing to work in any city that has an opportunity to further your pursuits. Don’t let geography limit your search. – Brodie Van Wagenen, Mets Executive Vice President & General Manager
The best way to get your foot in the door is to figure out how you can solve a problem for me that I may not have even known I had. It makes for a much more effective cold call when you email your resume into an organization if you can articulate what you can do that the Reds are not doing today that could make us better. At least it makes us more likely to read further.
Keep abreast of the evolving trends in the industry and tailor your coursework accordingly. If you have baseball experience, focus on adding database management or machine learning or something technical. And if you are technically skilled, work on adding the baseball experience however you can. – Dick Williams, Reds President of Baseball Operations