By David Stricklin MS, LAT, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer of the Seattle Seahawks
It is that time of year. Many athletic training students across the nation will start the process of building a cover letter and tweaking résumés, getting them ready to be shipped off to several, if not all 32 teams, in hopes of earning a summer or seasonal athletic training internship in the NFL. Through the sea of paper and electronic mail, the hurricane of repetitive words and groves of references, somewhere between 200 and 250 budding ATs will make the cut – from more 1,000 applicants spread across the league.
The purpose of this article is to give some insights on what NFL athletic trainers are looking for when we are working through stacks of application materials. I want to share some of the do’s and don’ts of applying to not only NFL internships, but any job in the future. With the compression of your athletic training curriculums, most of you don’t have the opportunity to sit through cover letter and résumé building sessions. You are expected to figure it out on your own. Most athletic training students do a great job of being resourceful and detail oriented – that’s why you are going to be great in our profession. If you’re reading this article, you can gain the motivation and perspective that you need to raise your personal bar.
Most applications will look very similar. “Hello my name is so and so and I am writing to blah blah.” Going through hundreds of applications that all seem the same, with no sign of individualization, can be taxing on our end. We get it though. We understand that there is a “standard” cover letter and a résumé format that students are using. We understand that students feel they have limited opportunities and would rather play it safe than risk being tossed out for breaking the norm. Most of the people reading these letters have been in those exact shoes.
Personally, I have read some unique letters. Some of which were unique in a good way; others in a bad way. I have read great letters that draw wonderful attention to a person’s life story expressing great detail compressed into 10 sentences. I have read unique letters that come to me addressed to the wrong team. I usually don’t end up reading those for content.
Pay attention to detail. This should go without saying. Address to the right team, get names correct, spell them correctly, read your materials for errors and grammar mistakes. Making multiple copies means changing something that is specific to every team. Don’t let copy and paste bring you down. Things such as envelopes, paper choice, font, binding, etc., only stick out if you go extreme. Pick something that is considered middle of the road; not underdone, but not over the top. Show that this is important to you, but you understand that you are not submitting your final master’s thesis. Let your content speak for your abilities, not extra weighted paper. Finally, try to avoid gimmicks and corny stuff. Your ability to put a team logo on your résumé shows me that you do a very good job of paying attention to things that don’t matter.
Here are some things to consider:
Timing: Generally, I start taking a hard look at applications in October and November. Other teams may be earlier or later. I know that none of us are thinking about next summer during July or August. These months are the busiest for us. Sending in an application during these months could mean that you get lost in the shuffle, never to be seen again. On the flip side, January and February may be too late, so don’t wait too long.
Sending: Typically, I would rather have a paper copy sent to me. I will most likely print out emailed copies anyway. I use your envelope as a first impression. Did you take the time to print addresses or hand write? Did you send an important document in a legal or standard envelope? Some may feel that there is not much to be learned about an applicant by how they shipped their materials. Let the content speak, right? If I receive a beat up, poorly hand written, folded résumé for a potentially career changing internship, my first impression is that this is not that important to this person. I would never take something that I worked on diligently, that is supposed to be a reflection of me, and mistreat it.
Cover Letter: Short and sweet. Please don’t give a review of your résumé. Just tell us about your story, strengths, weaknesses, experiences, etc. I already know that you work for your university football team, because it is on the next page. A concise depiction of who you are is perfect – don’t get long winded. Please don’t forget to sign it. I believe that this is a lost art. This is your final stamp, something that is very personal and unique to you. Don’t leave it out.
Résumé: For most of you, this is going to be pretty much the same. Goals, undergrad, graduate school, camps, sport assignments, scholarships and relatable awards, etc. Please don’t make stuff up – “hydration technician” for local 5K or “head student athletic trainer” for a high school camp are examples of people inflating their own importance and thinking that we will not see through it. Next, please keep unrelated work experience out. Sandwich artist? Don’t care. Hostess at a restaurant? Don’t care. We know that you are in school to become an AT, thus you have had limited opportunities in the profession. Please don’t submit fluff. Do add your community service experience, especially if it has been during your current schooling. Seeing that you were able to manage your time to better your community is impressive. College is difficult to balance school, clinic hours and social life. Working in a soup kitchen on Friday nights is cool.
References: The standard is three. These should be people who are going to give an honest account of your work ethic, leadership ability, personality, trustworthiness, etc. The closer they are to the profession, and the more recent, the better. Your third grade teacher was probably great, but he wasn’t an athletic trainer and that was a long time ago. Please be sure to double check the contact information for the people you are listing. It’s difficult and frustrating to check a reference if I can’t reach them. We depend on these folks to clear up the picture of who you are and who you are capable of becoming.
The application pool is very large, details are going to be poured over before we choose applicants to interview over the phone. Take care that you pay attention to these details and present yourself with confident humility. Your preparation and network are your biggest allies – be careful not to draw attention away from them by making simple mistakes. Good luck to all of you, and I hope to be seeing some of you in my athletic training facility or on the other sideline someday.