What You Can Learn from NFL Commissioner about Career Search

Case Study: Goodell's Cover Letter to NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle from 1981

Roger Goodell
Bob Levey/Getty Images

A letter written in 1981 by current NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell - a recent college graduate aspiring to develop a career in sports - to then Commissioner Pete Rozelle has resurfaced and garnered significant commentary in the Twitter world.

The letter is a great reminder of what you should and should not do in crafting a cover letter.  Once you have read it, here are my observations on what works and what does not for young Goodell:

  • Writing the Letter Is Better than Nothing  While the letter is not very good (see criticisms below) it is certainly better than not reaching out to a potential employer at all. 
  • He Uses Proper Spelling and Formatting  The content may not be high quality,  but there are no typos and the formatting is clean.  Make sure you do likewise when sending professional correspondence.
  • Don't Just Say "I Want a Job"  Unfortunately, this is the tenor of Goodell's message: I have finished college and I would like a job with your organization".  Simply stated, this does not represent a good approach.
  • Do Tell the Potential Employer What You Have to Offer  Simply stating you have a college degree is not going to overwhelm potential employers.  You need to concisely explain the skills and experiences that could make you not just an employee, but a valuable one.
  • Don't Use "Passion" for Sport as a Reason to Hire  Goodell did not use the term "passion" (perhaps it was not as in vogue as it is today), but did describe himself as "Being an avid football fan".  Telling someone that you are passionate about a field is not nearly as compelling as demonstrating that you are passionate.  (For more or the intersection of passion and sports careers read this article.)  And being a fan will not differentiate you from other applicants.
  • One Letter Is Not Likely to Get You the Job  As chronicled in this Sporting News piece, Goodell sent letters to every NFL team.  Understanding that your pursuit of your "dream job" has to start somewhere, is a healthy attitude.  Goodell's actions suggest that he understood that getting a "foot in the door" at any NFL team was a great way to launch his career.  Be sure you are strategic in applying for jobs across the industry - especially if you are seeking an entry-level position.
  • Connections Trump a Cover Letter  So how did this low quality cover letter result in Goodell's landing an internship with the NFL?  Well, did you know that Goodell's father was a former Congressman and United States Senator?  Is there a chance that a "good word" was put in through back channels?  Sure.  But a personal referral can often help secure an interview - where the candidate can shine.  And not just for someone as well connected as Goodell.  Remember, the cover letter is just one tool in your job search toolbox.

So while Roger Goodell's cover letter may not have been up to the standards expected in today's job market, there are lessons to learn from studying it.  And from realizing that connections and personal referrals can go a long way in determining who gets an interview - and ultimately the job.

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