This summer we saw the most exciting NBA free agency since “The Decision” where LeBron James decided to bring his talents to Miami. It’s especially exciting because there is a lot of talk of player and team loyalty, players whom are overpaid, guys retiring and trades occurring. As a young professional myself, I’ve realized how similar the NBA free agency is to my own job hunt. In many ways, I can relate to Durant leaving Thunder for a winning team. It is easy to judge players who leave to win or for more money but truth is we do the same things in our professional careers.
Recently, I accepted an offer as a Coordinator for Student Programs, and I would like to share what I have a learned on my journey as a free agent and how it is similar to the NBA.
Let me start off with a little history. As an undergrad, I began as a student leader, and it was then that I realized I wanted to go into Higher Education as a career. I was recruited as a “Top Prospect” for the Office of Campus Life, working as a Graduate Assistant while completing my Master’s degree. I was the equivalent of a high-school senior being recruited for a top-tier college. In higher education, it is possible but extremely difficult to get a job unless you obtain a Master’s degree.
At this position, I had some of the best mentors and a department that was willing to let me grow and take the reins. At the end of my graduate degree, I was ready to apply for “The Draft” (Job Search) in hopes that a college or university would draft me. Now, the thing with the NBA draft is that most of the time the teams that get the top prospect are usually teams that have had a bad season. This is somewhat similar in Higher Education. The Golden State Warriors or the San Antonio Spurs may not necessarily draft you. In my case, I didn’t care. I just wanted to play ball. I was fortunate enough to be hired at a community college where my role would differ from what I was used to, but it was an opportunity nonetheless. Here I gained true professional experience and took myself to the next level which prepared me for my free agency.
Despite what field you are going here are some tips on how to become a Top Free Agent in your field.
Prospective Scouts are everywhere.
Believe it or not the moment you step onto a college campus or into a new job people are scouting you. They watch to gauge your enthusiasm, who you hang with, how well you play ball, and especially your leadership potential. These scouts are present during your first college orientation or at campus events, and they can take the form of an upperclassmen or an administrator. When they sense a “Top Prospect” they go after them early on to help them become a great NBA player. This is why you must be alert and hyper-aware of all of the decisions you make as a student. People notice. Also, these prospects will eventually become your mentors, which become so essential throughout your whole career. My scouts have become the people I go to when I am looking into new jobs or opportunities or asking for trends in higher education. They are also my biggest fans. No matter what I am doing in my career, they cheer for me and go out of their way to make sure that people know who I am and what I have done.
Play anywhere, anytime.
We live in a culture today where we want results fast, even if we know we have not earned them. With this being said, what was important to me during my early free agency was getting ANY job, anywhere. I could not afford to say that I only wanted to work at Rutgers or Columbia. I knew that I would need to start doing something that I may not have experience in or necessarily wanted to do. We look at guys like Kevin Durant when he was first drafted. He was drafted #2 overall to the Seattle Supersonics (currently known as the Oklahoma City Thunder) whose team was pretty bad. By the way if you’re wondering, Greg Oden was drafted #1 overall. But the team had no superstars or known names. However, he made the franchise what it is today and despite being on the worst team in the league he still became a superstar. You can shine where you want to. Plus, it is so much easier to become a great player when you’re playing amongst bench players. Greg Oden looks like Lebron now that he’s playing in China.
It’s OK to LEAVE!
Listen, despite what anyone says about Durant he made a decision to chase rings. I don’t get why people are so hard on him. He likes to win and wants to win. Think about it. Would you rather work at an organization where you are the superstar but the job falls short of helping you win, OR work alongside other superstars that have won before and know what it takes to be successful? As a huge basketball fan, I probably would want Durant to have stayed for entertainment value but for them, it’s a job. For me, leaving to a championship team was necessary for my credentials and my growth. I could stay at the community college and be a superstar and be loved however I am unable to implement change where I am. Going to a university that is known for winning and has superstars is only going to make me better. Truth is in 20 years we will only be judging him by the championships he has won. Look at Shaq, we think of him as one of the Top 5 centers of all time and yet he was with 6 different teams in his career. Winning four championships with 2 different teams. I should remind you that he left a winning Orlando team to go play with Kobe. Then left a winning Lakers team to go play with Dwyane Wade. He spent the rest of his career chasing rings. The bottom line is you should play to win and it helps when you are part of a winning culture.
Negotiate Your Contract
After you go rock the interview and they call your references, the employer will then offer you a contract. They will offer you a salary based on your skill set, years of experience and job requirements. This is the time where you talk about negotiating your salary. That’s right, you can actually speak to the employer about the possibility of getting more money. It is a very normal process that occurs across all salary positions. Do not feel as if you are an inconvenience or that you are being greedy. You have to make sure you are being compensated fairly. We see what happened with Dwayne Wade and the Heat. During negotiations he felt like he was being undervalued by Miami and decided to leave for more money in Chicago. You will have to have good reasons for why you are asking for more money. You want to read through the job description and requirements and explain what you can bring to the table. You will have to be your own manager as you negotiate your contract.
At the end of it all, free agency can be stressful however it is fun to explore the different opportunities that are out there. In order to get that dream job, it takes preparation, great mentors and self-motivation along with a great resume. Put yourself out there and be ready to be the next TOP free agent
Antonio Talamo is a young higher education professional that has experience working in Student Activities and Advisement. He currently teaches a College Student Success course for first-semester students where he speaks of topics from time-management to student leadership. He has grown from a go-to-class-go-home student to a professional who is passionate about giving students the best college experience at any level. He is a huge sports fan that loves the New York Giants and the Boston Red Sox and swears he is the reason the Red Sox broke the Bambino curse.