How I Actually Got Into Nike
I’ll start by saying it had nothing to do with applying online and then waiting to be called. Getting into Nike is like getting into any sought-after company - there’s a formula. So, if you have career goals that are bigger than what you’re doing now, read on.
My journey into Nike has keys you can use to help you land your dream job. I’ll warn you the path into a global brand or any top company is not easy, not a straight line, and not for the impatient. I’ve broken the formula down into 5 steps you can use with any company.
Step 1: Network
While I was in grad school, I was part of the organizing committee for a Women in Business event. I knew there was going to be a speaker at the event from Nike. Her name was Jodi Sittig and at the time she held one of the senior positions in Nike’s Women’s business. Her job and her career path were pretty much a dream to me. I spoke to the head of my department and asked if I could be her ‘host’ for the day. ‘Host’ sounds fancy but really it was about meeting her at the parking lot, making sure she had everything she needed for the event, escorting her to the room, etc. Nothing major but the perfect way to get a little alone time with her so I could meet her and start to build a relationship with her. Although I was super nervous, fortunately, I kept it together and she was amazing. This intentional networking was the beginning of me getting into Nike. By the end of the day, Jodi and I were discussing the possibility of me doing some work for her.
Step 2: Be Real
Successful people are used to being sold to all the time. They don’t like it. Yes, it’s important for you to have goals and be convicted in what you’re going after but when you network it should be more about forming real, authentic connections than about using someone for who they are or who they know. When you talk about yourself, share the unique parts of your story – the things that set you apart in a good way. Those things are memorable and give people a reason to want to advocate for you. And be sure to ask thoughtful questions when networking. Don’t just ask about someone’s day-to-day job responsibilities. That’s boring. Give them a chance to share something meaningful by asking things like, ‘Looking at your career, what do you think are the biggest reasons why you’ve had the success you’ve had?’ or ‘With such a demanding job, what tricks have you found to try to help you balance work and the rest of your life?’
My conversations that day with Jodi were as much about her family on the east coast and her adorable dog as they were about her work experience with incredible career with Nike.
Step 3: Make it Difficult for Them to Say No
When Jodi and I chatted, I definitely brought up my interest in working for Nike. I knew Jodi didn’t need my help but I believed if she liked me and trusted I was competent she might give me a chance. The key with this was making it easy for her. I made it clear to her that I still had one more year of school left but that I’d love to do any free project work for her remotely. Removing the requirement of being paid, of needing a desk, or really of needing any of her time, made it much more difficult for her to say no. Lucky for me, she said yes to me doing free project work for her.
I know many of you aren’t students or can’t spend your week doing work for free but I bet there’s a portion of your time you could allocate to a short, unpaid project if you had the chance and if it could be a key way to help you ultimately get into your dream company.
Step 4: Go Out of Your Way
Go WAY out of your way if you need to. When you’re trying to get into a sought-after company, you need to be crazy determined, highly motivated, and very accommodating.
While doing the project work for Jodi, she worked in Beaverton, Oregon (Nike’s World Headquarters) and I was going to school 2 hours away in Eugene, Oregon at the University of Oregon. When Jodi wanted to meet with me, I was there. No part of me thought about or mentioned the 2-hr drive each way. It didn’t matter. If she was going to give me face time, I would have driven for 12 hours.
And it isn’t enough to just go out of your way. Whatever you are meeting about, whether it’s an informational coffee or you delivering a project, you have to over-deliver. You might ask, for example, how do I over-deliver at a coffee meeting? Three easy ways: 1) you come with your research done on the person and the company so you can ask great questions, 2) you bring an updated copy of your resume, and 3) you insist on paying for the coffee as a small thanks for their time (and you definitely send a follow up thank you email too).
Step 5: Be Top of Mind
Job openings happen all the time at big companies. The challenge is if you’re coming from the outside, you’re competing with people who already have relationships within the company and know the job opening is coming. You need to stay relevant to any connections you have within the company and continue to build more connections. Doing free project work is one great way to stay top of mind and prove yourself. Another really good way to stay on someone’s radar is to email your contact the occasional article you find that is relevant to their work that you think they may benefit from reading. That’s an easy way to deliver value, let them know what you’ve been up to, and reiterate your keen interest in getting into the company eventually if they hear of any openings.
I did project work for Nike for 9 months doing that 4-hr round trip drive as often as 2 days per week while doing full-time school and a paid part-time job at the school. After 9 months, Jodi told me about an opening coming up that she thought I would be a great fit for. It happened to be in a department she used to run. She helped me make sure my resume was seen by the right people. Ultimately, I had to earn the job myself through the interview process, which I did. #bestdayever.
Think though about the two possible paths to that job:
Path A: Just applying online out of the blue
Path B: Applying online after following the 5 steps above
Who would you hire?
p.s. Thank you Jodi Sittig. I wouldn’t be where I am today without you believing in me.
p.p.s. Read more about my story and how to land your dream job in my new book, Made To Hire: How to Get the Job You Really Want.