Earlier this week, I had a lengthy conversation with a young law student who’s dedicated to being an NFLPA-licensed agent someday soon. Among the topics we discussed was internships. He’s worked with agencies before, and wants to continue his learning. His question to me was, should he look large firm or small firm?

The easy answer is to go with a small firm. The opportunity for growth is huge, and there’s no limit to what he’ll be asked to do. In addition, he will have a chance to see, up close, what the firm’s principals do, and measure their success. His first experience was with a small firm, and he got marketing expertise rather quickly due to their handing him several accounts (much to his surprise). The downside to working with a small firm was easy, too. They only had one client who drew draft attention, and when he didn’t make a roster, there wasn’t much to do. For this reason, he said he’s thinking trying to make a run at a big firm next.

I think it’s a good idea, but if you’re in a similar situation, there are a couple things to think about.

The first item is the high barrier to entry. Everyone wants to intern with CAA, Athletes First, Rosenhaus Sports, or whatever. The truly elite agencies have dozens and dozens of applicants. I worked with one top-ten agency this summer trying to find them a new hire, and after sending them the cream of the crop among newly certified contract advisors, they wound up rejecting all of them and starting over, hoping to find a young, hard-charging Ivy Leaguer. Most firms are the same way. They want guys who have a pedigree AND a fire-breathing work ethic, so the first drawback is the difficulty in landing an internship. It’s a serious barrier to entry.

The second negative is that if you go to such an agency, you better burn your ships. The odds of your getting hired will be very long, so you’re going to have to work like you’ve never worked and be able to adapt to any situation (and succeed at it). I know lots and lots of young agents who got their first taste of the sports agent business as interns with big firms, but ultimately weren’t hired. They spend years trying to chase success on their own, but lacking the client list, sizzle and muscle of a big-time firm, don’t get there. The pedigree gained from an internship with such an agency doesn’t translate to success.

So which way is the smart play? To me, if you’re looking to land an internship next semester or next summer, send out lots of resumes to agencies big and small. Just know that, depending on the size of the firm that picks you up, you’ll have to adjust your strategy.