I’ve spent the last week working with several ITL clients who are trying to break into the league as scouting assistants and interns. After listening to the progress they’re making and the obstacles they’re seeing, I’ve come to several realizations about the process, and what teams are seeking. Here are a few thoughts.

  • Every team is different: I need to start with this disclaimer. Some teams are looking for young people to do things around the office, gather information, file things, take calls, make copies, and the kind of grunt work that all interns do everywhere, but with a football spin to it. On the other hand, some teams’ scouting assistants spend a lot of time picking up dry cleaning, making airport runs or running other errands that have no football peg whatsoever. In fact, if you listed their day-to-day chores, you might not even know they work for NFL teams. I know one of my best scouting assistant candidates interviewed with a team this week that told him, “you need to go straight to area scout.” They weren’t prepared for his level of preparation and professionalism, and in fact, that’s why he didn’t get hired.
  • If you’re over 27, forget about scouting: I had a long exchange with a good friend who aspires to work for an NFL team last week. He’s spent a lot of time and money getting as qualified to be an NFL scout as possible, but he’s well into his 30s. I felt I had to break it to him that scouting assistants don’t get hired when they leave their 20s. I certainly don’t say this to crush your spirits if you’re 30-plus, but teams are looking for young, cheap people they can mold. Unless you’re coming out of a lengthy playing career for a team, they’re not going to invest in you if you’re on the wrong side of 30.
  • It’s not always about scouting: Teams don’t even want you to think of yourself as a scout when you enter the building. In fact, I think most teams want their interns and scouting assistants to be blank slates: completely formless and willing to do anything. In many cases, football is something scouting assistants almost do in their free time. If you’ve already begun to develop a scouting eye, this is almost a detriment, because most teams want to teach you and monitor your progress rather than having to unwind bad habits you might have already learned. This is why I’m starting to believe earning accreditations and taking scouting-related classes is a bad idea. The NFL just isn’t ready for this yet. When you have thousands of people to choose from, you just want cheap labor. You don’t want quasi-professionals. This is an important point, and this is why the best route to the NFL still goes through college recruiting and personnel offices.
  • Don’t apply online to sports job services: A few services have developed that aggregate sports jobs online and allow subscribers to apply en masse. Here’s one. I don’t know how other leagues work, but in the NFL, this is not how scouting assistants are hired. In fact, if your best shot at getting a scouting job is applying through some similar link, you should buy a lottery ticket the same day you send in your resume, because the odds of success are the same.
  • Forget about Draft Twitter: If you think that you can pad your credentials for an NFL job by becoming a Twitter scout, think again. Yes, Daniel Jeremiah rode his Twitter account to a place on the NFL Network, and several other ex-NFL scouts have had varying levels of success with Twitter, but the key is they had already been in the league. No NFL team is reading Twitter takes and saying, ‘we gotta have that guy.’

As always, I don’t dispense these thoughts to destroy peoples’ dreams, and God knows  there are exceptions to all these rules. Still, having heard stories and seen hiring in action, these conclusions were inescapable. I hope they help.