Adam Schefter has regrets, like skipping his Medill graduation so that he could start his job at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer early, but he’s pretty content about where life has taken him to this point. An ESPN reporter with over 2 million Twitter follower, Schefter’s the most recognizable NFL insider for the largest sports network on the planet.
On April 10th, he spent the day at Northwestern talking to various students, culminating in a lecture in the McCormick Tribune Center at 4 PM. The advice he dispensed can be used to be successful in a number of competitive fields, not just journalism.
His lessons started with his undergraduate days at Michigan. In his first few months at the school, he received rejections from fraternities, from helping the football staff, and from helping the basketball staff. With nowhere left to turn, he decided to write for the newspaper. At Michigan, he applied to more jobs than he could count with continued rejection. He realized that he not only had to accept rejection as something that happens, but that sometimes it is the best thing that could happen to you.
The lessons about rejection leading to opportunity continued after he took a job with the Denver Post. He initially wanted to be the one to cover the Rockies, who at the time were a new expansion franchise. When he was given the news he wouldn’t be able to, he was crushed, but months later, he applied for the head sports writer job, because Woody Paige was slowly being phased out. He got the job, which proved to be a stepping stone for his time with the NFL Network.
Later in his career, Schefter realized the value of creating longstanding, professional relationships. When John Elway decided he was retiring in April 1999, he told Schefter first and told him not to spread the story because the Columbine shooting had occurred only a few days before. Elway wanted to give people time to grieve. Schefter could have jumpstarted his career had he broken the story. He didn’t break that story, but he gained Elway’s trust that day. Schefter is now the first person Elway, now an Executive VP with Broncos, turns to when the Hall of Famer has news to break. While reporting about the New York Jets, he discovered that the Jets have an interesting process with free agents. The franchise asks the taxi drivers, custodians, and other people who interacted with free agents how the free agents treated them. The free agents who treated these people better always had a better success rate. He continuously tried to get the idea across that being a good person can do wonders for your career.
It isn’t easy to separate oneself from others in the workforce. When he was just starting out, Schefter would work weekends and holidays, because he knew he’d be able to get opportunities that weren’t avalible to him otherwise. Schefter realized this, and as a consequence continued to expand his abilities as he grew older. Originally a newspaper writer, Schefter tried radio and TV as an experiment to see if he’d like it. Ultimately, he ended up becoming a TV reporter because he opened himself up to new opportunities. Leaving the NFL Network for ESPN was likewise a case of being opportunistic, because when it was time for a new contract, Schefter, like many of the football players he covers, was insulted by the low take-it-or-leave-it offer from the NFL Network.
According to Schefter, you have to continue to put yourself out there in the face of rejection, or you might just miss the opportunity that follows.