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Getting a Job in Hockey Analytics

posted Nov 22, 2016, 9:09 AM by Robert Vollman   [ updated Nov 25, 2016, 1:27 PM ]
One of the temporary obstacles to the adoption of hockey analytics right now is that front offices don’t always know how and where to find good analysts, and really good statisticians and programmers don’t know how to get their work noticed. In time, this will change, but for right now it is a real problem.

I’ve been doing my part by putting teams in touch with good people that I know, and promoting everybody’s work in my books, and everywhere else that I can.

That helped for a while, but I ran out of friends pretty quickly. Those who weren’t snapped up in the 2014 summer of analytics were certainly gone by the end of 2015. Plus, I’ve been getting more and more calls from various organizations as interest in hockey analytics continues to grow.

That’s why I opened things up in February, and invited everybody who might be looking for a future in hockey analytics to contact me, and let me know what they’re looking for. Then, I can pass along the right opportunities to the right people, and give front offices even more options from which to choose.

As you can expect, the response was a little overwhelming, and hundreds of people reached out to me. Some people were just looking for a little bit of advice and maybe some part-time hobby work on the side, while others were deeply passionate about full-time careers in the sport.

It took me nine months, but after taking up to a dozen calls per week, I managed to follow up with everybody. It was very time-consuming, but it was also a highly rewarding experience. 

There were so few of us when I got my start over 15 years ago, and it’s been wonderful to have so many engaging conversations with such passionate people this year. I managed to help a lot of them get a start, including several dozen who got audiences with NHL front offices, and quite a few who got full-time NHL jobs for this season.

It has been an educational experience for me as well. I got the opportunity to learn a lot about how teams are building their analytics departments, what kinds of opportunities are available for those in our field, what skills teams are looking for, and what people have done to get ahead.

I plan to write a complete chapter in my next book that includes everything I’ve learned, but the main key is to set yourself apart from the pack. Here are some tips on how to do that.

1. Create something.

Whether your write a paper or online articles, hold a conference, invent a statistic, build a website, participate in a manual tracking project, or start a podcast, it helps to create a name and an identity for yourself.

2. Network, and build up your contacts. 

Most jobs are not posted publicly, and those that are generally receive between 500 and 1000 responses. Either way, those who have contacts are those who hear about the jobs, and who get on the short lists.

3. Get some work experience.

Contact the junior, college, and minor-league teams in your area, and offer your assistance. Think outside the box, and contact player agencies, and third-party consulting companies too. Even if most of them ignore you, or even if it’s part-time or unpaid, you only need one response to get started. 

4. Take yourself to the next level.

Whether you’re into manual tracking, programming, or statistical analysis, take the time to master your craft. That could mean studying textbooks, using software and other technology, and getting lots of practise in order to complete a wider variety of tasks, completing them faster, and with greater accuracy (just like an NHL player would).

5. Build a portfolio.

When you get that meeting and/or interview, it helps to be prepared with examples of your work, even if it’s just in one small area of the game. Make it something practical and memorable, and tailor it to the organization in question, if possible.

6. Get your financial house in order.

Quite frankly, it’s shocking how little most of these jobs pay, compared to similar work in other fields. This is a by-product of how badly so many people want to work in hockey, and how many organizations aren’t yet properly budgeted for analytics. It would be highly unfortunate to pass on a great opportunity because of debts, a high cost of living, or the inability to re-locate.

7. Don’t be an ass on social media.

I have personally seen some golden opportunities get flushed down the toilet because someone was acting highly unprofessionally and disrespectfully on social media, usually by trashing players, front offices, journalists, or fellow statisticians. Most of the time, they didn’t even realize that they blew a great opportunity. And for goodness sake, do not write about sex, religion, money or politics — the last of which appears to be the hardest to resist!

8. Show, don’t tell.

Whenever you see a statistician fail to make a point about Corsi or PDO, it’s probably because they’re telling others how it works, rather than showing them. Part of the appeal of player usage charts is that we’re not telling the reader about zone start percentages, of quality of competition, or usage, or Corsi — we’re showing them. Likewise, don’t go to a meeting or interview to tell someone what you can do for their organization, come prepared to show them. That might mean video, or a demonstration, or a chart, or some tables, or specific recommendations, who knows? But find specific ways to show them how you can help.

I’ll add more tips as I think of them, so check back on this post every once in a while.