In Los Angeles, hot blondes are like food trucks: There's one on every block and they're hard to tell apart. But watching Erin Andrews sip a smoothie just a quarter mile from the Hermosa Beach pier, you can tell she's different. For starters, she's probably the only one with her hair pulled back and hidden under an L.A. Kings ball cap. And listen to her talk: You don't typically hear laser-sharp sports analysis coming from Hollywood starlets. Which, of course, Andrews is not.
After graduating from the University of Florida, where she studied communications and was on the dance squad, Andrews began covering the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Sunshine Network. Then she moved to Atlanta to report on the Braves and Hawks. After that it was the NHL playoffs with ESPN, and then on to the MLB, NBA, NFL, college football, and eventually a bigger contract with Fox Sports. The woman has been a bottle rocket blasting through the echelons of sideline reporting. (Cut through the fluff with Erin Andrew's 3 Tips for Better Interviews.)
But maybe you weren't paying close attention until her famous interview last year, when Richard Sherman blew up like Randy Savage preparing to stuff someone into a choke-hold. The cornerback had interrupted a pass to the 49ers' Michael Crabtree, securing the Seahawks' spot in the Super Bowl. When Andrews asked about the play, Sherman used the live mike to explode at Crabtree: "Don't you open your mouth about the best! Or I'm gonna shut it for you real quick!"
When you view the outburst on YouTube, you can see the moment when Andrews begins to realize that something newsworthy is happening. "I had no idea he was going to go there," she says. "My next question was going to be about the Super Bowl, but he took it somewhere completely different."
Much of the poise she shows in the clip comes naturally to her. But pulling it off game after game -- on live TV -- wouldn't happen if she didn't understand the angles of each game. That's why she spends her downtime analyzing tape, poring over postgame reports, and exchanging intel with onscreen partners like Troy Aikman and Michael Strahan. (Stressing out, don't panic. Tame the tension with these 6 Ways to Calm the Heck Down.)
"The prep is insane," she says. "For me it's morning, noon, and night. When I'm getting ready for a game, nothing else matters." After a pause, she adds: "I don't know as much as Troy Aikman, so I feel like I have to overcompensate."
Catch that competitive streak? You probably have one too. At its essence, her job is about digging up information and making connections -- skills we could all be better at. So as soon as you're ready to take your career to the next level, learn how from the woman with the microphone.
Recover Your Fumbles
Andrews's first big break out of college was with Turner Sports. It was a studio job, and she sucked at it."I was, like, 'Back to Skip Simpson and Joe Caray,'" she says. (Uh. . .Joe Simpson and Skip Caray? Yeah.) Even though she loved the industry, she wanted to be closer to the action, and her discontent was holding her back. When Turner let her go after two years, she understood why. (Steer clear of the 6 Epic Work Fails You Don't Know You're Making .)
Even if you're working in an industry you love, your current job might be a poor fit. "You could be in an environment that saps you of passion," says career coach Roy Cohen, author of The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide. So if your work is suffering, start looking for a place that does things differently. Just be careful that you're not leaving a job on a sour note. "You still want to get the reference," says Cohen. "In this market, you'll need it."
Force the Play
Andrews knew where the network crews bunked when games were in town, so she went to the hotel, found an ESPN producer at the bar, and said, "Hi. I want to work the NHL playoffs." Later, when an executive called, she launched immediately into her assessment of a penalty from the previous night's game. His reply: "That's all I wanted to hear -- that you actually know what you're talking about."
Network with purpose
You can blanket a cocktail party with business cards and still not land one good contact. "So be strategic -- even scheme a little--to meet the right people," says Cohen. And once you've introduced yourself to your target, let him or her know what you have to offer -- even if that's just a unique viewpoint on a hot-button industry topic. "What can you say that sets you apart from everyone else?" asks Cohen. "That's your competitive advantage." (Break down barriers between you and other people. Nail these 13 Insanely Simple Ways to Be More Likable.)
Follow a Leader
Eventually ESPN assigned Andrews to Major League Baseball. Problem was, she didn't yet know the players well enough to score the interviews she needed in order to hunt down story lines. Her break came from a mentor, former broadcast partner Rick Sutcliffe. A retired pitcher, Sutcliffe walked Andrews into the clubhouse saying, "Guys, she's one of us." Like that, the athletes became receptive.
Make a trade
A seasoned mentor can fast-track your career. But people will invest their time and trust in you only if you help them long before you need anything in return. "The standard advice should be upgraded from 'Find a mentor' to 'Earn a mentor,'" says Jill Geisler, a leadership and management expert at the Poynter Institute and the author of Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know. "A mentor isn't a drive-thru at McDonald's." So make yourself valuable; then ask for help.
Run the Option
When she was offered a hosting gig on Dancing with the Stars earlier this year, Andrews recognized an opportunity to break away from her routine. "On the sidelines, I don't typically have time to cut up or make fun of people," she says. In other words, DWTS gave her the chance to have a little fun using the skill set she had spent years mastering. As a result, her personal brand grew even bigger.
Find your second career
Your current strengths are more valuable and more transferable than you realize, says Cohen. "Say you're a science teacher who wants to go into sales. Aren't you already convincing students to get excited about your product, science? That's what marketers do. And you even have the students' test scores to demonstrate your success."
If you're looking to break out of a rut, get creative and think about how you can make a similar crossover. (Be better than the competition with these 5 New Tools for Career Success in today's workplace.)