How did you get here?

Law school grad ends up in an unexpected field

Alexa Herndon never envisioned a career in baseball.

“I got into sports by pure chance,” Herndon said. “I never aspired to it.”

The plan was to go to college, get a law degree, and join her family’s firm in Wheeling, West Virginia.

But after an internship at a law firm, Herndon reassessed her intentions and focused on what she found most interesting during her undergraduate business and law school studies. That led to a satisfying journey into human resources and a career built around America’s pastime.

Herndon currently works as Vice President of Human Resources at the Washington Nationals baseball organization—the 2019 World Series-winning Washington Nationals.

A career is a ‘journey,’ not a ‘ladder.’

“I went to West Virginia University. My parents went there, too. I always knew law school was the goal and expected to be at the family law firm. I wanted a basic business degree to complement it. I took business electives and gravitated to the HR courses — and found that I really enjoyed it.”

Herndon later decided to add an MBA to her law program, and worked with the Pittsburgh Pirates for a diversity/inclusion program, which led to an internship with the team. She also interned with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“Employment and career is more of a journey than a ladder,” Herndon said, emphasizing that “lateral moves made a difference” in getting to her current position.

What does a typical day look like in the front office? How does that change throughout the season and/or the playoffs? Are you involved in player deals or trades?

“With HR in general, no day is the same. It keeps things dynamic. Another misconception is that when it’s the offseason, that we’re not busy, but the HR function behind the scenes is usually busiest that time of year. All work to do to prepare for the season.”

(And no, Herndon is not involved in player deals or salary negotiations, but HR does need to ensure that players are on the payroll, have a 401(k), etc.)

Not a high-level athlete, but interested in working in sports? Here’s one way to get there.

“We’re a business just like any other. We’re looking for people who are the best in their field. Think about what it is you are skilled at. We’re looking for the best accountant, the best IT people, the best marketers … they can all apply their subject matter expertise here.”

Herndon suggested that for someone interested in working in sports, it would be more valuable to get a specialized degree instead of a generalized sports management degree.

As the Vice President of HR, what skills do you look for beyond the resume?

“Intelligence. I look for people who are very smart with less experience as opposed to people who have experience but aren’t very sharp. Grit—the ability to hit a road block and bounce back after a tough day. Intellectual curiosity—people who want to learn, learn the why of what we do. Finally, I want to work with kind, nice, good people—I have a ‘no jerk’ policy.”

What do you love about what you do?

“I consciously chose the opportunity to have a bigger challenge (with the Nationals), to come in and build out the HR function and grow. The Washington Nationals organization is 15 years old, and I’ve been here for seven [years], for half of them. I’ve been very rewarded at seeing what it’s become.”

We cheered the Nationals as they won the World Series. What was that experience like from your position?

“It was absolutely wild,” Herndon said of the experience working for the Nationals through the playoff run and the World Series. “There’s very few times you’re with an organization that reaches such a pinnacle of success. Can’t take much credit here, but you feel so inherently connected to the team.”

What are the perks of working for a professional baseball team?

“I go to about 25-30 games a year. I went to all the postseason games. It’s a perk for the executive team to travel. All employees get tickets to the home games, and the whole organization went to one [World Series] game in Houston.”

Were you prepared for the cost of college?

“Yes, I was fortunate to have a college fund, but I had a set amount. Since I knew I was going to go to graduate school, I went to an in-state school [for undergraduate studies].”

Education

B.S in Business, West Virginia University

JD, MBA, Labor & Employment Law, Duquesne University School of Law

Admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar

Internships

Summer associate, law firm

Legal intern at U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

MBA program internship with the Pittsburgh Pirates

Experience

HR Manager and Director at Thermo Fisher Scientific

HR Generalist at the Pittsburgh Pirates