There are two schools of thought when it comes to hiring athletes. One being they’re just “dumb jocks” and won’t bring value to your organization. Second being they’re an attractive hire because they’ve shown commitment to a cause.
Being a college athlete I have a slight bias and tend to agree with the latter. It is a benefit to the workplace to hire college athletes but not just any college athlete. I recently read a blog essentially classifying the “good” athlete hire versus the “bad.” Pointing to combinations of level of play from Division I-III or NAIA, grade point average, scholarship amount, and playing time.
These combinations only scratch the surface of evaluating a student-athlete. When you have a recent grad or current student in the interview process, you should be asking yourself, “What can this individual add to our company?” In my opinion outside of GPA, the division a player competed in, scholarship amount and playing time, don’t tell you if the candidate “can do this job” – it only tells you about the level of basketball player they were and if they might be able to beat you in a game of H-O-R-S-E.
But not all college athletes are one in the same.
The Myths of Hiring College Athletes
- They all have time management skills: There’s a major difference between knowing how to allocate time to projects in the work environment and knowing that on MWF I have class from 9-11am and 1-2:30pm with practice from 4-6pm. Out of the 8 hours plus left in the day – I somehow have to find time for homework and to study! Trust me… College athletes DO have time (less than non-athletes, you’re right, but time nonetheless) – it’s just a matter of how they use it.
- They’re all coachable: I can think of several individuals I have played with or against who were college athletes and never once did I think they were coachable. Watch an NBA playoff game this week. Coachability isn’t exactly a quality all athletes possess.
- They know how to work with a team: One, let’s discuss all of the individual sports out there – golf, tennis, gymnastics. Yes, I know they can win team trophies too but they don’t need to communicate, “Hey! I’m going to rocket a pass to you under the basket and if you don’t look up I will peg you in the back of the head” in less than 2 seconds. Two, as with time management and being coachable, just because you’re on a team and listed on a roster does not mean you understand how to be a good teammate or how to work effectively in a group.
The above 3 items are typically knighted upon all college athletes who enter the workforce. But, as a hiring manager or recruiter – do not be fooled. They are not automatic traits. And if you’re an athlete – don’t fake these qualities, it will become apparent very quickly that you started all but 4 games in your career, received a full-ride scholarship, but can’t seem to figure out why you’re terrible at sales.
You may now be asking yourself, “So what am I looking for? You’ve told me about several fallacies and yet, I’m left with no action.” Below are the REAL reasons you should hire college athletes.
What to Look For and Questions to Ask:
- Mental Toughness: How were you tested physically as an athlete in college? When you were faced with adversity, how did you handle the situation? The day a teenager or early 20-something says to himself or herself, “Wow, I can’t believe I just did that. I didn’t think it was possible.” You’ve struck gold. Your coach should push you to levels you never thought you could reach and this quality will be one you will use over and over again in the workplace.
- Self-Discipline: What did your off-season workouts look like? When you arrived back on campus in the fall, were you in shape? Did your coach instill a sense of accountability when it came to working out on your own? It’s a lot more difficult to stay on task and push yourself when no one is watching.
- Sacrifice: This is how I define TEAM. You know when to put others before yourself. You do what’s right, because you don’t want to let your teammates down. When have you had to sacrifice for your team?
- Leadership: Describe leadership stories. The title “captain” doesn’t grant you leadership skills. Why were you elected captain? If anything about being a senior or upperclassman is mentioned, that’s a turn-off. You earn the title of captain because you know how to motivate, you cultivate relationships, and not only do your teammates trust you but so does your coach. You can also gain leadership skills without being a captain. The question around leadership boils down to; did your teammates value your opinion? And, when things weren’t going well, did your team look to you?
- Coachable: This is a very important trait but, as stated before, don’t assume just any athlete is coachable. Ask pointed questions – How did you react when your coach pointed out mistakes? When posed with opportunities to improve, did you take the initiative to get better?
For the majority of college athletes who will not be playing professionally, as the famous NCAA advertisement states, it’s important to differentiate yourself beyond that line on your resume reading “Varsity Basketball 2007-2011.” Millennial athletes, did you gain any of the characteristics above? Be prepared to convey more than “common traits” several athletes before you have over-used. Tell them your stories. The resume lines on winning one regular season league championship, two league tournament championships, and two NCAA appearances with a Sweet 16 don’t hurt either. More stories.
Hiring managers, expect more from the athletes you’re interviewing. Get to the important traits and don’t take college athletes at face value.
I think most will find that the clear indicator of the value of a college athlete can be measured by the coach they played for. A coach who runs a program with the goal of not only winning championships but developing contributing members in the real world and teach their players mental toughness, self-discipline, sacrifice, leadership, and being coachable.
There has been a common theme since April 2012 when I started my blog; if you work hard and don’t take “no” for an answer you’ll find a job. I still do truly believe this but let’s now discuss putting “working hard” and being “persistent” into practice. What does this really mean? It’s definitely not wishful thinking.
Job Seeker Profile:
- 23 year-old female
- 4-year college degree from a private liberal arts school
- Major: Business Administration
- Student-Athlete and Team Captain her senior year
- Work experience: 1.5 years
Job Search Statistics:
- Moved to another city December 1st 2012 after amicably leaving her first role
- Started her job search prior to this date in October 2012
- Applied to 29 jobs with 2 call backs
- Sent resume to 4 people in her network with 2 call backs
- 9 companies contacted her directly
- 4 phone interviews
- 3 first round face-to-face interviews
- 1 second round interview – led to job offer
- Hired on January 15th, 2013 and start date is January 22nd, 2013
The scenario above is important to illustrate because it’s a blue print for any Millennial (I would argue Xer’s and Boomer’s can also take some notes on this) for their job search. It’s not impossible.
Here in Ohio there are 4 million individuals who are unemployed. This morning I checked Ohio means Jobs and there are just under 100,000 jobs open. Being a former recruiter, there is the mantra of “it’s a numbers game.” The more you have the better the chances you’ll find the right person. Well ladies and gentlemen can someone please tell me why there are 100,000 job openings, key word OPENings, with 4 million people out of work?
I’ll concede the “it’s becoming a more skill focused job market” argument, sure, that’s fine. Let’s just cut the unemployment number in half then – 2 million are “unskilled.” They don’t qualify. Well my friends we still have 2 million left, to go after 100,000 jobs. That still means there are 20 times as many unemployed individuals as there are open jobs.
Maybe the above job seeker had the x-factor, maybe she is just better at looking for a job than others, maybe she got “lucky”, maybe it’s because it’s January and staffing departments are excited to hire and use their allocated funds. All of these could be true for those of you trying to find reasons other than hard work to rationalize how she found a job.
I challenge you to say, “I can do that too.” Sure, this may be a former teammate of mine and sure, she has an arsenal of “hard work” in her being solely for the fact she played for Coach Venet. I do have a clear bias toward this experience obviously – but take a look at the bullet points above. They speak for themselves. It is possible.
I am thoroughly grateful for my helicopter parents. Due to their hovering they have successfully put me through college and are ¾ of the way there with my sister. They’ve given me the opportunity to excel in sports and the classroom along with my younger sister. With two college athletes for children I can confidently say I would not be where I am today without the opportunity my parents afforded me.
With that said, when I read the SHRM We Know Next blog Helicopter Parents Descend Upon the Workplace I had to take a step back and think about what was missing. The cited report by Michigan State University and their Collegiate Employment Research Institute startled me even more than the blog itself.
Why are parents directly involved in the employment of their children? Unless it’s a family business this shouldn’t even be a conversation. I’ve been going back and forth whether or not to make a category specifically devoted to what I learned playing for Suzy Venet in college. But, this was the tipping point. This is the debut blog for “Lessons From Coach.”
In the fall of my freshman year, on the first day of class – I had a team meeting with all of the women’s basketball “hopefuls” aka freshman and the rest of the team. We started out with almost 30 freshmen and on senior day there were 4 of us – so yes, I’d call them hopefuls. Our coach was going through rules and protocols and you guessed it – she specifically addressed parents
Fresh from high school, where most of us were the best on our team and an athletic system that is quite political, biased, and can be bought with some cash – our COLLEGE coach wanted to make sure our parents knew where they stood. Also, you realize she didn’t address the parents – she told us, to tell them. Already drawing a clear line of communication between player and coach – no triangle with mom and/or dad.
“If you have a problem with me, playing time, another teammate, get in trouble, have difficulty with grades – I want you to talk to me. I want you to come to my office and tell me. I don’t have time to answer parent’s e-mails and phone calls. I have one job and that is to coach you to a championship,” Coach said. Wide-eyed and nervous, we were getting a dose of what it was like to be an adult. First day of college – welcome.
No more buffer ladies. Solve your own issues. Our coach cared and still does care about our families – but she also understands that in order to grow as an individual we were all 18, legally adults, and needed to start having our own difficult conversations.
Gen Y: We’re the real problem
As much as I’d like to blame helicopter parents who are just too involved in their children’s lives, by the time you’re in college it is up to the student, and now adult, to ask their parent(s) to politely back off.
If you’re a helicopter parent reading this – know your kids love you but, they also need to play the game of life on their own. And if you don’t believe me, you’ll probably continue to hinder their opportunities.
Helicopter Kid: Do’s and Don’ts
- If you value your parents opinions that is most certainly acceptable, ask them for thoughts and advice on companies, career path, and job search
- Discuss their network – they might be able to make an introduction and get your foot in the door
- Let your parents attend the interview
- Let your parents advocate for promotion / salary increases
- Let your parents negotiate salary and benefits
- Let your parents call and complain if the company does not hire you
- Let your parents attend a career fair for you
- Let your parents discuss promotions with the hiring manager
- Ask your parents to submit resumes on your behalf
It’s important to note that all of the “don’t” points were questions in the survey concerning parent involvement by Michigan State. Except for submitting resumes, all other actions are ones that students can prevent. And as for submitting resumes, if you’re not willing to fill out your own job application how in the world do you think you’re going to do the actual job?
If you have a chronic helicopter parent, sit down with them. Explain that it’s time for you to take responsibility for your career. Their interference will hurt you in the long run. Helping you and doing it for you – are two different things. Some Millennials may be saying – if they want to be involved then why not? According to the “grown-up” manual and the study completed by Michigan State – companies do not look favorably upon Millennial candidates who allow their parents to take part in the recruiting process.
Direct communication should always be between you and your employer. Just like player and coach. It’s an A – B conversation, no C.