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.
I remember being a college senior winding down my last first semester and ready for finals to be over and go on winter break, sound familiar? Senioritis kicked in early and I just wanted to sprint to the finish line. My brain could not tolerate any more information; even the lyrics to the new Katy Perry song were postponed until after finals. I’m not sure why I was excited for finals to be over though, because that meant I had 3 weeks ONLY focused on basketball. I can’t even call it basketball; it really was more of a track meet twice a day, everyday. I’m getting nauseous just writing about that time in my life it was so nerve-wracking.
Anyhow, it was about that time when I truly started thinking about what I wanted to do with my career. It was the first time when I thought my mom was brilliant for telling me, “Nicole, you should be a doctor.” Which was about 3.5 years too late to know she was brilliant.
I said to my mom when I was in high school, “That’s way too much school mom.”
She replied with, “You should be a nurse then Nicole, the medical field is a great area.”
I finally contended, “Mom, science just isn’t for me. I never liked it in grade school and I skated by on extra credit and charm when it came to biology, chemistry, and physics. The answer is no.”
Decision-making is inevitable
My initial reasoning for becoming a business major was to “keep my options open” aka a phrase that really meant I was too scared to close any doors and truly commit to a career path (which is entirely acceptable). But, after 3.5 years of business courses under my belt, I was still at a loss. I didn’t want to make a decision at 18 and little did I know it just meant I had to then make a decision at 22.
I do understand that even in the classic professions such as law and medicine it is still a requirement to pick a specialty or specific type of practice, however, the track is fairly straightforward. Winter break arrived and I now had this degree that, “I could do almost anything with” and it was a terrible feeling. I could do anything but what in the world was the actual something?
It’s that time of year when college seniors and those in grad school can’t wait to write that last essay or answer that last question. It’s stressful and exhausting. We’ve all been there. And the “fun” part is that once you finish those meaningless tests? There are bigger decisions waiting for you on the horizon, which also causes stress and exhaustion. Yikes.
Don’t confine your career to your degree
Starting my career as a recruiter the over-used phrase, “no one ever sets out to be a recruiter” resonates clearly. When I was 10 years old did I dream of recruiting? No, I dreamed of being recruited to play professional softball or something close to that.
But, as a recruiter I’ve learned that even with how specialized degrees are presently it’s not the end of your story. As a naïve, green recruiter I was surprised that an Art History major was a Senior Director of Marketing at a Top 25 Pharmaceutical company or that a Business Administration major would go on to get their doctorate in Physical Therapy right after undergrad.
Your degree doesn’t define you.
Constantly build your resume
In high school you built your resume to get accepted into college. In college you built your resume to get into grad school or snag that first job. Hate to break it to the young folks but resume building never ends. You’re always adding and subtracting.
There’s always a next, especially in this job market. I’m not saying that you’re always building your resume to leave your company. But, you are constantly building your resume because it puts you in control of your career path. With that control comes decision-making but, knowing you’re accountable for building your skills and knowledge base is a competitive edge needed in today’s job market.
Lifelong learners are not only the individuals who decide to add every acronym known to human kind at the end of their name with a degree or certification from A-Z. But, also those individuals who find it important to consistently build on their accomplishments. If you ever feel like you’ve arrived that’s where you’ll stay.
Finish Line. Foot Locker. Champs Sports. Dick’s Sporting Goods. Let me tell you, I would love to work at one of these retail outlets and get the 20-30% employee discount. I have about 40 or so pairs of shoes and I’m kind of addicted. Ok well… really obsessed. Think of all of the money I would have saved had I worked somewhere with an incredible discount. I’ve thought about it, a lot. I’m smiling right now thinking about the access I’d have to new Jordan releases. If retail is where you want to make a career, by all means these are all great places to get a start. But, that’s the key – get your start in areas that interest you in your future. Retail? Not the place for me until my salary can suffice buying 3 pairs of shoes at once, which would be the result of working in that type of hostile, sneakerhead, impulse environment known as the “athletic footwear department.”
My mother being a realist, as well as disappointed I hadn’t decided on being a doctor at the ripe age of 7; told me to ask someone I knew in business for an internship. “That’s your major, right Nicole? Not shoes.” Well, at the time it was also my mom’s money paying for those shoes, so I’m sure that had something to do with her suggestion. But, anyhow, I went to work for some executive recruiting firm for 3 consecutive summers doing database cleanup, business development e-mails, side projects including developing call lists and so forth.
Careerealism is a career and job search blog and I read an article called 3 Ways Unpaid Internships Pay. This got me thinking about my own story. Think long and hard about getting an internship in a field you’d like to learn more about. Being a lifeguard or nanny? Never a bad way to make a few extra bucks in the summer, especially if you need the money. But, you’d be surprised at the number of part-time internships there are. You’d also be surprised at the number of internships that now PAY you to learn about a career, oh yea, and get work done.
Again, this is not a knock against typical summer jobs for college students. It’s a call to action. Do your due diligence spring semester. What companies do you want to work for? What are the best internship job boards? Who do you know that may be able to lead you in the right direction? Your dad’s best friend is a car dealer? You’re an HR major? Even car dealerships need HR. It can’t hurt to ask. Ask your advisors, ask your professors. There are resources at your fingertips; you just have to be willing to utilize them and creative enough to find a way even when some doors close.
Whether the job market is down or up – those with relevant experience will always have a leg up on the competition. How do I get work experience before I can even enter the workforce? Get an internship. Don’t wait until you’re a junior and panicking. Who says you can’t start being a productive contributor to society even if you have 3 or 4 years of college to go? Starting early can allow you to explore different areas you have interest in.
With an internship, you’ll now have valid work references for when you do break into the full-time work force. Hey, you might even get hired by that executive recruiting firm you interned with, novel idea. Next time a biology major thinks about picking up that tax free babysitting job – ask them, what do you think about applying for that internship at the cancer treatment center?
What kind of story do you want to tell in your interviews?
As a young adult in high school or college your dream job has changed from being an NBA All-Star, Astronaut, or Zoo Keeper to working for Google, starting your own company, or being a Vice President. But, even with that shift we have to understand as first-time true job seekers that our first job? Is not going to be our dream job, it may not even be the entry level position that in 20 years will lead to the dream job.
I don’t know if I should say this but… your first job? You might not even like it. You might even hate it. Oops. There you have it. Gen Y needs to embrace the job market for what it is. You have 40+ years to work. You might not get it right, every single time. Rather than settling for no income and trying to find the PERFECT entry level job, keep an open mind. Work experience, no matter what it is, is better than no experience. [As a side note – I do enjoy my current job, hence why I have this blog, in case a boss or two come across this post 🙂 but, a VP at Nike wouldn’t be too bad either].
Job descriptions almost never call for “0 experience needed,” therefore, you can’t be too picky. You will find a world of jobs that ask for 1-3 years or 2-5 years. Once you have that, the doors open and open wide. Not only do you have experience but, you’ve started a network too.
The job search for a Millennial is difficult, there’s no doubt about that. But, rather than thinking the world is made for what you deem to be your perfect career path, realize there is much greater opportunity when the “work experience” section on your resume has substance. It contains more than that internship you did for a friends mom, that president of a club role that you turned into a job, or that tax free Nanny positon you’ve had the last 3 summers.
Apply. Network. Interview. Even if you’re unsure if it’s right for you, if anything, you’ll have great practice!
Need help getting started? www.indeed.com is a great source. Comment and let me know your questions on how to get pointed in the right direction.