I’ve been thinking a great deal about job placement for athletes and the requirements for today’s businesses. Employers want to hire the best of the best. That means they want people that are driven, dependable, willing to work hard and are interested in being a part of a successful team.
Many athletes hope to find careers that allow them to highlight their unique skill-sets. These skills-sets are typically acquired from specialized and intense athletic experiences. They also tend to have a plethora of “transferable” skills and traits that align with exactly what employers are looking for including:
- Competitive nature
- Ability to work under pressure
- Coachable and willing to learn
- Strong work ethic
- Self-motivated or self-starter
- Ability to solve problems
Employers out there generally “get” the benefits of hiring athletes and want to hire them (for many of the reasons listed above). However, it can sometimes be difficult for athletes to find the right fit when it comes to job placement. Individuals may find it difficult to not only land a "dream job," but to secure any position at all. This is not because they haven't spent time in the classroom, but more because they haven't completed internships or gained experiences that directly relate to their industry (i.e. work experience) due to their commitment to their sport.
So the question then becomes...How do we align the two sides to help bridge this gap?
Right now, there are a few ways of doing this; one of the best ways being to connect former athletes and alumni with current and graduating athletes. Recently, the American East Conference announced the creation of a new network aimed at doing exactly this. It’s actually one of the first for a Division I conference (which is surprising to me). I believe we'll see a lot more of this in the future both at the school and conference levels.
Another way would be to help companies better understand the value that athletes can bring to their organizations. It takes commitment and dedication to play a sport and succeed as a student at the same time; and the skills required to balance and succeed at both of these should be a consideration.
Colleges should also be working on integrating more experiential work and internship-type programs within their athletic and academic requirements. This is something we're starting to see more forward-thinking athletic departments in particular working on now.
In addition, for athletes:
1. Find and communicate transferable skills. Athletes need to be able to identify what they are doing on a daily basis and the traits and skills that are associated with this. It’s important to find the underlying themes, values and messages that surface and be able to communicate this clearly in resumes and interviews with potential employers.
2. Get to know yourself better. It may sound funny, but having a solid understanding of WHO you are, WHAT you are all about and what you value can make a big difference in how you talk about yourself and market yourself to employers. Not to mention the importance of this once your athletic career concludes.
3. Build a personal brand, then manage and market it. Athletes spend most of their lives as a part of a team, contributing to the team and focusing on the role they play within the team. Athletes need to be able to understand how to market themselves as individuals when it comes to the job search. Being on a team is important but knowing how to really play up individual skills, strengths and accomplishments is a big part of selling yourself in the job search process.
For employers and companies:
1. Leverage your company’s former athletes. Find people in your existing organizations that can help you to create common bonds or connections with athletes worldwide. Beyond this, make an effort to stay in the loop on the latest challenges, needs and issues related to athlete so you can better engage with the athletes.
2. Find someone that “gets” athletes and hire them to help your company (or HR department) recruit, better understand the issues, the gaps, the needs, how to better communicate, connect and engage with athletes. If you’re interested in more information or referrals send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Consider partnering with university athletic departments to bring student-athletes into the workplace by providing externships to younger student-athletes. This can start the process helping the athletes gain experience earlier without a formal internship and also allow employers to begin building connections within the local athlete talent pool.