As the typical job interview evolves, job seekers may have more opportunities–and more reasons–to rethink the ways they talk about their experience. In some cases, that includes what counts as experience.
This is especially true for recent graduates, people switching careers, or anyone who may not have much relevant experience in a certain role or industry. In these cases it can be useful to look further afield. One great place to start is athletics.
While sports may not be traditionally considered a realm hiring managers want to hear about, there are several key skills athletes have honed over their playing career that can serve them well in the workplace. In fact, athletes tend to have characteristics that many, if not all, employers look for in a new hire. The challenge is simply convincing an interviewer that that’s the case. Here are a few ways to do it.
Athletes have to manage their time effectively. From their school days onward, they have to balance academic work and athletic commitments, along with spending time with family and friends. And this often leads to athletes developing time-management strategies and techniques that translate well into the working world.
As an athlete you quickly learn how to prioritize your tasks and be efficient with your time to get everything done, then build that efficiency into your regular routine. In the workplace, former athletes will understand how to prioritize their to-do lists and allocate the right amount of time to each item, regardless of how many new meetings or projects come up.
Athletes are always on the road, so they have to be resourceful about when and where they get things done. For student athletes, if that means studying on the bus or late night in the hotel room, then they do it in order to stay ahead–no excuses.
Some employees are quick to find a reason why something didn’t get done. The printer didn’t work, there was a last-minute meeting, or they had another urgent project assigned to them. Athletes don’t make excuses, which lets down not just themselves but their teams. They figure out a way to get things done, for the good of the group.
Athletes are willing to make sacrifices to achieve a goal. They’ll give up time they’d rather spend relaxing in order to practice at off hours, pushing themselves to get better and to help their teammates get better as a whole.
That takes discipline and a commitment to improving performance–even when it hurts. An athlete knows they may need to miss a dinner with friends to work late on an important assignment. They keep their eye on the end goal because they know it matters to more people than just them.
In athletics, you learn really early to not take things personally. Athletes know that coaches are trying to make them better to help the team win. So while they’re used to praise, on the flip side, they’re also used to receiving constructive feedback from a range of personalities. Every committed athlete has had to take instruction and criticism from a variety of different coaches, including those they may have found difficult to work with.
Whether it’s the shouting type or more of a mentoring coach, there are managers in the workplace who also have different approaches and personalities. Athletes have a depth of experience working under many of these types that others may not. For some professionals, receiving feedback from a boss is grating, and it can come as a culture shock for new grads just entering the workforce.
But athletes have developed the mental toughness to not take things personally and understand that it’s meant to help them improve.
Athletes know what’s expected of them. Chances are they grew up in an environment where you either worked hard to keep your spot, or you worked harder to take someone’s. That’s just the nature of competitive sports. But they’re also relentless when it comes to not letting their teams down. If they make the commitment, they’ll see it through.
Athletes unite around the concept of achieving a goal; it’s in their DNA. In the workplace this couldn’t be more imperative. They won’t give up when things get tough or a goal seems out of reach. They’ll find a way to rally around it and motivate the team to achieve it.
Athletes understand the importance of team goals, too. They understand that if another player is struggling, the team will struggle, regardless of how great they do on their own. In sports, if one person didn’t do what the coach wanted, the entire team had to do the drill all over again. Accountability is drilled into them.
This is critical in the workplace. If the company has a revenue number to hit, they know that they need to jump in and help however they can–particularly when a colleague or teammate is struggling.
Nobody who’s played sports has won 100% of the time. All athletes know how to learn from failure. They have the perseverance to continue pushing toward a goal regardless of how hard they may fall. Athletes just don’t give up, and just can’t mail it in. They aren’t easily deterred, and hiring managers know that employees who can learn from setbacks and keep moving forward are invaluable.
That applies to their own development, too. Athletes are always trying to beat their personal record. They constantly want to do better and improve. They don’t settle. Every manager wants this type of employee on their team. It not only impacts the individual, but it’s contagious in the workplace.
Hiring managers may not be used to discussing sports in job interviews, but savvy job seekers may have a chance to change that. The truth is that many of the skills and personality traits that make employees successful are things that athletes have worked many hard hours to hone.
Lisa Strasman is president of Next College Student Athlete (NCSA), an athletic recruiting firm that matches student athletes with coaches across the country.