Most student-athletes feel confident in their respective playing arenas, but many find the transition into a professional career outside of sports quite intimidating. For many student-athletes, a steady routine of training, physical rehab, travel, competition, and schoolwork occupy the vast majority of their time during college. Given their hectic schedules, finding the time to intern or to acquire relevant work experience can be nearly impossible.
But being a student-athlete also has many benefits. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, women who participate in sports have higher levels of self-confidence and are less likely to suffer from depression. Furthermore, 80% of Fortune 500 female executives identify as being former athletes. Undoubtedly, participating in collegiate athletics imparts valuable lessons to any potential employee: the importance of teamwork, the drive to compete at the highest possible level, and the ability to focus and perform under pressure.
So if you’re among those of us who spent their college days on the court, here are a few tips on how best to showcase your talents as you transition from student-athlete to young professional:
1. Provide Specific Examples
The best way to showcase your talents is by citing relevant examples. Ross Lerner, CEO of Athletes to Business, a service that provides specialized career counseling for student-athletes, encourages student-athletes to highlight their strengths in a three-part answer. First describe a situation where you showcased your leadership skills. Then, discuss the actions you took as a leader. Finally, highlight the positive results of your actions. For example:
Situation: Our team wanted to collect toys to distribute for hospitalized kids last Christmas. I was voted by my teammates to lead the project because of my leadership, organization, and attention to detail.
Action: I ensured success by creating a plan for my teammates to visit local toy stores and ask for donations. I also designed flyers for them to distribute around campus, in local stores, and nearby churches.
Result: Our team collected and donated over 500 toys to children at three hospitals near our campus. Our shared accomplishment resulted in a close-knit team and benefit to the community.
Lerner also encourages student-athletes to emphasize their potential rather than their industry expertise—just as college coaches recruit players based on their potential for success. Moreover, to highlight desirable characteristics, provide tangible applications that communicate to employers how your athletic experience would benefit you in the workplace.
2. Prepare to Succeed
No serious athlete would head into a competition without the proper preparation—in fact, most athletes spend an average of 25 hours preparing for 1-2 weekly competitions. So why should a professional interview be any different?
Before heading to an interview, research your potential employer. Use press releases and company profiles to familiarize yourself with the company’s recent successes, target industry, markets served, financial structure, and competitors. If possible, utilize LinkedIn to find out more about the individuals you will be speaking with at the interview.
Athletes understand that the key to success is confidence, and that the more you prepare, the more confident and relaxed you will feel. This will allow you to put your best foot forward in the interview. If you need an extra boost of confidence, listen to Lerner, who reminds his transitioning student-athletes: “You’ve played in bigger games than this!”
3. Be Practical
Now comes the hard part. Even with great examples of how your athletic experience will benefit you in your chosen field, what if the opportunities you’ve found still don’t provide the economic means you need to survive? That’s where collegiate athletes can fall back on their deep understanding and passion for their sport. A former UCLA student-athlete shared her experience with this frustrating situation:
In the current economic climate, I found the easiest job to find was coaching the sport that I played in college. Since that is not actually the career path I wish to follow, I am also working as an intern in a field I hope to pursue. For me, I have really enjoyed being able to pay my bills with coaching while I get my foot in the door as an intern.
Don’t be afraid to start out small in order to develop the necessary professional skills to achieve your career goals. You didn’t develop into an elite athlete overnight, and the same will be true for your professional career. At the end of the day, you have to find a way to support yourself, and coaching jobs are a great way to provide financial stability during the formative years of your career.
4. Use Your Resources
To jump-start your career, be sure to use every resource available to you. Leave no stone unturned! Here are a few examples of places you can turn:
- University Career Centers: While many student-athletes overlook this resource, career centers are specially equipped to help current and former students find employment. They can provide resume advice, mock-interviews, as well as networking opportunities to connect with potential employers.
- Athletic Advisors: Student-athletes may be able to get more personal assistance by getting in touch with their athletic department’s academic advisors. Many team up with organizations like Athletes to Business to facilitate the student-athlete-to-young professional transition.
- Alumni Network: Personal connections are crucial to success. Attend alumni functions and make some friends! It’s a great idea to first connect with alumni from your specific sport; however, there is no limit to how wide the alumni network could expand. Many of these individuals will be eager to point you in the right direction, and may even help you get an interview.
Bottom line: athletes, with their training, dedication, and focus, are well suited for the business world. Tap into that competitive edge and let your strengths shine!