Many elite athletes leave the playing field feeling under-prepared for the next phase of their lives. They gave their all to sports, and they leave the game they once loved with many memories but little confidence that they possess any valuable skills for the real world.
At this time, remember that your entire athletic career was preparation for your life after sports. You spent years maximizing your potential on the field, and in the process developed high-value, transferable skills that will carry over into your new professional career.
There’s variance between individuals, and no two people will be the same, but I believe there are some essential skill and experience advantages former athletes carry with them into the job hunt. If utilized correctly, your experience will have recruiters and managers everywhere salivating for you to join their team.
How to Interview: Tell Stories
Humans are story-crazed. We watch movies, read books, and play story-driven video games. A good story can evoke a myriad of emotions from deep within us. Stories make us laugh with hysteria and weep in melancholy.
When you interview, aim to tell stories. Have a story for every question. Not only does this make you come off as more friendly and approachable, but it also demonstrates that you have experience in this area.
If you can tell a story which demonstrates one of your essential skills, the interviewer will remember you better than the job seeker who couldn’t connect the question with a personal anecdote.
All this to say: The best interviewees tell stories.
The Four Skills
In the paragraphs that follow, I will reveal the four skills most athletes possess that set them apart from their peers in any job search.
- Work Ethic + Accomplishment
Did you have a formal or informal leadership role on your teams? If so, share a story of a problematic leadership moment that ended positively, or caused you to learn something from a leadership perspective.
- Did you inspire your team’s late-game comeback with a fiery speech?
- Did you take on the role of informal player-coach at an understaffed program?
- Were you elected a team captain, and then actually did something positive?
- Did you work with other teams to improve tense relations between units?
- Did you try something as a leader, but utterly failed? <–You can use this too!
I believe almost every athlete took on a leadership role at some point in their career. You can use this to your advantage to show that you are capable of leading and being the pioneer of positive change in that organization.
Recruiters and managers want to know that you’ll be able to work together with others inside the company. Demonstrate your aptitude for teamwork and let them know you’ll be easy to work with and a valuable contributor to the team.
To tell a story of teamwork, you can talk about a time when you sacrificed yourself for the good of the team. Or, you could speak of observing someone else sacrifice and speak to the impact this made on you with a real-life example of how you changed afterward. (The latter case also speaks of your teachability.)
In my last interview, I was asked flat-out, “Are you competitive?”. Managers and companies are looking for individuals with a healthy dose of competitiveness whom will drive results. The ability to remain driven when everybody else is falling away is essential in the long-term, and companies are looking to have a pool of Type-A, driven individuals.
To tell a story of competitiveness, think about pre-game rituals, intense moments in your career, or examples of your competitive fire sparking you to athletic triumph. These examples will help the interviewer connect with you and see the competitive juices within you.
Work Ethic + Accomplishment
Did you work extremely hard for something and see results? Did you go above the regular call of duty to make something happen? Talk about this. What did you do? Did you have any major setbacks?
In the startup world, most companies talk about their “Origin Story.” For me, my “origin story” is my journey from 81 MPH to 95. It checks a lot of boxes in the interviewer’s mind (hard work, dedication, ability to achieve, etc.) and is far better than telling them, “I’m a hard worker and dedicated to any task at hand.”
Companies are looking to hire people who produce results. If you can tell an account of a time you put in work and got the desired result, you’re going to set yourself apart. It’s as simple as that.
Remember: You Have Valuable Skills
It’s easy to think that you don’t have any valuable skills because you didn’t intern at Google. Instead, you spent your time training to be your best on the field.
If you think that way, I have good news for you.
Your entire athletic career prepped you for your new professional career in something other than sports.
It’s just time you believe it.
What skills did I miss?