Why Should Someone Hire a Former Athlete?

It is time for the moment of truth. The one question from a potential employer that will either seal the deal or put you back in the pack with all the rest of the people competing for the job. Why should I hire you?

There are many ways to approach the answer to this question, but what you are looking for is an answer that will set you apart from all the others. You need an answer that will blow away the interviewer and make him/her think, “I need this person on my team!”

Fortunately, the business world is playing right into your hand with their most current thinking, and if you read this article and do some research, your answer will not only impress the interviewer but will confirm that, all other things being equal, because you were an athlete, you bring much more to the table than a typical job candidate.

Using Analytics in the Workplace

Analytics is a hot topic across many areas in the business world today, but only recently have companies begun to explore the benefits of applying analytics to improve individual performance and equate it to productivity and profitability.

Applying analytics to the Human Resource function is a new approach to hiring the right person and predicting their performance. In the 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report by Deloitte, it was noted that 71 percent of the companies surveyed reported that “people analytics” is a priority for their company.

So why is this important to you?

Because as an athlete you are very familiar with the use of analytics to measure your performance, your team’s performance and your coach’s performance. Analytics were used to recruit you, they were used to coach you, they were used to evaluate the competition and they were even used to predict how you and your competition would perform in certain circumstances. As an athlete, analytics were all around you.

The analytics may look different than in your playing days, but they are used the same way.

Though analytics have been around sports for many years, it was taken to a new level in baseball and revealed to the world in Michael Lewis’ 2003 book, “Moneyball.” Lewis traced the partnership developed around baseball analytics, Billy Beane (General Manager of the Oakland Athletics) and Paul DePodesta (became head of R&D for the Athletics).

Since then, DePodesta was with the Mets before moving on to the Cleveland Browns of the NFL. Even if you have seen the movie, you need to read the book. The willingness of Beane to look at statistics in a different way and make use of a new paradigm in evaluating players is exactly where the business world is today. My guess is just like in baseball, you will have the old guard not wanting to change, but before long, it will hit them right between the eyes. As in sports, if you don’t adapt, you will be left behind.

Look at Major League Baseball now.

Theo Epstein, now the President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs, has been using the same analytics as Beane. He won the World Series in Boston and again in Chicago, removing the “curse” on both teams in the process. Today he is being praised as not only one of the great baseball minds, but one of the great leaders of all industry. Both he and Beane are icons; the only difference is Epstein has always had more money to get better players. But, that is a decision Beane made when he turned down the Boston job many years ago.

Businesses are now starting to look at things a bit differently too. They are recognizing there could be other factors to help predict success in the business world, and are beginning to explore how to better understand their employees and future employees. It goes beyond the initial qualifications matched to a job description and as shown on a resume and during an interview. It involves assessments and the comfort level candidates have with being evaluated. Being held to a performance level is something you as an athlete are all too familiar with. You have been there, and you need to let them know that.

There are many reasons why companies think athletes make good employees. Most center on resilience, being a team player, competitiveness and much more. But here is where it is time for you to shine. Understanding the evolution of the use of analytics as applied to job candidates, you can now explain how you have been evaluated and why your experience as an athlete will make you all the more valuable to the company.

Remember earlier when I said Beane had the ability to look at analytics in a different way to come up with a formula for a player’s productivity that was never used before? Well, now is the time for you to list the four reasons, all other things being equal, why you are the best candidate for the job.

  1. You are adaptable
  2. You accept and look forward to having your performance measured
  3. You understand the significance of the end result
  4. You know the meaning of accountability and look forward to the challenge

How do you relate these things to what was covered above? How do you take these attributes to the next level and impress the interviewer? You can already see that though these traits all have their underlying pinnings in your sports experience; they are of keen interest to business managers trying to decide what sets you apart from everyone else.

So, let’s dig a littler deeper into why these four items (coupled with your analytics knowledge) can help you stand out from the pack.

Adaptability

Being able to adapt is just as important in business as it was in sports.

As an athlete you learned early on that things are not always black and white. Many times you had to operate in the gray, thinking on the fly and making quick decisions. There are two things managers love about this. First, you recognize that every game plan needs adjusting depending on the circumstances. Though the play may be drawn up and look good on paper, you never know how your opponent is going to react. Second, you are not afraid to make a decision. Many business people become immobilized when faced with these issues. If the presentation is not going just right they can’t think on their feet and adapt to the situation.

But what allowed you to make the right decision? It was probably analytics. It was endless hours of looking at tape of yourself, your teammates and your opponents. Analytics allowed you to estimate, at that point in time, what your best option would be. By pointing out your ability to adapt, by giving instances where you actually made adjustments on the fly (based on statistical probabilities) and most importantly, by then using an example of how this skill can be used to benefit the company, you will begin to set yourself apart.

Accepting Performance Measurement

You were an athlete, everything you did was measured and you used the results of those performance measurements to improve. Ask how your performance will be measured in this position. What metrics are being used? Explain how you used metrics and the analysis of that information as a player to identify areas where you needed to improve and how you would look forward to regular evaluations so you can continue to grow in the company.

Most people don’t view performance reviews in a positive light. Usually the reason is because managers tend to use them inappropriately and are not familiar with analytics as an evaluation tool. It’s not all their fault. Most of them have never understood the positive outcome an honest appraisal can have and how it is intended to help employees, not criticize them. By explaining how you had a public performance review with a statistical analysis after each game and used these opportunities to improve and as motivation you will certainly gain points on the interview.

The Significance of the End Result

This one is simple. You may have had an outstanding game, but the team lost. You know how that feels. You understand the significance of hitting your goals and will approach the job with the same determination for the company to succeed as you did in sports.

When the team succeeds, you succeed. You understand that unless the team wins, your individual performance will not mean as much. You have seen it in athletics. Why do All-Stars get traded? Because after reviewing the analytics of the team and the individual players, management believes the players they will get for the All-Star will help the team more than the they did.

You need to show how (because you were an athlete and a member of a team) you understand the importance of how the team performs and reacts as a whole. You understand that by studying the analytics, appreciating where you fit in and the role you will be playing, you will make everyone around you better. Hiring you will not only give the company a top performer, but will (in time) help to improve the performance of the team. Tell them how that happened during your playing days and explain how you will expect nothing less as a company employee.

Accountability

During the interview it is important that you make sure the interviewer knows that as an athlete, you never used excuses for not giving 100 percent. This is important, because whether you like it or not, some interviewers will have an attitude toward you because you were an athlete. They may feel you come to the business world expecting a break because you played a sport and were somewhat of a celebrity.

You need to disarm this thinking quickly. Tell them you studied your position, spent hours reviewing the analytics on the team and your competition and you were one of the hardest workers on the team. Tell them you will approach your new job the same way, understanding the need to learn and constantly improve. Also tell them you expect to be held accountable for your performance.

You should also ask for any research or industry analysis they might share or where you might go on the internet to find some statistical information. And, while you’re at it, don’t be afraid to refer to a few instances during your career where you were humbled and it made you work harder and how the experience motivated you even more to be the best player you could be.

My own experience with an interviewer a number of years ago might be helpful. Though I never reached the professional level as a baseball player, I was pretty good. The interviewer knew I had played and seemed to come to the meeting with a bit of an attitude. He explained how I was going to be held accountable as a business person at a different level than I was accustomed to as an athlete. I asked what he meant and he said, “well, after six months, if you are not performing you will be put on probation for the next six months, then if you are still not performing you will be put on notice and get help for three months, and then if you are still not performing you will be let go.” “Really? I will have fifteen months to improve,” I asked. “Yup…then you are gone. How does that compare with your sports experience,” he asked.

So I told him my story.

I had been a starting outfielder on a rookie league team in the Northeast for a few years. I won the batting title one year and was the league MVP two other years. During one of our games I was hit by a pitch on the shin. It was painful and I had to leave the game. The next game my coach noticed I was favoring the leg and not striding the way I usually did. I looked bad at the plate. He put up with it for two at bats then I came up with men in scoring position and he told me to get my act together. The first pitch was a ball. The second was a strike and I took such a bad cut at it the coach called time out. He came over to me and I thought he was going to ask if I was okay. Instead, he yelled some words I can’t repeat, told me I was embarrassing myself and yanked me for a pinch hitter with a one and one count.

I told the interviewer I never let that happen again. I was humiliated, but the coach knew he had to do something to get me to get beyond my fear of being hit again in the same leg. He knew how to motivate me and it worked.

Immediately, the interviewer knew being held accountable as an athlete happens in real time, not just over time. The interviewer had a much friendlier disposition after that and the rest of the interview went pretty smoothly.

Setting yourself apart is something we are all familiar with. You have done it in sports, but how will you do it when you are looking for a career after sports?

The key is to not ignore the lessons you learned while playing, but utilize them and adapt them to your new challenge. By using the examples above and letting everyone know that not only are you familiar with analytics as a performance measurement but you embrace it, will help put you at the top of the candidate list.

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