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The Student-Athlete Payoff. No. Not that Kind of Payoff!

Is there such a thing as a perfect employee? I can tell you that over three decades in business, I hired hundreds of sales and marketing professionals. Give me two equivalent candidates where one was a student-athlete, I always selected the athlete 100% of the time and never looked back.

Intuitively, we know that the same skills that help a student-athlete excel on the field also translate to career success after college. A study completed by researchers at Cornell University found that:

  • Former high-school athletes generally go on to have higher-status careers than those who didn’t play a sport.

  • Former athletes’ wages are 5 to 15% higher than non-athletes.

  • Athletes were perceived to be better leaders and more confident than people who participated in other extracurricular activities.

The business world is paying attention. The head of talent acquisition for Enterprise said it well. “We see the skills that student-athletes gain from their experience and know the value they can bring to our business.” Employers understand that student-athletes possess a unique combination of soft skills that correlate closely with productivity and performance.

Competition and Results: Business is a competition and a struggle for financial survival every quarter. The scorecard is market share and the profit and loss statement. Turn on CNBC for a few minutes. It’s a daily stack ranking of winners and losers in the business world. For a company to win in the marketplace, its employees must be dedicated to the mission that anything less than first place is not acceptable. Student-athletes, by their very nature, have a proven competitive spirit and a will to win. They have spent years being measured by results, wins, and losses. Student-athletes compete in everything they do. When you take that competitive spirit and channel it into an organization, great results always follow.

Time Management: For years now, organizations have been focused on increasing employee productivity to improve bottom line profitability. It’s simple math. The volume of work has not decreased. But the number of employees in the organization has proactively been decreased. Business has learned to do more with less. Time is at a premium and so are employees who can multi-task and efficiently manage their workday. Think about the multiple tasks that you must effectively manage as a collegiate student-athlete. You have two full-time jobs at the same time. Student and Athlete. Class, labs, exams, internships. Practice, games, and travel. All that adds up to a lot more than a 40-hour work week. To succeed as a student-athlete, you master time management skills. You don’t lose those skills when you graduate. The math always works. Add a student-athlete to your workforce and increase organizational productivity and profitability.

The Pressure Cooker: When I had a difficult high visibility assignment, I always looked for the employee who could handle the pressure. You don’t put a walnut into the vise. I looked for the diamond that was strong enough to handle any amount of pressure. As managers, we look for employees that have the mental strength to handle the situation, overcome obstacles and find a way to get the job done. Student-athletes are mentally strong and know how to handle the pressure of competition. They don’t make excuses and they see an obstacle as a challenge. Student-athletes look for solutions, different plays and techniques to solve the problem. And that is what we want in our best employees.

It's All About the Team: Companies are living, breathing organisms made up of employees working as finely tuned teams. Name one company whose financial success was solely dependent on individual performance. Yes, you can name many companies who were driven to success by incredibly talented leaders. Steve Jobs at Apple, Jeff Bezos at Amazon, Reed Hastings at Netflix. But, leaders lead teams. They don’t do it all themselves. The best student-athletes are the ones that place the team before self. Student-athletes understand that they play a role on their team and know exactly where they need to fit in to contribute to the overall success of the team. Teamwork is a learned behavior. It takes practice. Student-athletes have a decade of intense practice at being team players by the time they graduate from college. For a hiring manager, knowing that you can hire a college graduate and quickly plug that employee into a team without missing a beat, is a highly valued attribute that many employers are seeking today.

The message is clear, and the opportunity is real.

If you are a recruiting professional, supplement your sourcing strategy with a view to the gyms and athletic fields of your local universities to find the best entry-level talent for your organization.

If you are a collegiate student-athlete, you may feel your athletic career is ending. I’m here to tell you that you have at least one more game ahead of you. That game is the competition to find your first job post-graduation. Make no mistake, that is exactly what a job search is for you. A competition. It takes a special set of skills to win the job search game. You start with an advantage as a student-athlete leveraging soft skills developed over the last 10 years of competition. Your challenge is to build a personal brand around your student-athlete story and develop the playbook for a successful job search process.

Dan Troup is the founder of the AdvantEdge Careers coaching service. If you are interested in learning more about how a certified career coach can assist you in your job search, please contact AdvantEdge Careers at:


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