Although many student athletes grow up clicking the heels of their ruby red Air Jordans and dreaming of going pro, the reality is that very few go on to be career athletes. In fact, according to the NCAA, only 1 percent of college athletes go on to play professionally—the rest enter the briefcase-toting world just like the rest of us.
But just because you’ve traded the locker room for the boardroom doesn’t mean you should put your glory days behind you altogether. Here are some tips for how to highlight your athletic background on a resume, in an interview, and once you’re on the job.
Where do sports belong on a resume?
College athletes should always list relevant work experience and internships first on their resumes. The best place to list sports involvement is in a subsequent “activities” section. However, because of their fulltime commitment to sports, some student athletes may not have had the time to complete internships or take on a summer job. Under these circumstances, Kelly Watson Muther, director of scholarships and career services for The University of Kansas Athletics Department, says students can list their sports first in the “experience” section. Many times the schedule of a student athlete is as time-consuming as a fulltime job. “It often adds up to more than a 40-hour work week commitment,” says Watson Muther. In addition, traits that athletes possess resemble those of a good employee: dedication, punctuality, and communication skills. This is especially true if you had some kind of leadership position on the team, such as the captain.
How should sports be played on a resume?
When creating the bullet points that outline your sports involvement, it’s all about the keywords and phrases you use. Expressed properly, your interviewer will be able to see how your on-the-field skills will translate in the workplace. For example, instead of stating that you were “Punctual to all practices,” you could say, “Excellent time management skills. Balanced a 40+ hour practice, training, competition, and travel schedule, in addition to academics.” Other key phrases to consider using are “coachable,” “dedicated,” and “team player.”
If you were a team captain, use your resume as an opportunity to expand on your leadership abilities. Focus on practical skills you used as a leader; for example, “effectively managed communications between 24 team members,” “served as a liaison between the team and coaching staff,” and “effectively resolved intra-team conflicts.”
How should you discuss sports in an interview?
Although athletics may be a big part of your life, your interviewer may not have a similar background. “It’s important to draw on other experiences outside of sports,” says Kevin Wall, director of student athlete support services at Syracuse University. “You don’t want to be an athlete that happens to be an engineer—you should be an engineer who happens to be an athlete.”
That said, it is appropriate to mention your athletic background in an interview; just do it in moderation. A good time to draw on lessons learned in sports is when responding to questions. When asked, “What is your greatest weakness?” an athlete could respond with a sports anecdote: “My competitiveness. In college, I was known to be very aggressive when playing basketball. But I’ve really learned to channel this energy. Instead of yelling at my competitors, I’ll exert my energy into the game.” And then relate to the working world: “I think this will really help me for this sales position. I’ve learned to really thrive in a competitive atmosphere, and I think this will allow me to exceed my sales goals.”
What does being an athlete say about you as a job candidate?
A successful career as an athlete says you have great potential as an employee. Here are a few qualities that are relatable:
• You’re accountable for yourself and your goals, but you also are used to working in a team dynamic.
• You can balance academics and sports, and you’re used to managing your time.
• You have a strong work ethic and are dedicated to your goals.
• You’re used to the public spotlight, and the pressure and scrutiny that comes with it.
• You have good mentoring and leadership skills, especially as a captain.
• You’re proficient with team dynamics and dealing with different personality types.
• You have mental toughness and are able to handle let-down and defeat.