The University of North Carolina recently admitted that more than 1,000 of its athletes had participated in sham courses and received top grades for doing little or no work. It seems that smaller scandals and even criminal acts by college athletes emerge every day in America. Even for athletes who never broke the rules, they spend countless hours on the field and in the gym that could have been spent in the libraries and labs.
So who is crazy enough to recruit student athletes once they empty their lockers and seek a career in business? We are.
As a young technology company, we go out of our way to recruit and hire athletes. Most negative stereotypes surrounding athletes are misleading – but in a strange way that helps our company. While some employers shy away from athletes for these reasons, we go after them with all the passion of a running back stretching for the goal line on fourth down.
Our interest in hiring athletes extends well beyond the usual clichés of teamwork and competitive instincts. Of course, we don’t hire based solely on how well someone has done on the field or in the gym. As I told a group of college lacrosse players in a career seminar recently, you can’t just walk into an interview and say, “I led the league in assists, so clearly I’m a team player. When do I start?”
Here are a few traits that are appealing among the athletes we hire. Whether a company is considering hiring an athlete or a “mathlete,” we believe that measuring people on these traits can help predict success in the workplace.
It’s not the will to win that matters – everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters. – Paul “Bear” Bryant
Successful athletes are accustomed to working through tough situations and know that energy is needed not just on game day, but in the countless hours leading up to it. In a young technology company, you don’t release a new product or land a big new account every day. Most of our time is spent preparing for these big events.
Our team understands the concept of deferred gratification – that success is only possible with a lot of hard work outside the spotlight. We also understand that it is not just the most talented athlete who wins. Hard workers beat much more gifted companies as often as not.
Ability to overcome failure
I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. – Michael Jordan
In an early-stage company, there are many missed shots and lost games on the road to a championship. When we pitch for new business and strike out, as every company often does, we need people who will learn from the experience and approach the next opportunity with even more confidence of success.
I have always learned more from my failures than from my successes. If our first pitch was good, our next one should be even better based on that experience.
If you have everything under control, you’re not moving fast enough. – Mario Andretti
Our team is addicted to the speed and frantic energy of both sports and growing a business. As such, lulls at the office are few and far between. Athletes are a surefire way to create a passionate, high-energy and fun work environment. Any race or game changes dramatically from the starting gun to the final whistle. Unless you are thrilled by unpredictability, don’t join a startup.
When not working, our team is running, golfing, working out and otherwise engaging with their co-workers to maintain their energy levels and blow off steam. Our team picks up one another when they are down and encourages each to new heights through genuine camaraderie. On Monday morning, when people come into our office and ask each other how they spent their weekend, the answer is never, “I watched a lot of TV and caught up on my sleep.”
Handling risks and responsibility
Never let the fear of striking out get in your way. – Babe Ruth
We always tell our team that they should feel a little bit scared or intimidated several times a week. If you aren’t reaching beyond your comfort zone, you aren’t growing. We find that athletes understand this concept innately.
Few successful athletes refused to play in the big game or move to a higher league because they weren’t 100 percent sure they were ready. Of course, everyone fears failure, but you can’t let that emotion prevent you from stepping up to the plate.
Athletes certainly aren’t the answer to every business woe. They may not always be the best in their field, but a background in athletics is indicative of finely-honed soft skills that are important to any startup or emerging company.