The 3 Questions Athletes Need To Ask To Find A Job They'll Like
Before I start, let me just say two things. First, this approach is what works for me and what works for me, may not work for you. Second, being an athlete doesn’t just mean you play a sport, being an athlete means you’ve bled hard work and have the discipline it takes to thrive in the real world.
Adulting is hard.
I am a couple years out, with enough distance from college that I’ve had time to recover from the steep, post-college learning curve of adulting. If you are reading this article, you have probably found yourself thinking about post-college, post-athlete life and been anxious (or filled with doom and horror) about finding a job. Yeah, casual non-athlete stuff.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about and you think that the athlete-to-job transition is pretty controlled and seamless, then you can skip this article (I’m not being sarcastic) and I ask you to write a post about how you came to a mental state that made your transition stress-free. As for the 99% of us that experience the drowning, this is for you.
You know more about the real world than you think you do.
It’s cliché, and feel free to roll your eyes at this, but honestly, the most important thing to keep in mind when getting ready to graduate into the ‘real world’ comes down to perspective.
During senior year, I had a narrow perspective regarding my post-college options. I felt like all I knew was my sport and I had no other skillset to speak to in the ‘real world’ job realm. I had spent my entire life perfecting and prioritizing my athletic ability, that pushing my mental and physical limits to the edge was normal, but sending emails to recruiters felt impossible.
Looking around at friends and classmates with stacked résumés, touting internships at big tech and prestigious corporations, I felt so far behind in the ‘real world’. I was confident that no one would offer me a job when I was being compared to my peers with multiple summer internships and research experience, when the only experience I could speak to was on a sports team.
Honestly, with that perspective, I didn’t leave myself with much control over my own situation.
I want to share the perspective that not only got me through senior year to my first job, but helped me regain control and actually find a job that I love.
The perspective you need to hear: learn from your teammates, coaches, and injuries and you have what you need to be prepared for the real world. The real world is just like sports, you win, you lose, and through it all, you work hard.
Step 1: Find a supportive team
I believe that you should always ask your interviewer “what do you like most about your job or this company?” Ask because it shows that you are interested in their opinion and think their perspective is important. But spoiler, 90% of interviewers will answer “I know everyone says this, but the people I work with are amazing!” or something to that effect. 5% of interviewers will say the work is interesting and challenging and the remaining 5% say something about impact.
What I’ve learned is that people are predictable. But more importantly, that the people you work with—your team—can make or break how you feel about your job.
Think about all of the teams that you have been on. I’m sure you’ve had a wide range of experiences within a team. You’ve had teammates you’ve liked and some whom you’ve never seen eye to eye with. You know what it’s like to be on a team that has the respect and chemistry that makes the good days incredible and the bad days manageable.
Figure out what you’ve liked and disliked about your current and past teams. Understanding that that people you work with impact your day to day and that you have control over who you want to spend your time with.
Your years of being on a sports team has been an unintended stress test of team dynamics. With that perspective, you are entering into your first “real job” knowing what type of team you want.
Just how together with your teammates, you shape the culture of the team, your coworkers that you will have are just your teammates.
Step 2: Find a place you can learn
In sports, a coach takes on so many different roles and through learned experience, I’ve have found the irreplaceable value of a good coach. A coach makes or breaks your development as an athlete and can help or hinder your success.
Ask your interviewer “what happens if someone on the team fails or makes a mistake?” so that you can see how the team, manager, and company respond. It’s inevitable that you make an error and how a person or company responds shows how they think about growth and learning.
As an athlete, you learn that it is impossible to learn on your own. When you start a job, you will make mistakes and whether the mistake is taken as a learning opportunity or as unacceptable can influence your happiness on the job.
In the context of working, the coach in your job is your manager—the person who will be overseeing your work, defining the scope of your role on the team, and evaluating your output.
Find a manager who trusts you and who will invest in your career. A manager who is present and a good teacher. It’s always better to get detailed and critical feedback than no feedback at all.
Step 3: Make sure you can grow
Beyond being surrounded by a supportive team and having a good coach, I found it important that you put yourself in a position where you can grow. For me, this meant finding a job where my path for growth is clearly defined and measurable.
In sports, achievement is measurable. You are clear on where you are, whether that be your ranking or scores. You are clear on your end goal and where you want to be at the end of season. You know if and when your hard work has led to success or failure.
There may be on good way to segue into this question, but I think it is important to ask your potential manager the following: “if I were join your team and start this role today, where do you see me in 1 year? 3 years?”
Find an environment that rewards achievement, and you know you have an opportunity to grow into a bigger role and take on more responsibility.
Are you a Stanford Alum who wants to share your story?
Connect with Stanford’s Campus Ambassador, Carly Malatskey ‘20 (firstname.lastname@example.org)