Student-Athletes: Win Over Employers With Your Experience!

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Katie Smith, Assistant Director, Duke University Career Canter
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Thumbnail I can’t tell you how many Division I student-athletes I have met who happen to mention that they “have no experience.” Some of these athletes have risen to the top of their sports and are training for the Olympics or are navigating professional sponsorship deals, while others are team captains, leading workout sessions, or simply red-shirting their first year. Every single one is practicing and competing at the highest collegiate level while balancing coursework and a myriad of other responsibilities.

No experience?

One of the best quotes that I heard from an employer on campus last year was that she loves to hire athletes because they “know how to lose,” a sentiment that has been shared again and again by other employers coming through the Career Center.

I get it- losing isn’t the highlight of your sport. In fact, there’s nothing more frustrating than devoting countless hours toward training and practice, only to come up short in a game, match or meet.

But, you pick yourself up and you work harder. If you’re doing it right, the loss energizes you. It’s not an obstacle, only an opportunity. You’ve learned how to move forward.

Persistence, drive, dedication.

Student-athletes balance an incredibly challenging schedule. In-season you are constantly practicing, traveling and competing. You are surrounded by your teammates more often than you aren’t, and you maintain a tight schedule for classwork and other extracurriculars. Off-season you are training, working out, monitoring health, and trying to fit in what you can while you have just a bit more free time.

Time management, goal-setting, work ethic.

You push yourself physically and mentally. You wake up early to work out. You lead practices. You exemplify the power of a positive attitude and you contribute everything you have. Sometimes, you need your teammates to help you get to the next level. You work together.

Leadership, teamwork, communication.

Student-athletes tend to say that they “have no experience” when it comes time to start thinking about internship or job searches, writing a resume and cover letter, or interviewing for positions and opportunities off the field. They compare their years at Duke to those of their peers. They tend to see what they don’t have, instead of what they do.

What many student-athletes often overlook are the skills that they are gaining on a daily basis through their sport. To compete in Division I athletics, especially at Duke, student-athletes need to take both their sport and their academics seriously. They must be competitive, goal-oriented and have a strong work ethic. They know what it takes to achieve and they know how to problem-solve when something doesn’t go quite right. They know how to work within a team and they know both how to lead and how to follow. They know how to take initiative, set goals and to follow-through. They know how to recover from challenge and how to work toward achievement.

Many of the skills listed here have probably come naturally, as they’ve been both an ingredient and product of competing in high-level athletics. Most likely, you have all of these skills and you may have taken them for granted as you’ve focused on more immediate goals ahead.

Together, this compilation of skills is not only “experience,” but an incredible collection of experiences. As you think about your possible career path and your next steps, reflect on your time as an athlete. How will you tell your story? Where have you succeeded, and where have you failed? What have you learned? What makes you unique from your classmates and your teammates? What can you bring to a new environment?

Your time as a student-athlete is one of great value. Reflect upon your experience, identify what you’ve gained and the impact that you’ve made, and start telling your story. Employers LOVE to hear about your ability to solve problems, work hard, contribute to a team and recover from challenges. They love to hear your success stories, and the skills you’ve developed and honed both on and off the field. Even more, they love to hear how you can bring these skills to a role at their company or organization.

As you look for opportunities beyond the field, arena, court, pool or track, remember how much experience you do have, and what it demonstrates about you as a candidate. Recognize and articulate the incredible value of your time as a student-athlete and you’ll keep on winning.

photo by Thomson20192

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