Hiring an athlete an employer’s best choice

Published on July 8, 2014

It comes as no surprise to me that athletes have the traits employers look for in their hires.

A recent study released by Cornell University showed “Participation in competitive youth sports ‘spills over’ to occupationally advantageous traits that persist across a person’s life,” according to Kevin M. Kniffin, postdoctoral research associate at Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and lead researcher.

According to an article by Melissa Osgood of Cornell, research by Kniffen and his co-authors, published online in the” Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies,” revealed people who played sport at the high school varsity level are expected to be more self-confident, have more self-respect, and display more leadership than those who participated in other extracurricular activities.

For those of us who played at competitive level, that may be an obvious statement. Those are skills required not to be left behind in the sports world. It may be a little less obvious to some employers what an athletic background truly means in the strength of character they could be getting.

It is these same former varsity athletes who are more willing to volunteer and lead the charge on charitable activities, reported Osgood. Many ex-jocks now in their 80s, took their leadership skills to, or near, the top of the managerial chain.

Showing you can lead on the court, the ice or the field, also shows you can work at the helm of a business or organization. Again, no surprise to me, but how much weight has companies put in the development of a person based on the sports they played growing up? Probably not enough.

“In our study of late-career workers, those who earned a varsity letter more than 50 years ago do demonstrate these characteristics more than others – plus, they donate time and money more frequently than others and possessed great prosocial behavior in their 70s, 80s, and 90s,” stated Kniffin.

I don’t think it would take many employers long to see these assets in their staff once they have them in the workplace. The trick now becomes looking for that in a person’s history when the hiring is taking place. A former athlete, no doubt one of the right attitude, should lead the list of candidates.

I would also add, they have spent their lives learning how to be trained, willing to take orders, make sacrifices, accept criticism, get along with others, and on and on and on.

So, maybe a good boss will scan through those education and work experience listings on a resume – no doubt they are very important – and seek out their high school or post-secondary athletic history.

They certainly wouldn’t hurt on those company softball teams either, right?