Why Trained Athletes make good Employees
Article by Connor Henderson
Some Editing by Enzo Williams
Pinoy athletics spoke with Connor Henderson, the Filipino-Scot based athlete, in Glasgow, Scotland. Henderson runs the 400m Hurdles and became the 2017 British University Champion not long after gaining a silver medal at the Philippine Nationals.
Known for his athletic success over the Hurdles at both the Domestic and International level, Connor speaks about his transformation from trackside to the workplace.
The Glasgow Hurdler was stuck in a dilemma at the end of 2019 when he had to decide between continuing to pursue his dream of international success whilst still having to pay his bills and make financial ends meet. This article will take up the issues he believes when having to change from your chosen career and why employers should hire athletes.
From 2012-2015, Connor worked as a sports development officer with The Glasgow Athletics Association. His role was reporting to the High-Performance manager, helping assist with squads and camps for athletes. It was then, he, like many others, decided to enter a completely new career change and start the professional journey into the world of Business and Digital Marketing.
“I felt like I was stuck in a routine with no progression. Don’t get me wrong, the people were great, and the job was fun; I just had to think about my future.”
Connor felt that there was little room for growth or promotion in the sports industry and looked towards a complete career change that would give him room for professional growth.
At that time, Connor was unsure where to turn for advice and mentorship; he was young and at the beginning of his employment journey. He had the motivation, the energy, and the drive but thought he could do it independently.
He states, “You think you know it all, you DON’T “Seek Advice.”
On the surface, it may seem that Athletes have no business experience unless they go and gain the qualifications, but athletes come with a skillset that management can use to great effect.
Time Management Skills
Everyone has the capacity to learn time management skills; They are one of the first things an employer looks for on a resume but add to the mix the pressure of being an athlete and the ‘Time Management’ skills take on an added dimension.
- School Work/Academic Commitments to obtain a bachelor’s degree, certificate, or master’s.
- 6 Day training week regimes 50 weeks in the year – 2/3 hours per day.
- Part-Time Work
- Social Commitments Boyfriend/Girlfriend hanging out with the Barkada or attending parties and celebrations.
- Family Commitments and events
- Indoor/Outdoor Seasons
While most students only have 1 or 2 commitments to juggle, the elite to the below elite athletes is juggling all 6 of these through their athlete careers. In turn, they cannot commit fully to gaining valuable, consistent career experience.
Connor says, “Through the best part of my 20’s I was chasing major championships, training day in and day out, committing my full life to achieve the highest honor of competing for my country. Whilst these were the best years of my athletics career, it was also damaging my future transition to the workplace as I had little to no experience to bring to an employer due to the commitment I had for the sport.”
The Rejections a blessing in disguise!
Fast forward to 2019, Connor achieved a BA (Hons) in Business and an MSc in Digital Marketing. However, the link between athletics and marketing did not seem evident on the surface; Connor knows that the self-discipline and focus instilled in you as an athlete go a long way in preparing you for the discipline you need to study for your degrees.
With an older and wiser head on his shoulders, Connor reached out for advice from successful Executive James Lafferty. Lafferty has had the experience of being a CEO of large international companies, including Coca Cola (Nigeria), Proctor and Gamble (Philippines), British American Tobacco (Philippines), and at present Fine Health Products (Dubai). Jim’s advice to Connor was on how a change of mindset and approach is needed for a career change.
Connor found the advice invaluable and has stated, “Never allow pride to stop you from progressing; the right people always want to help you, so don’t be afraid to ask.”
After around 12 immediate email rejections with no chance of face to face or phone interview, Connor then got the call from 4 potential employers, but only one really stood out.
Connor prepared meticulously for his first job interview with a renewable energy company called Easee UK. He prepared for this like he would for track competition. Connor did his research and brought a full report showing his determination to show the company he really wanted the job.
He attended the interview and was hired by County Director Alan O’Donnell, who understood his back story, having come from a soccer background himself, and decided to give him a chance. Alan had worked for 6 years at TESLA.
The hard work paid off, and he was successful after being up against 100+ other applicants for just one position. This is an impressive feat as it is doubtful he would ever have had to win over 100+ entries in a 400 Hurdles race in his entire career, showing his athlete preparations.
“Gaining medals won’t change your life financially, even winning gold at major champs! You really need to have a plan and showcase to the company what attributes you can really bring!” Jim Lafferty
At 27, Connor no longer has to play a juggling act with studies, work, and sport. In fact, he is already in preparations for the 2021 season. And he thinks that focusing on work and sport gives him a better perspective as he is more well-rested, not having to stay up late finishing schoolwork.
Connor goes on to explain:
“Being competitive is great; I appreciate everyone has their own strengths and capabilities. I understand hard work as well as the next person. In 2017 I won the highest possible reward for an athletics student in the UK, the BUCS National Title; I was a British Champion. 5 months on from this, I competed on the World Stage in Taipei at the 29th World Universiade; the 2nd largest multi-event competition in the world behind the Olympics.
You may question where this is going….I’ll explain!
You don’t win medals because of people you know. There is a huge element of who has worked the hardest. I won a few races as 12 years old and saw an opportunity, so I worked as hard as possible to fulfill a potential future. My whole life, I have dedicated the small amount of talent I was born with to producing medals and representing my country. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but as I slowly transition back into my career and life beyond sport, I have concluded that recruiters may not understand an athlete’s mentality or lifestyle. Dedication, sacrifice, self-discipline, and hard work ethic. As an athlete, especially athletics, you train day in and day out on a possibility (nothing is certain)”
- Athletes have an advanced culture competency. Most entrepreneurs agree that diversity is needed to build a strong team. …
- Athletes are Highly adaptable. …
- Athletes Want the win. …
- Athletes Are coachable. …
- Athletes Stick with it.
In Japan, there is a well-structured career pathway system for athletes. Athletes work minimal hours for a company when they are younger. As they get older, they are assigned more work hours, so they learn how to do the job until they are guaranteed a full-time position with a major Japanese Conglomerate.
To conclude, Connor is passionate about his views. He believes firmly in the need for companies to look at trained athletes to fill up vacancies, not overlook the characteristics of a focus and transferability from track to the workplace.
“If you are a recruiter and you see that an athlete is applying for a job. It may be worth finding out a little more about them and why they might not have all the tick boxes you ask for. I personally, for the last 6 years, have been chasing: World Student Games, Commonwealth Games, SEA Games, and the Olympics. Dedicating 6 days a week, 3 hours a day, and 50 weeks a year for the last 6 years, whilst taking on a BA (Hons) & MSc. That’s without mentioning gaining as much professional experience that will benefit my future.
I do not have a moan; I want to educate! I appreciate that experience is a massive advantage to employers, and so it should be, but I speak for so many other people in my position trying to break into a career path who are finding it difficult to get a ‘chance.’”