Student Athlete Guide to Getting a Job

Nearly half a million students compete as NCAA athletes, yet far fewer actually go on to professional sports after college. Some of these student athletes have goals unrelated to sports after they finish school while others do not get the opportunity to go pro. A 2018 study by the NCAA found that only about 3.5 percent of student athletes who played baseball, football, men’s and women’s basketball, and men’s ice hockey and soccer went on to play professionally.

Even if professional sports aren’t in the cards, student athletes have valuable skills that can lead to success in the workplace. A 2018 study by LinkedIn found that the largest skill gap in the American workforce is in the area of soft skills, such as interpersonal communication and teamwork. This may make former athletes more desirable in the workplace, thanks to their years of training in teamwork, coaching and even public speaking.

It can feel difficult for some student athletes to make the leap from this role — which many have held for most of their lives — to the workforce. Some may feel overwhelmed by long-term goals after spending so many years focused on immediate goals, while others may need time to establish their identities outside of sports. This guide can help student athletes overcome those hurdles and provides the tools and information needed to sell their skills to prospective employers and land jobs after graduation.

Setting Yourself Up for a Career

Like any big game or competition, finding a job requires effort and a solid game plan. Student athletes who go in with a plan for getting hired or establishing their careers see much better chances of success than those who haven’t stopped to consider their goals and how to reach them. Below are suggested steps to help student athletes set themselves up for a career.

Figure out what you enjoy doing off the field

Sports can feel all consuming when in season, but student athletes must also prioritize figuring out what to do after college. This may involve speaking with professors, researching potential careers based on the student’s major, and meeting industry professionals to learn more about a particular role or company. Most students don’t land their dream jobs directly out of college, so students shouldn’t feel pressured to find a perfect fit right away. It’s more important to find a role that aligns with their interests and will allow them to gain experience for future positions.

Utilize campus resources

More than at any other time in their lives, student athletes have a wealth of free campus resources surrounding them that, if utilized, can greatly help with the job search and preparing for a career. In addition to speaking with professors about potential careers within their fields of study, student athletes should also thoroughly familiarize themselves with their campus career services. Career counselors can expose students to different occupations and industries, share self-assessment tests for aligning skills to job responsibilities, review resumes and cover letters, and set up mock interviews to assist learners in honing their skills.

Attend networking events

“I believe student athletes should work to network with people in the fields they are interested in,” says Dr. Cornell Augustus Sneed, assistant athletic director for student athlete enhancement and senior academic counselor for the men’s basketball team at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. “They can meet these individuals in a number of settings and ways, including seminars, major and career mixers, through their peers, LinkedIn, mentorship programs, and alumni events.” Many colleges and universities host job fairs and networking events with recruiters from companies throughout the academic year. Even if they are only in their sophomore or junior years, student athletes can attend these events and start making contacts in potential areas of professional interest.

Participate in extracurriculars that double as professional development

Student athletes have the opportunity to participate in many exciting extracurricular activities as part of their commitment to their college teams. These students frequently volunteer in the community, offer summer camps for younger students hoping to compete at the college level, and participate in other team-building or community events. Rather than just seeing this as part of your commitments as an athlete, think of these opportunities as experience that can help boost your resume or serve as talking points during a job interview.

Make time for career development

“Student athletes have very long days and hectic schedules, but it is imperative that they make time for activities outside the classroom and their sports,” says Dr. Sneed. He emphasizes that even just giving up one hour to career development each week can add up. “Student athletes who devote one hour a week over four or five years can have more than 200 hours of shadowing or internship experience — this is about the same number of hours for a semester-long internship, but the student athlete would have four to five years of experience to put on their resume rather than just one semester.”

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By Alex Ball
Alex Ball Pre-Law & Social Sciences Career Consultant