Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Olympics Won't Get You Hired

For some reason, friends of mine who have been in the Olympics have a very distorted view of their place in the rest of the world.

Now, without resorting to Google, name one woman who won a gold medal in weightlifting in Sydney.

If you're like 99.99% of America, you can't, which is funny, considering an American woman was the first American to win a gold medal in the sport in 40 years.

If you make it to the Olympics, that was a goal you strove for your whole life and it means the world to you. Good for you. I say that without a trace of sarcasm.

Now let me give you some career advice - unless you are going into something directly related to your sport, no one cares.

Dr. Rhadi Ferguson and I disagree about this. We were having lunch earlier this month and he argued that I am not impressed because I have a two-time Olympian in my own family and won a world championships myself, but that other people are extremely impressed.

Maybe. But it still won't get you hired. We have hired Justin Flores several times to do artwork and doubtless will again, but it has nothing to do with him being a world team member for judo. It has to do with being a fabulous artist. (Judge for yourself - here's a sketch of a turtle doodem he did for our next game - these are the animal symbols for clans you see on totem poles.)

I've been on many university hiring committees, for both faculty and staff positions. There have been occasions when an applicant has been NCAA All-American, Olympian or other sports honor. Invariably, a person on the committee will remark that shows work ethic and discipline. Also invariably the committee goes on to discuss the person's education, work experience and other points related to the   job.

I have seen websites and resumes for people who were Olympic team members that are all about their Olympic experience and don't mention the person has a graduate degree, relevant work experience, internships or publications. I have gone as far as to rewrite resumes given to me before I passed them on because they emphasized so much of a person's athletic accomplishments and so little related to the job advertised. This was after a colleague called me and said,

What the hell do I care that this kid was on --- teams and won --- ? Half this resume is about judo!

A week after the 2008 Olympics, I mentioned to Jim Pedro, Sr. that those of us who are involved in international competition have a very skewed view of their place in the rest of the world. I said that none of the hundreds of people in the technology building I worked in even were mentioning the Olympics any more. He said sarcastically, 

"Yeah, well you work with a bunch of nerds. I can just imagine the kind of physical shape they're in."

He was absolutely right, and I laughed. The truth is, though, us nerds hire a lot of people.

Take my advice - if you are applying for a job as an artist, accountant, engineer or zookeeper, start out with everything you've done relevant to that. Even if you are applying for a job in sports writing, start out with your writing qualifications.

I went to a party once attended by a lot of very successful sportswriters.  When I commented that I was a bit surprised they weren't more, um, athletic, someone pointed out to me -

Sports writers aren't necessarily people who were good at sports. They're people who are good at WRITING about sports.

Pretty much unrelated to this post ... Check out Winning on the Ground. Lots of people say it is a good book (besides me, that is)

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Anonymous said...

I disagree with this. If you were in the Olympics in 2012 for painting, I think you deserve a shot for a position as an illustrator.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

Only if they can do digital art.

Anonymous said...

Dr. AnnMaria -- It depends. If they were in the Olympics for sculpture it could still qualify them. 3D modelling companies hire sculptors to sculpt maquettes as do animation companies.

Anonymous said...

Depends on the sport and it's popularity in the country. I have worked in some super nerdy places, where people are doing very round hours and don't have much time for sports. Yet, they very well know their Riners, Douillet's and Van De Walles, Pertelsons etc and are willing to discuss judo. Of course these are Olympic champions and not just participants.

I would guess Douillet's judo results played big part him getting elected to a Minister of sports. Just as well as the judo background has helped many Russians in climbing the ladders.

Being merely US representative in Olympics (in particular in the old system) is really not impressive.

I think the thumb rule is that if you have to tell in your CV your accomplishments, then it does not help.

Anonymous said...

Addition to the thump rule... However, I'm not sure if in the case where your name does the trick (but the sport background does not give competence), one should accept the job. I think it will likely be unsatisfactory for both parties.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the Olympics won't get you hired, but you have the rest of your life to worry about that. The Olympics is a life changing event that so many wish to experience and participate in. If you're in the Olypmics for Judo, then you can get hired -- as a Judo teacher. You can make your living that way and then learn a new skill on your own time until you make a career out of it. You don't even need a degree in some things, just skill: having a degree or credentials doesn't mean that you're the best-of-the-best or even better than someone who doesn't. It just means you were able to make your way through a system of education. That's it.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

Judo teacher is a pretty low-paying job in general, and to get hired to teach judo at most high schools and colleges you DO need a degree, yes, even if you were an Olympian. As for college not guaranteeing you were best of the best, no, it doesn't. It does show an employer you can get your act together enough days to convince the school to give you a degree. It shows your personal problems weren't so bad that they tossed you out. It means the likelihood is good that you can read, write and compute at a reasonable level of competence. A degree is evidence that you have some knowledge of the area that was your major. Now someone without a degree MAY have that, but as an employer, I don't owe YOU anything. If someone comes along that has evidence he or she meets the job requirements, then I can hire that person and be done.

Anonymous said...

This blog needs to be posted in very dojo in the country! Of course being an Olympic champion is impressive, but being just a representative sounds like you were dedicated enough to not have a real life, but you were not quite dedicated enough to actually win.

My son had the typical judo Olympic dream as a child, but his reasoning was always that an Olympian would be accepted by Harvard. At the age of 13 and after winning many junior national championships, his coach went to prison and we were two hours from the next closest club. We kept up his training as best we could and even moved the family 300 miles in this pursuit. In the meantime, he changed his focus and, based on his other merits, was accepted into Harvard at age 16. While his recent coaches, Rhadi included, have chided him and especially me about his priorities, he does not regret his decisions, and I am betting his MD by age 23 will provide far more earning potential than that of any unemployed Olympian judo instructor with a self-funded dojo.