7 Job Search Tips You Can Learn from Pro Athletes

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: February 13, 2013

Athletes Can Show Us More Than Their Moves

Americans love their professional sports. According to recent survey done by ESPN, 74% of Americans watch four or more hours of professional sports on television per week!

As we root for our favorite teams and players, it’s hard to remember that professional athletes are just that: professional. Yes, as tough as it is to believe sometimes, and despite the envious lifestyle of guys like LeBron James, shooting hoops is a J.O.B. Just like the rest of us, professional athletes change jobs, get promoted, get fired, have bad days at work, and make moves that can make—or break—their careers. And they do it in a very public manner.

So what can today’s job seekers learn from professional athletes? This article explores seven lessons from seven pro athletes you can apply to your job search.

7. Jeremy Lin, Professional Basketball Player

Lesson Learned: The first step to success is getting your foot in the door.

Most NBA players have spent much of their lives as highly touted prospects, but Jeremy Lin was a non-scholarship player who went undrafted out of Harvard University. He started 2011 as a third-string point guard for the New York Knicks, Lin, if he was known for anything, was known for spending more time on the bench than on the court.

On the verge of being cut for the third time, coaches allowed him to play for the first time on February 4, 2012. The team was struggling big-time, so why not? He earned 25 points, and and the opportunity to start in the next game. Lin went on to make NBA history by scoring 136 points in five starts and went from sleeping on teammate’s couches to becoming a household name.

Just like the frustrated but talented job seeker, Lin proves getting your foot in the door and capitalizing on opportunities that present themselves can give you the chance to show your stuff. 

6. Dana Torres, US Olympic Swimmer

Lesson Learned: You’re never too old to make a splash.

If you think your age is holding you back in your career, consider Torres. She had a long and storied career as a swimmer, but she wasn’t ready to sit on the sidelines quite yet. In 2000, at age 33, Torres became the oldest member of the U.S. Olympic Swim Team. In 2008, at age 41, she became the oldest swimmer ever to earn a place on the Olympic team.  

Just like Olympians competing for a spot on the team, the job market is brutally competitive right now. And that goes double for older workers. But if you can prove you have right skill set and can get the job done, age shouldn’t matter.

5. Bobby Orr, Hall of Fame Hockey Player

Lesson Learned: It pays to negotiate your salary.

In 1966, the Boston Bruins offered rookie hockey player Bobby Orr a salary of $9,000. In an unprecedented move—rookies simply did not negotiate their salaries—Orr turned them down and hired an agent. He knew how talented he was, he knew how much the Bruins needed him, and he knew how much he was worth. As a result, he became the highest paid player in the NHL.

We know jobs are scarce and individual circumstances vary, but you should ALWAYS negotiate. Always. Never accept the initial offer and take a page out of Orr's book, because it really does pay to hold out for what you’re worth. You can start with research and knowing what you're worth, using Salary.com's free Salary Wizard.

4. Tiger Woods, Professional Golfer

Lesson Learned: Keep your resume clean.

For most of his career, Tiger Woods was one of the best golfers in the game’s history. But more than that, he had an extremely clean resume and a pristine reputation. But in 2009, when his marriage and life fell apart in a very public way, his irreproachable past seemed to no longer matter. Since 2009, Woods’ endorsements have dropped significantly, proving major mistakes can follow you for the rest of your career.

The harm done to your professional life will depend on your past transgressions and the job to which you're applying. If there have been blips in your career that might be preventing you from getting a job, speak to a career counselor about how to manage them on your resume and during job interviews to minimize the impact.

3. Mary Lou Retton, US Olympic Gymnast

Lesson Learned: Visualization improves performance.

At the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, Retton became the first gymnast to win the all-around gold medal. Following the win, Time magazine reported in an Olympics story, "On the night before the finals in women’s gymnastics, famous athlete Mary Lou Retton, then 16, lay in bed at the Olympic Village mentally rehearsing her performance ritual."

Before you interview for your next job, try visualizing your performance—including common interview questions and your answers. You may not win a gold medal, but a second interview could lead to a first place finish.

2. Christie Rampone, Professional Soccer Player

Lesson Learned: You can have it all.

Not only is Rampone a world-class athlete, she is also the mother to Rylie, 6, and Reece, 2. Despite a tough training regimen and more than 200 days on the road in 2012, Rampone, with the help of her husband, somehow managed to balance being an athlete, teammate, mother, wife, and leader—and did so gracefully.

So if you’re wondering whether that big promotion will wreak havoc on your home life, carefully consider your support system before you decide not to go for it. You may be capable of more than you think.

1. Danny Ainge, Professional Baseball & Basketball Player

Lesson Learned: Switching careers can be a good move.

After graduating from Brigham Young University, Ainge signed with the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team. Three seasons into his career, he decided to leave baseball behind in order to pursue a career as a professional basketball player. He signed on with the Boston Celtics, and was an instrumental player in their 1985-86 seasons, where they were one of the most successful basketball teams of all time. Ainge played 14 seasons of professional basketball with the Celtics, Sacramento Kings, and Phoenix Suns.

Ainge is proof that making a mid-career switch can pay off in a big way if you're not afraid to take a chance. If you think you’re in the wrong career or have no passion for what you’re doing, do some serious soul searching sooner rather than later. 

You Can't Go Pro Without Practice

Professional athletes are supremely talented, just like job seekers. But athletes make big money, and the superstars often go through intense negotiations. You should always negotiate as well, and Salary.com can help.

The first thing you should do is research, so you're able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what's a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.

Good luck.