Score Some Winning Insight From a Sports Recruiter’s Perspective

Sep 16, 2014

Mel playing soccerRecently, I’ve become immersed in some unfamiliar recruiting territory — collegiate sports! As I work with my son, a student athlete, to navigate the college exploration process, I’m noticing many similarities between these two worlds of talent search.

Last month, I met Jay, a sports recruiter/scout who has placed numerous incredible college athletes through the years. Many of his “picks” have gone on to play sports professionally. Jay and I spoke at length about our industries and I asked him the secrets to his success as a recruiter, albeit in another realm.

If you find solutions to your professional challenges by looking to other industries, read his valuable perspective on sports recruiting success, as well as my related observations.

College sport recruiters are not desk jockeys. They are the feet on the street. They physically visit players’ hangouts, traveling to tournaments, school matches, and summer sports camps. Scouts take road trips and talk to as many players, parents and coaches as they can. It’s not enough to meet up via social media and chat on the phone! They network — and so should corporate recruiters. A strong network based on face-to-face rapport is required to build long-lasting professional relationships.

College sports recruiters take a long-term approach to prospecting. According to Jay, future need is the driving force behind a healthy sport recruiting program. There are numerous touch points between recruiters and athletes long before the college search begins. Likewise, a talent pipeline can be developed to help strategically establish connections with qualified candidates, long term and before they begin looking for a job. Of course it is vital that both sports and corporate recruiters are fully immersed in their organizations’ strategic planning and vision for the future.

College sports recruiters are painfully honest — and that’s a good thing! Just like business, college sports recruiting is all about fit. The biggest difference is that in sports, a recruiter will tell an athlete precisely what the team is looking for and why he/she does not suits their needs. Certainly, a corporate recruiter is limited in what they can divulge to prospects because of legal risk. However, if we can go beyond stock rejection letters and provide warm rejections with constructive feedback, candidates will have a more positive experience, enhancing the recruitment brand.

College sports recruiters are the foremost authorities in their industry. In college sports, recruiters like Jay can’t succeed unless they are at the pinnacle of expertise in their respective sports –there’s virtually no one in their industry that knows more about teams, coaches, and players across all levels of their business. Similarly, corporate recruiters should know the news, trends, and people that are shaping their particular industry and impacting the workforce.

College sports recruiters must master the art of negotiating. The sports scout must do a powerfully convincing job of “selling” to people on both sides of the “deal” — both the coaches and the athletes. On the corporate front, HR has a similar challenge when filling jobs. We need to be savvy marketers  (who have to “sell” our firm’s unique culture) — while “selling” the skills and experience of our top candidates to hiring managers and executives.

College sports recruiters take risks and advocate for “diamonds in the rough.” An important aspect to sports recruiting is being able to spot potential. A player may not be a high-scoring super star, but could show signs of coachability, unique attributes, or promise. Many of these insightful picks go on to dramatically rise up the ranks in the future. As recruiters, we have to look beyond those who seem “perfect on paper” and get to know the special qualities of applicants who have uncommon skills, talents, and above all, a winning attitude.

College sports recruiters know that many superstars are invisible. Sure, most high school sports stars have slick highlight videos and attend events where they are sure to be seen, but there are plenty of stories of athletes being “discovered” in unlikely locations, such as neighborhood basketball courts or on international tracks and sports fields. Corporate recruiters, like sports scouts, need to look beyond the obvious talent sources. For example, almost everyone in our industry now sources on Linkedin, but not every candidate wants to be found there! Quora, Meetup, and Google+ are just a few of many creative places to connect with untapped, industry-specific professionals.

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