5 Resume Writing Tips for Former Professional Athletes

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Professional athletes develop an impressive range of skills while they compete, but it can be difficult to translate these skills onto a resume. Success in competitive sports demands a great deal of resilience, drive, personal accountability, determination, and the ability to work as part of a team. Fortunately, these same traits typically translate into success in nearly every other industry as well. When former professional athletes take the time to learn how to translate their sports experiences to the business world, they can make a strong impression on hiring managers. The following tips can help former professional athletes understand how to present their experiences to potential employers in a compelling resume.

  1. Understand the importance of keywords.

In today’s increasingly technology-driven world, many resumes are scanned by a computer before a human reads them. These systems scan for certain keywords that the company may want associated with their employees. As you begin looking for a job, pay attention to both industry-specific keywords and those related to the particular position in question. After reading through several job listings, you’ll get a sense of the general qualities that all employers are looking for, but you should also pay attention to what stands out in each listing. Some companies will emphasize certain qualities over others. Start by making a list of the desired qualities mentioned in various job listings, and see which ones come up repeatedly.

Once these keywords have been identified, incorporate them into your resume as much as possible through bullet points, or in the “objective” section, if applicable. These lists can point to some of your sports-related skills and experiences. For example, if several job listings in a particular field seem to value innovation and creativity, you can talk about the unique plays that you engineered and helped execute, and how that strategy contributed to wins for your team.

  1. Consider time spent both on and off the field.

Too often, professional athletes are limited by thinking only about what they did during games or in competition. While performance under pressure can point to success in the business world, former athletes should also consider the incredible amount of time that they put into practicing and strategizing. These skills developed off the field and behind the scenes are just as important as an athlete’s performance during games. By balancing qualities developed in both capacities, you can show that you’re a well-rounded candidate capable of operating effectively under stress, as well as preparing for that stress through diligence, critical thinking, and hard work.

  1. Think about the skills that pertain to the desired industry.

Every industry looks for people with different skills. Fortunately, athletes develop many of these skills as a matter of course in training and competition. For example, people interested in going into advertising and marketing need superb communication skills. Operating as part of a team demands excellent communication and other interpersonal skills. Many athletes also have direct experience with marketing and advertising in relation to their agents or their team’s PR activities. Pro athletes are often adept at talking with the press and conveying a certain branded message.

The skills that you choose to highlight can be listed in bullet points. Each bullet point should illuminate how you developed that skill through specific, ideally quantifiable, experiences. If you have extensive experience speaking with members of the media, for example, what were the goals of those interactions and how were those goals achieved?

Skills are related to, but distinct from, keywords. The particular skillsets related to the job in question should guide the structure and content of the bullet points on your resume. Keywords, on the other hand, are words or phrases that a reader may scan for on a first pass of your resume, such as “negotiate,” “conflict resolution,” or “motivate.” You should identify both the skills that recruiters want to see, as well as the more general keywords.

  1. Include any work done with the community.

Professional sports teams often emphasize community outreach and involvement, from speaking at local events to volunteering with area organizations. As a former athlete, you may have engaged in these service opportunities independently or as part of a team. Regardless of your motivation, participation in such initiatives indicates more than just an interest in charity. Athletes who have worked with certain populations—such as children, individuals with disabilities, or another group—have to develop special skillsets. When writing your resume, don’t overlook what you’ve learned from these interactions.

  1. Be strategic when including awards.

Awards that you have received over the course of your athletic career can be included on a resume, but you should do so strategically. If you include an award, it should serve a purpose. Awards for sportsmanship or teamwork can point to your ability to lead, or act as part of a team. Each award should point to a particular skill that translates directly to the position you’re trying to obtain. Of course, if you won a major championship, that should always be included on your resume. While these achievements can point to the culmination of hard work and determination, they also simply serve as great icebreakers during an interview. Many hiring managers may invite a former athlete for an interview simply to talk about a championship game, making them a great way for former athletes to get their foot in the door. Having an excellent resume in addition to impressive athletic achievements will help seal the deal.

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