How To Transition Successfully From Retired Athlete To Business Professional

Originally published to Forbes on March 01, 2017

As a professional athlete, you were revered by your team’s fans, rewarded financially more than you could have imagined, and able to get by with your natural talents.

But that was yesterday. Today you are a retiree, and a very young one at that. It may not happen tomorrow, the next day or even the next month, but there will be a morning when you wake up and ask, “What next?”

The transition from being a professional athlete to being an employee in a business capacity can be brutally challenging. You are used to people “yes”-ing you at every turn and agents taking care of all your needs, and now, poof, they’re gone. The team you played for last may have held a retirement ceremony, party or dinner on your behalf, but now they are off the grid, and your agent is looking for the next talent to represent. Your family life is different too, as now you are always home instead of being away for chunks of time. Everyone needs to adjust.

Plus, in your previous career, you were exposed every day to people looking to take advantage of you or your wallet, so you've developed a bit of a thick skin. Now, you must figure out which of these people you can truly trust and reach out to for advice.

Going From The Sports World To The Job Hunt

I was recently advising a retired NHL hockey player, and as much as he had experienced a long and successful career — captain of his team, winning awards along the way — he was intimidated by how he might be perceived in the business world, and was dismayed by how his LinkedIn profile compared with those already making a name for themselves in the world of business. He said, “Mark, there’s no way I can beat these people out for an interview, much less an offer. I don’t have any skills that would interest a hiring manager.”

I have good news for those of you who are hoping to make that transition: It is quite the opposite!

Each one of you has been a committed “employee” since you were just a child, putting enormous time and effort into becoming one of the best athletes on the planet, and that alone demonstrates a superior level of commitment most employers would love to have. You have also proven yourselves to be highly “manageable,” as you have been accustomed to working with a coach throughout your career.

There are many more intangible qualities you will bring to the table that most “civilian” job seekers may not have. You are likely comfortable speaking in front of the camera, the media, and large audiences — a talent that most non-athletes struggle with. This enables you to consider roles in public relations, sales and business development that others may not be qualified to fill.

The elephant in the room is deciding what to do with your celebrity status as an athlete. If you remain in the same region that you most recently played in, or happen to be a renowned player throughout the country, you may notice that the public will be excited to have the chance to interact with you. If you can demonstrate humility and grace, and steer clear of the "cocky and entitled" attitude many athletes have been ingrained with, you will find that a hiring manager will see they can leverage that celebrity status to their advantage to get you in front of clients they may not have had the chance of reaching otherwise.

How LinkedIn Can Help You Make The Next Step

In all the years I have been coaching professionals, whether it be business executives in the financial, legal, sales and marketing industries, or a variety of other professions including athletics, I can safely say the most critical element to learn and master is the ability to establish, grow and maintain a solid professional network. If you receive solid guidance on how to do this, you will leapfrog others you may be competing with, and can target and land a job offer you had only dreamed of before.

The most effective way to do so in this market is to leverage the full potential LinkedIn provides.

The vast majority of users simply leave their profile in a sedentary state, occasionally log on, accept a few invitations, and log off. As a retired athlete, you will see there are hundreds of others just like you on LinkedIn, but again, almost all of them have a simple description and fail to maximize the tremendous networking power LinkedIn can offer.

One of the first things you can do (after you have added a professional photo) is to make sure you have a solid title and summary statement on your profile. For example, if you have some exposure to finance over the years, perhaps as a day trader, you can have this as a title: Retired NFL Athlete | Financial and Equity Analysis | Public Speaker.

In your summary statement (a critical element for your job search), put together two or three sentences describing your work ethic, commitment to excellence, exposure to the media and audiences, understanding of finance (or any other area you may have an interest in), and state that you are “looking to leverage that experience into a (fill in the blank) position at a (fill in the blank) type of firm looking to increase its place in the market.”

Imagine that your dream job is the tropical island on the horizon, with palm trees and great beaches. The place you are now is the dreary place that is your couch, the same four walls, and the golf games that were fun at first but now seem like a daily grind. It is absolutely possible and doable to get to that tropical island; all it takes is a captain (or two) to guide you in the right direction and some hard work that will pay off with a job offer. You’ll soon see how just a few simple tips and strategies will make that journey toward that tropical island of a satisfying, challenging and rewarding profession far easier than what you are envisioning now.

mikah sellers