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How sports can teach you to hire better

Updated: Sep 3



Quotes like the one from Michael Jordan above need no introduction. For centuries, the world of sports and sports people have provided motivation to millions of people around the world. The perseverance and achievement unlocked when playing a sport is something that gives us positive spillover into all areas of our lives.


But how can the lessons from the pitch or the court translate into our hiring practices? Can recruiters learn something from the world of sports?


The answer is 100% yes and let’s unravel a few main reasons.



Data helps - but it’s not perfect


Recruiters try their best to use various metrics to measure the success of their hiring or even to identify the perfect candidate. Ultimately the end hire is a more complex mix of intuition, timing and the needs of the hiring manager.


The same applies to the world of sports. Did Juan Mata really score that goal for Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final almost 10 years ago? Did the hawk-eye technology at last year’s Wimbledon work correctly? These are questions that plague most professional sports as technology is used to try to remove any possible errors of judgement.



But as the picture above shows, sometimes there can’t be a truly perfect answer when you are dealing with people. In recruitment, the same applies. Whilst we can leverage data to define a better vacancy or match with the right talent faster (as mentioned in our previous post), it won’t be perfect.


Accepting the imperfect perfection of data is important. Only by understanding that data is used to inform not make decisions, can we become better recruiters. Likewise a tennis player or a football player cannot rely on these technologies to ensure a win.


Know the worth of your talent


Leaving aside the fact that recruiters themselves are already underpaid by about $45,000 a year according to a recent study, talent also needs to be rewarded.


The salaries of top NFL, NBA, football, tennis, athletics and other stars may be a step too far for most but they are ultimately being rewarded for their performance. The same logic needs to be applied to talent in a company.


If a specific engineer is filling a huge skills gap on the team or if a new marketeer is going to drive a huge amount of growth for a company’s product, reward them appropriately. Many fast-growing companies don’t acknowledge that at some point, top talent needs top rewards. Yes you can hire someone cheaper but don’t expect the same results. One look at the diagram below and you’ll see what we mean...



In this sense, the world of sports again teaches us that top talent needs to be valued appropriately to build the necessary retention. When a player or employee feels undervalued, they will leave the team for greener pastures.


Training training training


On average it takes 12 to 20 weeks to train for a marathon. F1 drivers train 7 days a week for months before the new tour begins. And preparing for the Olympics takes years.


Companies also need to invest in their employees. Learning a new skill and being challenged at work are some of the most important values to the new generation of hires. Training needs to become an essential part of a company’s HR budget, not an afterthought. Learning is an ongoing process for both recruiters and new hires, in the same way sportspeople train constantly.


The benefits are undeniable: continued performance, widened skill set and the feeling of worth that the company is investing in you. There really is no excuse for companies anymore. Play to win is a philosophy that translates directly from the sporting world into the company environment.


Play as a team


One of the most classic but important lessons from the world is sports is the value of a team. A gymnast is nothing without their trainer just as much as a rugby forward needs a solid line of backs in case the ball changes hands.


Recruitment also cannot happen in a vacuum. The costs of a failed hire are much greater than the cost of investing extra time to consult on potential hires and make the right decision. A dedicated group of people should be investing time into this hiring process, not considering it a necessary evil as many hiring managers do.


Even if you’re a solopreneur, you still need to have a team around you. Find mentors, advisors, experts or even fellow entrepreneurs to help guide your decision making. Hiring the right people requires some level of diverse opinion backing it, not just an individual’s bias.


Sports teaches us the value of playing together and achieving a common outcome. Unless the different parts of a team communicate and fit together, the whole project is compromised.


Always have substitutes ready



A head coach should always be actively looking for talent, for that next transfer window or for the unknown challenges life throws at you. Recruitment is no different.


Even when there are no available positions, recruiters and business owners should constantly be looking for new team members. You never know what you might need in the future. In this sense, a talent community is an essential part of your recruitment marketing activities, and a way to activate passive talent for future needs.


And make sure those substitutes you do line up are good quality. DOn’t compromise quality at any stage of the process or the substitution will cause more damage than good. This is the same in the world of sport...an ice hockey team needs high quality substitutes who can jump into the rink and play as well as the injured player.


So there you have it, the bridge between sports and talent acquisition. There are a lot of overlapping lessons that can help you become a better, more focused recruiter. To learn more about how we bridge industries through our workshops, check out our website here.


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