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Athletes in Finance

Why They are in Demand

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Athletes in Finance Summary: Among the credentials sought in the financial services industry is excellence in athletics, especially team sports. Careers with a sales orientation, like financial advisors, and positions that require fast-paced decision making under pressure, such as securities traders, are particularly noteworthy for attracting former athletes. As a result, if you are a former professional or amateur athlete (including, but not limited to, former competitors at the collegiate level), you should highlight this background when seeking a job in financial services.

Rationale: Former top athletes are viewed as disciplined, focused, hard-working and goal-oriented. They also are presumed to thrive under pressure. Moreover, excellence in team sports often, though not always, suggests good interpersonal skills. Where sales positions are concerned, the conventional wisdom is that former athletes will be particularly adept at small talk with sports-oriented clients, particularly male clients. Moreover, if the athlete has won national or local fame at either the amateur or professional level, he or she can be adept at winning star struck or celebrity-conscious clients.

Favored Sports: While participation in any sport, especially at the intercollegiate level, can be a plus from the standpoint of corporate recruiting and networking, some sports can be especially favored in certain corporate cultures. For example, according to Northwestern University sociologist Lauren Rivera (as quoted in "Wall Street's Lacrosse Mafia," Bloomberg Businessweek, March 26, 2012), in Wall Street firms certain niche sports whose popularity is concentrated among secondary schools in the northeast, the Ivy League and other colleges in the region are those with the most cachet. These include:

  • Lacrosse
  • Field hockey
  • Tennis
  • Squash
  • Crew

A former executive for Baltimore-based Alex. Brown, quoted in the same article, observes that a "world-class" lacrosse team could be assembled from among the employees of banking and real estate firms in that city alone.

Caveats: While former athletes in sales positions can attract certain types of clients, as noted above, they also can have difficulties winning others. Specifically, some clients automatically will be skeptical about athletes or other celebrities in financial services jobs. There are negative stereotypes about athletes’ intellectual capabilities, stereotypes that may get worse as one’s athletic prowess increases. Also, certain clients will presume that a former athlete won the job largely for his or her publicity value, and thus has a lower level of competence than the norm that is expected of people in that position. Similarly, in behind the scenes jobs such as securities trading, former athletes may be welcomed by some colleagues and given a chilly reception by others, for much the same reasons. On balance, though, the financial services industry still remains an especially welcoming environment for athletes.

Conclusion: If you have achieved some degree of success in athletics, use this as a selling point to potential employers in financial services, for the reasons outlined above. Emphasize the work ethic that your pursuits have engendered. For female athletes, playing up your competitive experience and drive can be an excellent way to smooth your path into traditionally male-dominated careers.

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