I’m an NFL draft junkie. I’ll admit it. I have a problem.

I love everything about it. The combine, pro days and the jockeying for position among the teams. Leading up to the big day, I watch as much of the combine as I can, usually after my wife and kids go to bed. I don’t personally assess how good or bad a player is based on how fast he can run or jump, but I to start to listen to what teams might be thinking and how they will assess certain attributes. Being in the business of talent for the majority of my career, I love to understand how teams approach building a winner and assessing their needs.

One word you hear over and over during the draft is POTENTIAL. Every player in the draft has potential. Some are believed to have a very high ceiling, while others are perceived to have more limited potential based on their physical attributes and past performance. When NFL teams are preparing for the draft and building their rosters, they’re not looking for someone with the more experience or that went to the biggest school. Carson Wentz was the 2nd overall pick of the draft with only two years as a starter at an FCS school. He went #2 overall because of his potential to be a franchise quarterback and not because of the number of years of experience.

The same is true for anyone pursuing a career outside the NFL. For those of you graduating this year, or making a career change, your potential is a key asset to starting your new career. You don’t have years and years of professional experience to draw upon, so that’s not the reason you are going to get hired. You’re going to get hired into your first job based on your POTENTIAL to be great in the job and grow with the company.

So how do you leverage your potential when searching for your first career opportunity? Here are three quick steps to help you get started.


Understand Your Value 

As a new grad or someone making a career change, your value to a prospective employer does not in your professional experience. You may have some relevant experience from internships or previous jobs, but in all likelihood, your biggest asset is going to be in your intangibles. All the things that make athletes unique – competitiveness, teamwork, time management, goal-oriented, etc. Do a quick self assessment to better understand your strengths and your competitive advantage in the job market. 

Here is a quick exercise to help you get started. On a piece of paper, draw a line down the center. At the top of the left hand column write the word “Same.” One the right hand column write the word “Different.” Now think about the job or type of job that you are interested in and the type of people that would be applying for that job. This is your competition. In the “Same” column, you are going to write all the ways that you are the same as those people that you will be competing with for that job. In the “Different” column, you will write down all of the ways that you are different. This could include your athletic experience, personal accomplishments, character traits, volunteerism, internships, etc. Everything in that “Different” column is now your point of differentiation. This is how you are going to stand out from the competition. And now you can use this information to formulate responses to interview questions that set you apart from the crowd.

Click HERE and get a form I put together for this exercise.


Develop a Strategy

After you have taken the time to understand your point of differentiation and your value in the market, you need to start to find companies that are searching for what you have to offer. This could come in many different forms depending on your long term career goals and interests. If you’re unsure what those goals are, that’s OK. You don’t need to know where you’re going to be doing in 15 years. But you need to start to have a plan for where you THINK you’d like to be in 5, 10 or 15 years. Build out your career hypothesis and start somewhere. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it has to be started.

After you have found companies and opportunities that need what you have to offer, your strategy turns to how you are going to communicate that to the market. This could come in the form of cold emails to prospective employers, LinkedIn connections, your resume/cover letter, an elevator pitch, interviews and much more. You need to tell the marketplace, “This is who I am and this is what I have to offer!” Sometimes that will be very direct and other times it will be very subtle. Some of the more subtle ways are posting relevant articles and content on LinkedIn or Twitter. You could also join in on Twitter chats or professional groups to build your network in those areas. Local meetups are also a great venue to for telling your story and branding yourself in your field of interest. Get creative and have fun with telling your story!


Leverage Your Athletic Experience

Your experience as an athlete will help you demonstrate how you have achieved, and exceeded, your potential in the past. This could come in the form of how you worked to develop a particular weakness or the steps you took to overcome obstacles and achieve a stretch goal that you set for yourself. Remember, when you have limited professional experience, you need to draw upon other areas of your life where you have demonstrated success. Being an athlete provides you an awesome opportunity for you to do that.

It’s easy to dwell on the fact that you don’t have as much experience as others. That you weren’t able to do the internships during your college career because of all the time you put into competing as a student-athlete. But you need to understand that there is so much more to assessing someone for a job than specific experience. Much like the NFL draft, companies are looking for people with POTENTIAL to be great, not always the ones that have the most experience. That means you need to be prepared. Put in the work and develop a plan. Be confident in what you bring to the table and how your value will contribute to the company’s success.

Understand your value, find the people that need what you have and communicate your value to those that need it.

Go live up to YOUR potential!

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