Hiring A Jock Is Always The Smart Way to Go

OK – the title made you look.  You had an emotional reaction because there are a lot of dumb @#@ athletes out there who would make horrible hires.  You're right, I was just trying to manipulate you with the headline.

First up, I'm always a little taken aback by the anti-sports crowd.  Lord knows the group at FOT and some of our contributors write enough about the connection between corporate talent and sports.  There's even a website dedicated to an annual ebook featuring FOT writers and close friends of FOT writing about – you guessed it – the connection between talent and sports (download it here).  Many readers think we should stop the madness. Some have unsubscribed as a result.

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming of sports/talent metaphors to talk about something important – when does it make sense to hire a jock?  When are they going to be a better hire than a non-jock?

Sports teaches a lot of things – teamwork, drive, being coachable, time management, working towards a goal that no one but you cares if you chase, being under pressure with others actively hoping you fail, to name a few.  But sports at its worst can also raise up some ugly sides of the human condition – feelings of entitlement, thinking rules don't apply to you, an over-weighting of a single area of life, etc.

The key in knowing when hiring a jock is the right thing to do?  Find college athletes in situations where the positives outweigh the risks.  Here's my list of great times to hire a jock over a non-jock when all other things are equal:

Hire Division 1 and Division 2 major sport athletes (football and basketball) who didn't start at the collegiate level and maintained strong grades (3.0 and above) and involvement outside of sports while being on full scholarship.  Being a full scholarship athlete in a major sport is a full-time job, and if the grades are good and they still were involved in other areas of college life, odds are you are looking at a driven person who is going to fit well with

your team.  They've already been humbled – they're not playing a lot, but they've maintained all the commitments and they had to do what it took to get there in the first place.  Not easy – hire them if you can.


Hire Division 1 and Division 2, minor sport athletes who had all the qualities outlined above (strong grades, involvement outside of sports) but were on partial or no scholarship.  Being a minor sport athlete on partial or no scholarship at the D1 or D2 level isn't easy – usually these kids have the same time commitments as many of the major sport athletes and aren't doing it for the money, they're doing it because they love it.  These kids make great team members and if they've found a career area they have similar passion for, look out!  Sky is the limit.

Hire any star at the Division 3 level in any sport who had all the non-sport qualities listed above.  A dirty little secret to Division 3 is that it's all non-scholarship, and schools actively use sports participation as a general recruiting tool to drive enrollment.  It's not uncommon for D3 football programs to bring in 130 kids with the promise of playing football.  They're not providing athletic scholarships to any of them, probably just a 10K discount on a 35K annual tuition bill through grants and non-athletic scholarships.  It would have been much easier for these kids and their families to go to a cheaper, brand name state school, but there they are – chasing the dream.  There's passion and drive in these kids, so grab them when you can, they won't be available long.

So that's my cheat sheet on the best times to hire jocks.  D1 and D2 full scholarship jocks with bad grades?  Move on people – the stereotypes aren't always true, but the risk is high enough you shouldn't bite.  Sort first for GPA above 3.0 and some involvement in non-sport activities as well, then sort by D1 and D2 non-starters, D1 and D2 minor sport athletes of all types and D3 stars.

Boom.  I just gave you the formula.  Haters activate in the comments, please.


FOT Background Check

Kris Dunn
 Kris Dunn is Chief Human Resources Officer at Kinetix and a blogger at The HR Capitalist and the Founder and Executive Editor of Fistful of Talent. That makes him a career VP of HR, a blogger, a dad and a hoops junkie, the order of which changes based on his mood. Tweet him @kris_dunn. Oh, and in case you hadn't heard the good word, he's also jumped into the RPO game as part owner of a rising shop out of ATL, Kinetix. Not your mama's recruiting process outsourcing, that's for sure... check 'em out.


  1. Adam says:

    I agree. I feel the same way about sports as I do for music. Playing a sport or a musical instrument at a higher level takes a lot of hard work, discipline, and practice. It’s a hint at their true work ethic. Anyone who played (name a sport or a musical instrument) all the way through college had to work really hard to do that. The other factor is the vast majority of those people were awful at it when they first started, especially the musicians. They had to work really hard to be great.

  2. Bill says:

    I have always hired athletes but have often found kids with a GPA between 2.5 – 3.0 are committed to prove everyone wrong. They have been overlooked by the big companies because their GPAs were too low and they see their classmates take jobs they know they can do but aren’t given the opportunity. In fact, Steve Biscottt, the founder of Aerotek, had a hiring profile of former athletes with C+ – B grades for his sales force. He ended up building a $7 billion company on that profile.

  3. Kris Dunn
    Kris Dunn says:

    Adam – good point about music. Bonus points for hiring someone that can cover Nirvana on the guitar..

    Bill – Love it. Proving them wrong theory is the same reason I love hiring people from state schools, community colleges, etc…


  4. Kristy says:

    I know this is a fun article and no one actually consider this in hiring practices. “All things being equal” is a statement we all in HR know and rarely see. If by some miracle this did happen, hopefully we’ll consider more deserving individuals (read: individuals the government tells us we should hire like women, minorities and veterans.) You could argue a million characteristics make good/bad hires. First child vs. middle child. People who bought their first car with cash. Non-smokers vs. smokers. I was/am a first born, multi-athlete, band geek, student council member, blah blah blah in HS and college. You won’t see it on my resume though. I don’t need some neanderthal HR or hiring manager who is biased against one or more of them judging me on that. We all know there are a lot of haters out there. Props on writing something where you’re guaranteed to get criticism on.

  5. Steve Boese says:

    I’d even extend the theory down to HS athletes – not all of them, thinking more of the slow, undersized, 3-point shooting specialists that just could not find the room to get that shot off at the college level…. Too much a stretch? Maybe.

    Seriously, I agree with the take, and I’d even extend it as Adam suggested. Sports, music, art, cooking, heck someday maybe even video games – people that can show a mastery at something, does not really matter what, it just shows a lot about their dedication and commitment.

  6. Kris Dunn
    Kris Dunn says:

    Hey Kristy –

    You’re right – lots of those things I don’t care about – your band geek days, student council, etc. But if you played college sports, I’d consider you if you feel into one of my buckets for sure. Haters gonna hate.

    Steve – I think your YMCA coaching experience comes into play here for sure….


  7. Kendra says:

    I am a recent college graduate. ( I mean I graduated in 2010. At what point do you stop calling yourself a recnt graduate???) I was hired into a leadership develoment program and my manager tells on a regular basis that he was most interested in me because I was a D1 rower in college and mainted a GPA above a 3.5.

    He was a D3 soccer player in college so I think that won him over.

  8. P Walker says:

    Loved both your tricky headline approach and the subject matter.

    For some time now I’ve been paying attention to possible correlations of athletic or military team experience and business team operation as they relate to achieving the goal(s) or mission. The purpose of all teams. Operate a business team with little or no athletic/military team experience and then operate one full of those with either military/athletic team mentality and notice the differences. The differences can be substantial.

  9. tiffany says:

    Or maybe a #4… NAIA Athletes (b/c you know, people DO play sports outside of NCAA…) who kept over 3.0 as well as being All-American and Nat’l Champions… just a thought. 🙂

    Seriously though – totally agree and love the laugh that came along with it!

  10. Kris Dunn
    Kris Dunn says:

    Kendra – D1 rower – nothing proves my point better than that….

    P Walker – military on the same track as athletes for sure, prob even more dependable, etc…

    Tiff – NAIA? Honestly, I thought about that, but there’s some many former NAIAs that have become D2 I thought it was a rounding error. You count under the D2 banner for sure…


  11. Nicole Plant says:

    Great article on student-athletes… I do have to say, however, D3 benchwarmers aren’t so bad when your team consistently wins championships and beats D2 schools in scrimmages year after year. Just a thought 🙂 Love the message.

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