Finance Career options for Former Student-Athletes
Visitors to this site have gotten plenty of suggestions on landing multiple finance career options. But here’s an unusual resume builder to consider: sports. Increasingly, financial companies are realizing the benefits of adding former student-athletes to their staffs-notably leadership experience, drive and proven time-management skills.
So put down that scientific calculator and grab a pair of dumbbells. You might be surprised how far they can take you.
Finance Career Options:Why Hire Former Athletes?
Companies want to hire employees that are hard-working, team-oriented over-achievers. But of course, without the benefit of an internship to gauge proficiency, how can you really know for sure the candidate is something special? You can’t, but taking a chance on a former student-athlete will certainly increase the odds of a great hire.
The teamwork factor might be the most important. We’ve probably all witnessed examples of how one member of a team can make working on a project miserable. Employers know this too. Student-athletes from a team sport are highly regarded and often get fast-tracked for management, especially if they’ve been a team captain. Captains are typically voted on by peers so there’s not much of a better endorsement out there.
But student-athletes from individual sports are also highly-coveted. Val Ackerman, Big East commissioner and former basketball player at the University of Virginia, comments “if you’re a swimmer or tennis player you’re working with a greater-than-I mentality.”1
Val Ackerman, Big East commissioner and former basketball player at the University of Virginia, comments “if you’re a swimmer or tennis player you’re working with a greater-than-I mentality.”1
Tennis players have coaches but they don’t coach during matches, unlike in team sports. You have to figure out how to self-motivate, make adjustments on the fly and close out an endeavor on your own.
Nowhere was this more evident when announcers revealed that Rio Olympian and Stanford swimmer Maya Dirado who will be joining management consulting firm McKinsey & Company following the games.2 They clearly see the value in a standout student-athlete of her caliber can add to their firm. According to the book The Corporate Athlete, “today’s challenging business climate requires every top executive to be perfectly fit, both mentally and physically”.3
It’s not surprising that major banks recruit former collegiate athletes. But there are also a number of non-financial companies that actively hire former NCAA athletes including Disney’s ESPN and Enterprise Rent-A-Car.4 But the human resource departments of these corporations don’t always know the best way to pursue these hires. Luckily, there are actually “headhunters” that focus on these prospects, including Drum Associates, an executive recruiting firm with a division specializing in placing former collegiate athletes, aptly named ‘Division I’. It was started by a former Penn State tennis player, Carly Drum-O’Neill.5
Since Corporate America is increasingly focused on hiring former college athletes, you may think that these prospects don’t need the extra help. But they get overlooked more often than you’d think. First, with such a focus on grade point average, it’s extremely difficult for a student-athlete to have the time to compete head to head on a purely scholastic basis. Some compare competing on a Division I level as a 40 hour a week job. So when you see a student-athlete with excellent grades, it really speaks to their character.
Second, with the scheduling commitments required of many collegiate athletes, it is nearly impossible for them to land summer internships. This put them at a real competitive disadvantage against ambitious prospects who actively seek out internship opportunities. But when pursuing internships, make sure they are paid. A study by NACE revealed that 60% of paid interns were subsequently offered a position while unpaid interns were offered positions at basically the same rate (37%) than candidates with no internships (36%).6
What Sports Should I Focus on to Increase My Finance Career Options?
If you are an aspiring athlete (and future financial professional) or have children heading in that direction, this section provides some information on which sports offer the best chance to get to that next level, statistically. But realize that competing at the collegiate level, especially Division I, is no easy task. Just 2% of high school varsity athletes go on to compete at the Division I level.7 So, if becoming a college athlete is the goal, what sports should you consider?
Ladies, put down that basketball and lace up some skates instead. According to the NCAA, women are nearly 8 times more likely to play Division I ice hockey than basketball.8 Statistically, a remarkable 9% of girls that participated in a high school ice hockey program get on a Division I roster.9 And if just being an NCAA athlete is the goal (any division), you have a much better chance with ice hockey. Almost a quarter of all girls high school ice hockey players (23.1%) go on to play college ice hockey.10
Examples of colleges with woman’s ice hockey programs include Boston University (Division I), Lindenwood University (Division II) and Utica College (Division III). Can’t skate? Try lacrosse. 13% of girls high school lacrosse players go on to play college lacrosse.11
Guys, ditch the singlet for a lacrosse stick. Wrestlers have a 1 in 37 chance of making the transition from their high school teams to a NCAA program while high school lacrosse players have a 1 in 8 chance of playing college lacrosse.12 In fact, just 1% of high school wrestlers progress onto a Division I roster.13
Examples of colleges with lacrosse programs are Sacred Heart University (Division I), Rollins College (Division II) and Bates College (Division III). Ice hockey is a good alternative with the greatest chance of becoming a Division I athlete specifically at 4.6%.14
In summary, the best statistical chance of becoming a Division I athlete comes from lacrosse and ice hockey. And we see these sports translating to Wall Street jobs. Over the last decade, we’ve seen a pipeline of athletes head to Wall Street.
Finance Career Options: Hedge Fund Hockey Alumni
If you are looking to make it big in the hedge fund industry, ice hockey might be your best bet. Look no further than one of the top hedge fund managers, Larry Robbins of Glenview Capital Management. In addition to earning a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania, Robbins captained their men’s ice hockey team for three years.15 Robbins, a CPA, is also active in philanthropy and is on the Board of Directors for the Robin Hood Foundation.16
Another hedge fund hockey player is Phil Falcone of Harbinger Capital. Falcone played on the varsity at Harvard, then a stint in a professional Swedish league.17 His hedge fund, despite ups and downs, has been very successful and afforded Falcone the ability to purchase a minority stake in his home-state Minnesota Wild of the NHL. Falcone is reportedly worth $1.2 billion.18
Finance Career Options: Wall Street’s Lacrosse Mafia
If you are seeking top financial career options, lacrosse might be your ticket. There are a large number of collegiate lacrosse players on Wall Street and within financial firms nationwide. Bloomberg went as far as to label it Wall Street’s lacrosse ‘mafia’, attributing the ‘tribal nature’ of the sport for the networking opportunities. Examples include traders, at Goldman Sachs, Managing Directors at Merrill Lynch and portfolio managers at hedge fund Moore Capital.19
Serious financial recruiting networks exist including VLAN, the Virginia Lacrosse Alumni Network and the Friends of Princeton Lacrosse. Princeton Coach Chris Bates told Bloomberg that he will use the lacrosse programs “inroads on Wall Street” as a pitch to recruits.20 At Steven Cohen’s SAC Capital, there were reportedly five Johns Hopkins lacrosse players on the payroll at one point.21 Managers at SAC would speak with Hopkins coaches during the school year to see which student-athletes were interested in a career in finance.
Finance Career Options: Pursuing an Online MBA
But what if you didn’t play a Division I sport (which is probably the case given the odds against you)? Show the same drive by pursuing an advanced degree. Pursuing an MBA in Finance says something about a financial professional, especially if it’s completed while working. Here, some of the same attributes are on display- drive, excellent time management skills and, since the structure of an MBA is heavy in group projects, teamwork. So if you are more comfortable with a pocket protector than a puck, that’s OK, you can still reach your career goals.