5 Recruiting Lessons to Learn from Sports Teams

Jason Lovelace


Phil Jackson once said, “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” With the highest winning percentage of any NBA Hall of Fame coach and an NBA-record 11 championships, it’s safe to say he knows a thing or two about putting together successful teams.

No matter what business you’re in, your company’s most valuable asset is the talent, experiences and potential of your employees. That’s true for all organizations, but none more visibly than professional sports teams. And unlike too many businesses, most pro teams recognize and support recruitment’s role in their overall success. As a result, there are quite a few lessons we can learn from how professional sports teams recruit talent that you can apply to your own, non-athletic recruiting strategy.

Using AI to Scout Future Stars
Ever since Brad Pitt taught us how data can be used to put together an unexpectedly successful baseball team, companies and sports organizations alike have been looking for ways to utilize that strategy for themselves. But today’s teams don’t stop there.

Professional sports teams in everything from hockey to basketball to, of course, baseball have begun utilizing breakthroughs in artificial intelligence technology to help identify potential in players they may have otherwise overlooked.

Big Data is great, but the one major drawback is comprehending the data and finding what’s useful. That’s where AI comes in – for pro sports and for your recruiting process. While AI is making it easier for coaches and scouts to determine how players move and react, AI technology like semantic search is being deployed in resume databases to deliver better candidate search results. It’s also being used in recruitment technology platforms to calculate the likelihood that a candidate will accept a particular job offer. And that’s just the start.

In a competitive talent market, that kind of information can give your company a real edge.

Staying Connected With Prospects
In many ways, free agent season can be just as exciting as the regular season. When a big star’s contract is up and he or she can field offers from other teams, the rumor mills start churning at double time. With sports reporters trying to scoop one another and Twitter theories flying, you realize just how important clear communication is to successful recruitment.

Hopefully your recruitment process won’t have the same kind of spectacle around it as, say, LeBron James taking his talents to South Beach (and then back to Cleveland and now to LA). But behind all the hype, this process does have a lot in common with recruiting top talent for your business. You can never be sure who else they’re talking to or what kind of offers they’re fielding. One thing that you can bank on, though, is that poor communication during the hiring process is often more than enough reason for them to take their talents elsewhere.

According to CareerBuilder research, 81 percent of job seekers say that continuously communicating status updates would significantly improve their application experience. That’s why choosing technology that makes it easy to quickly and easily communicate with candidates throughout the hiring process can mean the difference of that star candidate going to you or your competitor.

Checking Into Their Past Behaviors
Once they’re a part of the team, all employees become brand representatives. Pro athletes are an extreme example of this – they literally wear the organization’s name on their chests in front of millions of people every week. So, knowing about their past and what it might suggest about their future actions and performance is something pro sports teams take very seriously.

Coaches and managers may be experts in sizing up players’ abilities from game footage or watching combine workouts, but they tend to have less experience digging into candidates’ pasts looking for red flags. That’s why many NFL teams turn to seasoned professionals – from former private investigators to even a former director of U.S. Secret Service –  to dig up potential dirt.

Conducting background screenings on your applicants is crucial to ensuring a safe working environment and preventing the high costs of a bad hire. Given that your employees might not be quite so high profile as a star NFL quarterback, hiring former intelligence agents may be a bit much, but it’s still important to use a trustworthy background check provider with experience to quickly and thoroughly investigate your candidates before handing them a job offer. Bonus points if they provide a great candidate experience, so you don’t lose any applicants along the way.

Onboarding New Players
When a pro athlete joins a new team, most of the focus is on how quickly and effectively they can prove themselves in practices and on the field. In this atmosphere notorious for the dog-eat-dog, sink-or-swim mentality, the Miami Dolphins are opting for a different approach. Their rookie mini-camp featured no pads, no footballs and no on-field practices. Instead, Dolphins rookies spent the three-day mini-camp in classroom sessions designed to help them get up to speed on the team’s playbook and organizational culture.

The Dolphins are sending a clear message to their newest members – the organization expects a lot from you, but is also invested in helping you be successful. And just because your new employees may not be expected to perform well in front of packed stadiums or handle high profile press interviews each week doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the same reassurance when they join your business.

Providing new employees with a great onboarding process is much more important than many employers realize. A recent study found that a negative onboarding experience makes workers twice as likely to look for a new job in the near future. Yet 55 percent of employers say they don’t measure the effectiveness of their onboarding processes. Talent is the backbone of any organization. Employers need to take steps to ensure they’re taking good care of their most valuable asset from day one.

Building Your Brand
Whether it’s a long history of championships, the opportunity to work with a legendary coach, or the chance to build something new, many professional sports teams use their reputation as a major selling point when courting top talent. Teams like the Los Angeles Lakers or the New York Yankees can attract a lot of high-quality players simply because they’re so iconic. Who wouldn’t like to see their name stitched on the back of one of those jerseys?

Professional sports teams know the power of a quality brand, and your organization can tap into that power as well. Even if you’re not a household-name consumer brand, it’s important to develop a clear, positive employment brand to showcase what’s great about working for your organization.

For starters, a high-quality career page on your organization’s website can make a world of difference. You can also up your company’s name recognition and credibility within the industry by encouraging your executives to take part in seminars and panels, or sharing their wisdom through thought leadership pieces. New employees may not get to play for Phil Jackson, but they’ll get to work for the Phil Jackson of your industry.

Learn how one tool can solve all of your recruiting challenges.



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