How to talk (or not) about your sports practice in a job interview?


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There is of course the emblematic example of Bill Campbell, a former American football player who became a mentor to Steve Jobs (founder of Apple), Larry Page and even Eric Schmidt (founders of Google). But he is not the only one to have successfully converted from a former athlete to a business coach. Both sport and the business world have many points in common in the way they operate. So, for athletes, you must take advantage of this during your interviews.

A good sportsman is an interesting candidate

The cardinal values ​​that we recognize in sport are resilience, the ability to surpass one's limits, the desire to improve, and for team sports, team spirit. These are all qualities that are highly valued by managers and are quite easily valued on the job market. Particularly at a time when candidates “are, rightly or wrongly, perceived less and less as doers and more and more as seeking to earn more by doing less”stings Maximilien Moriceau, former rugby player, who became CEO of Lead Mate and regularly participates in job interviews.

Certainly, determination is not an ability possessed exclusively by athletes, it is also found, for example, among players of musical instruments. But for Jean-Etienne Joullié, professor of management at the International School of Luxury Marketing and Management (EMVL) who has trained numerous recruiters, “unlike music, the practice of sport is not perceived as elitist or intellectualist”.

Appearing therefore as a more popular activity, which anyone could carry out, sporting practice “tends to reassure the recruiter about the recruit's ability to integrate into their new team”underlines Pierre Fournier, author of “The WILL method” (2023), whose approach is based on the similarities between the management of employees in a company and that of a sports team.

Not all physical activities are in the same boat

If the practice of sport is generally perceived as positive, frequency remains a determining factor. For Jean-Etienne Joullié, having physical activity is always preferable to not having physical activity at all, however you should not dwell on it too much during the interview if you have not achieved any notable performance. “The risk is to appear as needy in endurance sports, or as a prisoner of one's social class in other sports such as horse riding. »

Thus, if the management professor does not advise against talking about it (it can always create complicity), he recommends not dwelling on one's performance in the marathon if the race time is more than three hours, or on par example your equestrian activity if you don't go beyond galloping 3 or 4 after 25 years.

More co than individual sports

Furthermore, not all sports arouse the same appeal. As a general rule, it is easier to promote a team sport than an individual one. For Pierre Fournier, this hierarchy is not surprising: in business as in public administration, people work in teams. “Practicing an endurance sport, while it is synonymous with perseverance, can also sometimes be synonymous with perfectionism. »

Jean-Etienne Joullié considers that beyond the team/individual sports distinction, it is often the nature of the position that matters: “An attacker can tend to be seen as individualistic. A club president, for example, will be considered a responsible person capable of being attentive to each member of the team. »

For the EMVL professor, it is also important to keep in mind that if recruiters tend to value sporting activities, that does not mean that they are specialists. As such, it is possible that they have not heard of certain relatively recent practices such as padel, and that they therefore have difficulty positioning themselves in relation to them.

Different expectations depending on the sector

The ability to score points in your interview depends above all “the quality of the storytelling that we develop and the way in which it is articulated in relation to the coveted position”underlines Jean-Etienne Joullié.

Practicing a sport will not have the same impact in all coveted sectors either. Collective physical activity will be highly valued in the sales department where we are especially asked to establish good communication with the customer, as well as to motivate our teams and “transmit a communicative passion”.

Conversely, luxury companies are looking more for more elite profiles, explains Jean-Etienne Joullié. In this specific case, it is not certain that the practice of a sport, with the notable exception of classical dance or horse riding (we are thinking in particular of dressage), provides a comparative advantage compared to other activities such as practice of an instrument.

Sport should not be the alpha and omega of your strategy

“It should be kept in mind that if sport can make a difference, it is especially at the start of a career or for intermediate positions. For senior offers, the CV often speaks for itself”, recalls Jean-Etienne Joullié. In other words, physical activity is an element whose importance fades after ten or fifteen years: the higher the position, the more the experience and skills acquired make the difference.

The management professor also warns against the temptation to do too much. “The true champion is modest”, he recalls, emphasizing that there is nothing worse than a candidate who highlights his sporting practice and is incapable of answering a few basic questions about this activity. Jean-Etienne Joullié gives the example of an applicant who claimed to play tennis at a high level but who was unable to give his ranking. Even though he was sincere, the effect was disastrous.


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