Seven Career Transition Tips From Usain Bolt

Prepare To Win When You Make the Move

Sep 18, 2018
Management

SMITH BRAIN TRUST – Michael Jordan has done it. Brock Lesnar has done it. And now Usain Bolt is trying to do it, too. The career transition.

Bolt, an eight-time Olympic gold medalist and world champion sprinter from Jamaica, is on trial with an Australian A-League soccer team. Many consider him to be past the prime age to learn the technical skills of a new sport. But Bolt isn’t listening. He’s determined to win a permanent spot with the Central Coast Mariners.

If you’re trying to win a new job yourself, there’s probably something you can take from Bolt’s story. Think about these seven things as you work on your career transition.

1. Do research on the job (and industry) that interests you. Be curious. Start by learning what success looks like in the job you want to be doing.

Ask: what do people do in the role I’m interested in? What skills do they use to be successful? Read everything you can about the job and industry you want to move into. What are the trends? Where are the opportunities? Find out what successful people in your industry or role read on a regular basis. Then subscribe to the same newsletters and go to the same events. Meet people. Figure out how to meet someone who knows more about the job you want to do. Reach out to them. Ask for help.

2. Make a list of skills you already have to do the job. Think about where you excelled in the past. (Are you the world's fastest runner, for example?) Do you have soft skills like communication, leadership or time management that could play well in a new role? Take a skills assessment for help getting started. And remember, it’s OK to transfer nontraditional skills to a new job, as well.

Think about Usain Bolt. His incredible running ability helped him make it to training – even though he didn’t have a career playing professional soccer before. He knew he would bring attention to his new team, no matter what he did. Those two things helped get him in the door.

3. Develop new skills at your existing job or by volunteering. Once you know what skills you can transfer, decide where the gaps are. Pick one or two skills to develop, then get out there and start doing it, advises Rachel Loock, an executive MBA career coach at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “Get creative. If it’s not where you work, try to find opportunities in your community or with another organization.”

Join a local soccer team to help move toward your goal of joining a pro soccer team. Or join a local Toastmasters team if you want to work on communication.

4. Work on telling your career-transition story. You’re changing careers for a reason. Maybe you hate your current job. Maybe you have to move cities. Whatever the case, don’t lead by telling potential employers what you’re trying to escape. Instead, tell them about what draws you to this job, in this place, right now. As you learn more and read more, you’ll start to see parallels between what you do well and what it will take to do well in the next job.

5. Try, try again. Most of us will face challenges transitioning careers. Career transitions happen over time for most of us. Even Bolt might not have everything he needs to be a guaranteed success. Incredible speed helped him get the job, but that skill wouldn’t have helped him land every position.

Evan Starr, assistant professor of management and organization at Maryland Smith, points out why. “Think what would have happened if Bolt tried to get a job with Facebook’s finance team," he says. "Would he have been successful? Perhaps not, because it’s unlikely he brings the right skills and value. That’s something we all face.”

Bolt might have chosen to join Australia’s Central Coast Mariners, in part, because it was an achievable goal. He didn’t go after a premier league like Manchester United or go for something completely unrelated to athleticism.

It’s important to set your sights reasonably. Invest in yourself so that you have the skillset that employers are looking for.

6. Put yourself in the shoes of the person hiring you. This is critical. Ask what value you bring to the team you’re trying to join. Understand how your career move looks from your new employer’s perspective.

“It’s incumbent on you to connect the dots for future employers,” says Loock, who draws from years of career and leadership coaching experience. “Have examples of how what you’ve done in the past will help you succeed in the future.”

It’s probably easy to envision Bolt’s story – the professional athleticism and striving to win despite the sport. Make your story easy to envision, too.

7. Then make a career move. Ask what you’ll have to give up to make your career transition. Make sure it’s all worth it, Starr advises.

Money and time are valuable resources. The average person will have to work hard to make a personal connection with a potential future employer and find a job that is willing to pay well. So prepare well before you go for it. Like Bolt, you could make the team with luck and a lot of planning. In any case, you’ll have to be on the ball to pull it off.

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About the Expert(s)

Evan Starr

Evan Starr is an Assistant Professor of Management & Organization at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. He received a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Michigan and a bachelor's degree from Denison University. He originally hails from Claremont, California. Starr's current research examines issues at the intersection of human capital accumulation, employee mobility, entrepreneurship, and innovation.

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