Understanding and Securing Talent in Sport

Posted by in Career Advice, HR, Jim Chaplin


When I talk to colleagues in the recruitment industry about recruiting in sport, there are two standard responses: the first is, “that must be easy” and the second is “can I have a job?” Both responses won’t surprise many people working in sport. Our industry is glamorous and popular and lots of people would love to be a part of it. However, whilst the skills required of a sales person, a marketeer, or a finance, HR and IT professional are broadly the same in the sports industry as they are in any other sector, we all know only too well, it takes a particular type of person to flourish within it.

Finding candidates with this ‘X factor’ is a real challenge for sports employers and the time pressured and results driven environment in which we all work, makes it even harder. Therefore, when the right candidate does come along, it is vital that the employer moves quickly and decisively.

This article sets out some of the emerging trends that we have identified in candidate expectations in recent times and offers some advice on the best way to secure the best talent.

Understanding Talent

Talking to hundreds of candidates from across the industry each week, we have been able to put together some of the key drivers influencing candidate decision making which employers need to focus on and address throughout the recruitment process. The employers that take time to understand their candidates and to work out how best to “engage” them will be most likely to meet their objectives.

We have grouped candidates into four broad categories and identified the key and unique factors in each of them as follows:

1. The seasoned campaigner: typically individuals who graduated before 1990, this group will invariably start interviews with our consultant team by stating that the next job is not about the money but about the ‘project’. And often, they mean it (but still want their previous salary met). This group need to be excited and inspired by the project. They will want to make a difference and have an impact.

The employer needs to set this out clearly from the outset by defining the scope of project, the objectives and goals to be met and the opportunity for an impact to be made. The best candidates will talk more about the potential opportunity than about their previous experiences and how well they have done!

2. The nervy 90s: typically candidates who graduated in the 1990s. The recession has made many of these candidates more risk averse. They are often struggling under the weight of increased cost of living, rising taxation, mortgages and child care costs. Many are cynical about discretionary bonuses and how easy they are to attain, and will want to negotiate hard for higher base salaries and fixed guaranteed bonuses or clear commission schemes. Additional benefits around health, pension and insurance are seen as ‘nice to haves’ but extra salary each month will be their preference. Career progression is, of course, important but most will want solidity as well as the resources and support from above to deliver in their role.

Employers need to provide this reassurance, to demonstrate the long term vision and explain clearly the role that the candidate can play within the organisation. Paying a little more on base salary is sometimes a sensible investment because, in return, they will get employees who will work long hours and will form the solid engine room around which the business can grow.

3. The noughties graduates: this often much maligned group are frequently stereotyped as ‘wanting everything immediately without being prepared to put in the hard graft’. Whilst it is true that this generation may move jobs more often, may work in a very different way from previous generations and may have unrealistic expectations regarding remuneration and benefits, their fundamental motivations haven’t actually altered significantly. Good candidates will still continue to make decisions based on career progression, culture of the organisation, opportunity, location and salary.

Employers need to recognise these shifts but also accommodate and harness their creativity, sense of adventure and ability to challenge the status quo. Organisations that can market this offering effectively to potential candidates will be the ones that attract the best. Of particular importance to this group is providing an understanding of who will manage them and how they will be managed. This generation do not tend to respond well to autocratic or micro-managed styles preferring instead more collaborative and consensual styles that allow them autonomy but still within a defined framework.

4. The newly qualified: never has it been harder for graduates to find jobs and unsurprisingly the sports industry is no different. The best candidates will continue to be highly sought after though, and there is no excuse for a sloppy process at a level which is hard to recruit effectively at. The best ones will ask plenty of questions about training, mentoring and opportunities for progression.

Employers within sport need to realise that they are competing against blue chip companies investing considerable amounts each year in this area. Candidates will be cynical about being ‘used’ as cheap labour and jettisoned once they have served their purpose. Employers should expect (and want) to be challenged by this group.

Securing Talent

This final part of the process, the offer and acceptance, is often underestimated. It is often complex, emotional and genuinely difficult for really good candidates to make the final decision: people who are good at their jobs tend to be well valued and looked after by their organisations. They also tend to feel loyalty to these organisations as they will have invested considerable time and energy into being successful in their existing roles.
This often means that the reluctance of employers, exacerbated by the recession, to make decisions on hiring can be problematic for short-listed candidates. Often, ‘just one more interview’ is needed before an offer can be made and one more person involved in the interview process. The consequence of this is that the process loses momentum and one party decides that they have had enough. Strict timelines and clear establishment of the process at the outset is vital. If at the end of this, employers are still unsure, my advice is invariably to start again. There is no point trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Finally, employers need to give candidates time to make their decision. Far too often, the employer puts a candidate through a three month, multi-interview process and then expects an answer within 24 hours to their offer!

About the Author: Jim Chaplin – European Managing Partner

Based in London and Lausanne, Jim has accountability for the successful performance and growth of the EMEA business. Jim works closely with clients to build and manage world-class executive search and senior management recruitment processes. As well as leading on a range of executive search assignments with particular focus on rights holders, clubs & teams, agencies and international federations, Jim works with clients in a consulting capacity to align the senior and executive management structure to overall business strategy.