Former Athlete Cover Letter

Posted by Liz Seasholtz on May 5, 2011

Although many student athletes grow up clicking the heels of their ruby red Air Jordans and dreaming of going pro, the reality is that very few go on to be career athletes. In fact, according to the NCAA, only 1 percent of college athletes go on to play professionally—the rest enter the briefcase-toting world just like the rest of us.

But just because you’ve traded the locker room for the boardroom doesn’t mean you should put your glory days behind you altogether. Here are some tips for how to highlight your athletic background on a resume, in an interview, and once you’re on the job.

Where do sports belong on a resume?
College athletes should always list relevant work experience and internships first on their resumes. The best place to list sports involvement is in a subsequent “activities” section. However, because of their fulltime commitment to sports, some student athletes may not have had the time to complete internships or take on a summer job. Under these circumstances, Kelly Watson Muther, director of scholarships and career services for The University of Kansas Athletics Department, says students can list their sports first in the “experience” section. Many times the schedule of a student athlete is as time-consuming as a fulltime job. “It often adds up to more than a 40-hour work week commitment,” says Watson Muther. In addition, traits that athletes possess resemble those of a good employee: dedication, punctuality, and communication skills. This is especially true if you had some kind of leadership position on the team, such as the captain.

How should sports be played on a resume?
When creating the bullet points that outline your sports involvement, it’s all about the keywords and phrases you use. Expressed properly, your interviewer will be able to see how your on-the-field skills will translate in the workplace. For example, instead of stating that you were “Punctual to all practices,” you could say, “Excellent time management skills. Balanced a 40+ hour practice, training, competition, and travel schedule, in addition to academics.” Other key phrases to consider using are “coachable,” “dedicated,” and “team player.”

If you were a team captain, use your resume as an opportunity to expand on your leadership abilities. Focus on practical skills you used as a leader; for example, “effectively managed communications between 24 team members,” “served as a liaison between the team and coaching staff,” and “effectively resolved intra-team conflicts.”

How should you discuss sports in an interview?
Although athletics may be a big part of your life, your interviewer may not have a similar background. “It’s important to draw on other experiences outside of sports,” says Kevin Wall, director of student athlete support services at Syracuse University. “You don’t want to be an athlete that happens to be an engineer—you should be an engineer who happens to be an athlete.”

That said, it is appropriate to mention your athletic background in an interview; just do it in moderation. A good time to draw on lessons learned in sports is when responding to questions. When asked, “What is your greatest weakness?” an athlete could respond with a sports anecdote: “My competitiveness. In college, I was known to be very aggressive when playing basketball. But I’ve really learned to channel this energy. Instead of yelling at my competitors, I’ll exert my energy into the game.” And then relate to the working world: “I think this will really help me for this sales position. I’ve learned to really thrive in a competitive atmosphere, and I think this will allow me to exceed my sales goals.”

What does being an athlete say about you as a job candidate?
A successful career as an athlete says you have great potential as an employee. Here are a few qualities that are relatable:
•   You’re accountable for yourself and your goals, but you also are used to working in a team dynamic.
•   You can balance academics and sports, and you’re used to managing your time.
•   You have a strong work ethic and are dedicated to your goals.
•   You’re used to the public spotlight, and the pressure and scrutiny that comes with it.
•   You have good mentoring and leadership skills, especially as a captain.
•   You’re proficient with team dynamics and dealing with different personality types.
•   You have mental toughness and are able to handle let-down and defeat.

About the Author

Improve Your Sports Career Cover Letter

The cover letter allows your personality to shine through, gives you the chance to promote highlights in your resume and introduce yourself, allows you to tailor your message to the individual employer, and gives you a chance to describe why you’re a good fit for the job. It is a powerful tool!

It is also your chance to display your communication skills and your level of commitment and enthusiasm regarding the open sports career position.

  Here are a few tips to give your cover letter a boost:

Personalize Your Cover Letter

Most suggest cutting down your resume to a single page, or at the very least shorten it. The cover letter allows you to offer specifics that may not show up on your resume.

If you earned all-conference honors in football and now you’re applying for a football coaching position, the cover letter offers you a chance to talk about that experience. While the resume may be reduced to, “Earned all-conference honors in football,” the cover letter allows the chance to talk about the reasons you were able to accomplish that honor.

If organizing is your strength, make sure that shows through in your cover letter. If it’s creativity, let that skill show through in a professional but stylish cover letter.

Target Cover Letter to Specific Position

Ideally, you should not have to make many changes to your sports career resume, but be prepared to make significant changes to each cover letter.

A vastly different cover letter is often needed if one position you are pursuing is significantly different from another you are attempting to land.

Focus on the attributes that will help you be the best candidate for the position. If there is an advertisement or a contact indicates what the qualifications for the position are, review those qualifications and address each one.

Focus on why you are a good fit for the job as you talk about your qualifications.

If you do not meet one of the qualifications, now is your chance to explain why the employer should make an exception. Suppose they are looking for five years of experience, but you only have three years. You may note, “While I have only coached high school football for three years, I played college football all four years and earned all-conference honors.”

Certainly do not lie or exaggerate, as you don’t want to start a job this way, risk losing the job over this issue in the future, or have this as a worry in the back of your mind.

Highlight Connections with Prospective Employer

If you have some personal connections to a prospective employer, be sure to mention those in the cover letter. This will allow people reading your cover letter to make that association.

Say you’re applying for a job with a minor league baseball team after graduating from college. While in high school, you worked with this team in concessions. Don’t assume that everyone will instantly recognize your name. Remember, positions change, and perhaps a person or two in the decision process may not be aware of your past service.

Perhaps your former boss, Mr. Smith, whose opinion is respected, has mentioned that you will be applying.

Now when you mention your previous ties to the club, the reader may think, “Oh yeah, this is the applicant Mr. Smith told me about.” Also, use LinkedIn to discover connections to the company you may not be aware of.

Highlight Accomplishments in Resume Suited to Job

So in college and your first few years out of school, you have piled up accomplishments working in the athletic department at a small school. You’re looking to move onto a new challenge and, to your credit, the list of accomplishments on your resume is a long one.

The cover letter offers you a chance to highlight a few of the accomplishments that best apply to the specific position you are pursuing. If you’re applying for a sports information job, you might write, “I received many honors in school, but one I’m especially proud of was being honored by the College Sports Information Directors Association in 2005 for …”

Request an Interview

Once you have concisely told the reader why you would be a great fit for the job, be sure to express your interest in meeting with your prospective employer.  This again shows enthusiasm and will remind the reader to review your contact information.


Besides re-reading the cover letter yourself, be sure to have a trusted friend or two read the letter. If someone in the field you know can review the letter, even better. Encourage them to not only mark typos but critique your overall letter and suggest any ideas they may have.

Perhaps you will agree, disagree, or come to some decision in the middle. But you will be actively thinking about how best to communicate your experiences and qualifications. Remember, you are going to be writing different cover letters to each specific position, so carefully proofread each time.


Updated by Rich Campbell

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