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by Kristina Henry

September 24, 2013

Getting a fin up on the competition

Swimmers, like many athletes, can be extremely focused and driven. Some are kinetic while others are relaxed. They work in a variety of professions. Some swim for fitness and some for social reasons and many thrive on competition. All have lives outside of the pool, but time spent in the pool can be an asset in applying for a job.

An individual who competes in swim meets—accustomed to pressure and stress in competition—might have a disciplined and focused nature and might be seen as well-suited to a high-powered sales job. A lap swimmer might be mentally determined and goal-oriented and suited to extended projects.

These are broad generalizations, but corporate recruiters and human resources professionals agree that a well-rounded person with several interests might have a leg (or fin) up on the competition. Although employers are not permitted to delve too deeply into someone's personal life (and prospective employees are advised not to drone on about their hobbies for fear of coming off as blowhards), sometimes a mention of off-hours activities can offer a glimpse into their personalities.

“A lot of corporations, especially those with government contracts, must be compliant with equal opportunity hiring laws,” says David Walden, Human Resources Manager with AOL. “Recruiters have to separate the emotional component from the logical. With that being said, there is a benefit to promote oneself, either by publicizing his or her athletic pursuits or social volunteerism on paper or in conversation. Whether a person is a swimmer or president of their marketing club, the more active he or she is, the better fit they are for the company. For candidates right out of college—they may not have a lot of work experience but they have college sports and clubs.”

A swimmer himself, Walden swam in England and coached at Auburn University with coach David Marsh when both the men’s and women’s swim teams won the South East Conference and NCAA titles in 2004. He also coached at the University of Louisville.

“I think very highly of the sport we’re in. Anytime I can give back to something that was great to me, I am happy to do so,” says Walden. “The swim community is massive and networked, and a candidate who happens to be a swimmer will resonate with another swimmer. Ultimately, how you present yourself, how you interact during the interview, is the most important thing.”

The Internet also offers people the opportunity to showcase their work skills as well as volunteerism and interests. The world’s largest professional online network, LinkedIn, provides individuals with a platform to post their work experience and their groups and associations. U.S. Masters Swimming is listed in the Groups Directory, and joining or showing that you’re part of such groups can reveal a diversity of job skills and extracurricular activities that may impress a potential employer.

LinkedIn’s career expert, Nicole Williams, often advises clients and media audiences on developing hobbies and volunteer experiences into professional selling points in LinkedIn’s profiles as well as in job interviews. Williams, the author of “Girl on Top,” a guide for “turning dating rules into career success,” offers this advice:

“Profiles can often come across as pretty generic, so anything that is unique about yours is more apt to catch someone’s eye. Also, it creates a connection between you and a potential interviewer, client, etc. ‘Oh you like to swim, (knit, cross-train)? Me, too.’ It’s a great conversation starter and can sometimes be the determining factor in picking out whom to interview. When you have two identical résumés sitting on your laptop, but one candidate shares your hobby, chances are that one will get selected. In today’s job market every little bit counts.”

Though every bit helps, certain hobbies are more suited to certain jobs. Williams says, “Are you a stamp collector? That could mean you’re a good researcher and have a fine attention to detail. If you’re a competitive athlete, it showcases your ability to meet goals and your dedication to your training. If you’re involved in community theater, it highlights your public speaking skills.”

Williams urges job candidates to choose a maximum of three hobbies that mean the most to them, rather than posting a laundry list of everything they do. However, there can be a downside to listing only one, all-consuming hobby. Williams explains, “For example, if you mention that being a marathon runner takes over your life and that your races or training time are often during work hours, this will clearly scare off a potential boss. Make sure your focus and priority is the job. Don’t talk about the time-consuming practice or the training. Emphasize the focus and power of achieving goals and how that translates into your professional skills.”

Today’s job market is challenging, but talent, time, and technique work—both inside and outside the pool—can lead to a rewarding job search.


  • Human Interest


  • Goal Setting