For athletes, from water jugs to the water cooler

During her senior year at Yale, varsity soccer player Lindsay Sabel ’03 spent her time shooting goals for the NCAA Div. I Tournament while her friends pored over job applications, searching for full-time positions. But after graduation, reality hit. Diploma in hand, Sabel was jobless — with zero corporate experience. And that summer, while her friends adjusted to their new commutes and settled into their office cubicles, she was in Cape Cod, putting in long hours as a summer camp counselor.

“One day you have to wake up and realize you’re not going to be a soccer player,” she said. “Summer was over and I was going to get a real job.”

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Han Xu
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Two months later, Sabel reached out to potential employers and received a surprising number of responses. But the initial interest from potential employers did not always translate into job offers — at least not right away.

At one hedge-fund interview, the employer came right out and said, “You have no skills,” she recalls. A first look at her resume — a modest list devoid of workplace experience — only reinforced the sentiment.

But, apparently, Sabel’s soccer credentials coupled with the Y-bomb made her resume worthy of a second look.

Sabel’s work ethic, commitment, time management and competitiveness — traits common to many college athletes, according to Undergraduate Career Services Director Philip Jones — were more than applicable. Along with Yale athletics alumni connections, Sabel’s “team player” attributes gave her an advantage in pursuing and obtaining a job on Wall Street.

Ken Marschner ’99 — a former varsity football and basketball player and now an executive director at UBS — said the skill sets that student athletes develop on a team are also valuable in a corporate work environment.

“We try to recruit people that can work in a team environment, are competitive and driven, and it is not a pre-requisite, but many times athletes have those traits,” he said. “That’s where the correlation exists, because there is an overlap there.”

During his 10 years with UCS, Jones said firms have always recruited student athletes for careers in finance.

“It’s not a trend — it’s a plateau that has been around forever,” Jones replied when asked about the trend of financial firms heavily recruiting student athletes. “It’s always been there.”

Out of the approximately 20 percent of seniors in a given class who find jobs through UCS, he said student athletes are well represented. “But I would not suggest they are disproportionately represented,” he added.

But an overwhelming majority of students interviewed said they have the impression that Yale’s varsity athletes are more interested in and more commonly recruited for jobs in the financial industry than their non-athletic counterparts.

At a Goldman Sachs reception at UCS two weeks ago, Justin Chukumba ’10 said he noticed that many of the recruiters and directors in high positions were former athletes.

“I think in some ways [student athletes] are highly contested or sought after, since they have already proven they can stand physical and mental pressure,” he said.

Track-team member David Soiles ’10 also suggested recruiters enjoy having athletes work for their firms, since they are expected to “plug into the system right away and succeed.”

“We do hear a bit of that,” he said of some employers’ preference for hiring student athletes.

Non-athletes interviewed agreed that they have heard that investment banking firms hire many college athletes — a trend they say affects the jobs for which they choose to apply.

“It’s discouraged me from pursuing those jobs,” said James Gleckner ’10, who said he thinks positions in finance-related companies are somewhat off-limits for non-athletes and non-economics majors. “They probably should cast their net a little wider.”

While many other athletes agreed that finance was a popular industry among their teammates, student athletes interviewed said they did not feel especially more advantaged than other students at Yale.

Ilya Byzov ’09, a member of the swim team, agreed that recruiters treat sports as a commitment beyond a normal student schedule, but suggested that other activities could easily demonstrate that same commitment. Like any transferable skill practiced in other domains, Byzov said he simply applied his skills from swimming to work experience.

“It gave me more confidence going into an interview to have something to say,” he remarked. “But I don’t think recruiters specifically say, ‘Oh, it’s an athlete, we’re going to treat him better.’ ”

Jones summed up athletics as “one of the ways, not the only way” to break into the financial industry.

In fact, Marschner confirmed that his company looked for diversity, including in extracurricular interests. While UBS may love to hire a dancer or a world musician, he said they do not want all their employees to have the same skill sets.

But football player Jordan Stevens ’08 said there is something to be said for 50 hours a week — the typical time commitment of a football player during training session, including travel weekends.

Sabel who, like Marschner, also works at UBS, called this level of commitment to athletics one of the “intangibles,” qualities that develop a balanced student through years of juggling sports practice with academics — and succeeding at both.

“You’re not going to teach a kid to be in the office at 5:45 in the morning,” she said. “The competitive nature — you can’t learn that.”

Yale Women’s Crew Team captain Jennie Hansen ’08 also noted that sales and trading was geared towards athletes when she interned at Credit Suisse last summer.

“It’s a fast-paced environment that athletes are very drawn to,” Hansen said.

Of course, connections also play a role. Sabel, for example, was first introduced to UBS through Sports Publicity Director Don Scharf ’55. Later, she said she “called up Ken [Marschner].”

Today, Marschner is in his ninth year of recruiting at Yale. He has been returning to recruit at his alma mater every year since he started working for UBS. Sabel is also involved with Yale as the president of the Women’s Soccer Association. Each varsity team has its own association, which supports its student athletes in a variety of ways, including counseling and networking opportunities during special events such as career nights.

But Sabel said such resources were not fully explored by her fellow athletes when they were at Yale, and she also reflected on the underuse of UCS during her undergraduate years.

There are, however, merits to a more concentrated support group, Hansen said. She said it was easier to navigate through a smaller network than a general Yale alumni network.

“A common interest is an easy starting point to reach out to people,” she said. “Athletes are always interested in help out other athletes.”

Stevens recalled that he found his job at an investment banking boutique in New Haven through a former player on his team. “He gave me a contact and gave them a recommendation for me,” he said. “It was a small place.”

Even though the regular hiring season had passed, Stevens was employed for the summer after his sophomore year.

But Stevens explained that the application process was not easier as an athlete. He said recruited athletes often have to deal with the stereotype that they were accepted to Yale despite “lower grades” in high school.

“I have a feeling at interviews — when the interviewers are not athletes — they look for you to prove yourself, because there is this stigma,” he said.

But the “stigma,” in cases where it occurs, Soiles said, is unjustified. He explained that athletics are often a top priority, forcing some dedicated students to sacrifice schoolwork for their sports.

In the sales and trading division, Sabel compared her workday to game day, when everything is constantly changing and markets are moving as quickly as a scoreboard. With a little bit of adrenaline, she said, going to the office simply does not feel like going to the office.

Comments

  • I went to law school instead

    There is absolutely favoritism for athletes. I'm surprised the story did not mention a program called "Alumni Athlete." The sole purpose of this program is to take varsity athletes from the Ivy league and place them in banks. The last time I checked there was no program called "Alumni Musician" or "Alumni History Major" or even "Alumni Very Competitive and Dedicated Intramural Athlete Who Played Varsity Sports in High School But Did Not in College." I don't really buy into the idea that athletes have proved they can work in a team atmosphere better than people who are in acappella groups, drama clubs, fraternies, or community service clubs. What this really comes down to is that Wall Street is a little club of its own and the members, many of whom are former athletes, want to continue to bring in more people just like them. It doesn't take a genius to work at an investment bank (and in the case of Yale, for the most part it doesn't even take being a WINNING athlete). That said, most of my friends followed this path. More power to them.

  • Financial Guy

    To #1: Wow… some sour grapes there, huh?

    Folks: don't get too bent out of shape about sell side; these are just sales jobs! I have found no particular bias on the buy side--athletics are just one example of sought-after extracurriculars.

    Athletes are generally viewed (and, generally, rightly so) as gregarious go-getters; so what? If you are otherwise demonstrably a gregarious go-getter, then there is nothing holding you back (that is, if sales is what you want).

    Don't get yourselves in a piffle of this fluff of an article: Yale's imprimatur weighs much more heavily than your varsity letter.

    Signed,

    One among many liberal arts "Alumni Very Competitive and Dedicated Intramural Athlete Who Played Varsity Sports in High School But Did Not in College" and rather successful in the investment management industry.

  • anon

    you sound like someone who got rejected by every bank

  • Anonymous

    What makes you think #1 got rejected from banks? Looks to me like the person did not go the finance route but instead to law school.

    I don't think the purpose of the first post was to completely bash athletes. It is true that there is some favoritism. And it is also true that atheltes have shown they are able to work on a team and are usually outgoing. I think the point is that to use that reasoning as a defense for any perceived favoritism is weak because there are many activities where people can show how outgoing and team oriented they can be. Athletes can not be blamed for using whatever channels are provided to them. But it definitely appears to be the case that there is more of an established network helping them than any other group out there.