Rosie MacLennan is used to setting goals, managing her time, dealing with deadlines, stress and pressure. Those Olympic gold medal-winning qualities are now helping her succeed at her new job, too.
Most people know Ms. MacLennan, 24, as the trampoline superstar who captured Canada’s only gold medal at the London Olympics in the summer of 2012. In May, she began her part-time role as a member of Canadian Tire Corp.’s sports partnership team, helping to develop and execute on the retailer’s marketing strategy after it signed an eight-year partnership in January with the Canadian Olympic Committee, joining a handful of big corporate sponsors of Canadian Olympians and Olympic hopefuls.
The ability to deal with high-pressure and high-stress situations, to be adaptable, to set and regularly re-evaluate goals as well as communicate effectively with her team are all skills she learned through athletics, and they translate to the corporate world, Ms. MacLennan said.
Managing her time carefully “is huge – being able to balance and juggle a lot of different things going on at the same time,” she added, as she continues to train, compete for Canada and study for her masters in exercise science at the University of Toronto.
Canadian Tire’s work schedule is flexible, allowing Ms. MacLennan time to pursue her athletic goals – such as aiming for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. “I’m gaining employment skills and employment opportunities without hindering my training and athletic career,” she said in an interview.
Canadian Tire, which sells sporting goods in its stores and also under the Sport Chek and Sports Experts banners, saw a real opportunity in its partnership with the Canadian Olympic Committee – and the country’s athletes.
“We’ve found that athletes make great employees because their training prepares them to have many of the attributes we look for when we hire – they’re frequently results-driven, have positive attitudes and competitive spirits, and value true teamwork,” said Doug Nathanson, chief human resources officer with Canadian Tire.
“We’ve found that athletes bring unique skills and perspectives to the work environment, so much so that we’re launching a Hire an Athlete program in the coming months across our family of companies.”
Ms. MacLennan said many athletes don’t get a chance to enter the work force until later in their lives because they’re too busy competing and they can’t find a job with flexibility. Work falls by the wayside amid a heavy competition and training schedule.
“What a lot of companies don’t realize is that through our sport [athletes] develop a lot of skills that are translatable to the work force – our natural drive and intuition to push until we succeed,” she said.
Olympic athletes may be at the pinnacle of sport, but regular job seekers can also promote their athletic prowess – and what skills they’ve learned through their own sport – to potential employers, said Julie Labrie, president of BlueSky Personnel Solutions in Toronto.
“Forward-thinking employers will see beyond traditional hard skills and experience, and will recognize the advantages of hiring athletes because of their augmented soft skills,” she said.
But it’s up to “the job seeker to make a direct connection for prospective employers of how their athletic training translates into success in the business environment,” she added. “How athletes ‘sell in’ their experience can determine how much of a competitive advantage they can build for themselves.”
While Canadian Tire is a new sponsor of the Canadian Olympic Team, Royal Bank of Canada has been a sponsor since 1947. It began its RBC Olympian program in 2002, where the bank annually hires 30 to 40 upcoming, current or recently retired Olympians or Paralympians.
The athletes promote the bank’s Olympic sponsorship and can gain work experience while continuing to train and compete. The deadline to apply for this year is June 24. About 15 athletes have stayed on with RBC upon their retirement from competition.
“We find that athletes are typically top-performing employees,” said Kelly Simpson, manager of sports brand marketing with RBC. “They bring skills to the table, they’re obviously very self-motivated individuals who are used to working really hard.”
Vancouver-based swimmer Scott Dickens, 28, who competed in the Games in London and in Athens, is in his third year of the RBC Olympians program and works in the bank’s branding and communications department. The job’s flexibility also lets him continue to train.
Mr. Dickens said the mental discipline he learned as a swimmer, and the ability to examine a situation and lay out and follow a strategic plan in order to accomplish a goal, have proved invaluable in the workplace.
“At the Olympic trials, going into a race knowing that this is your only shot every four years, it’s kind of like being in the work force,” he said in an interview. “You do your job and you know what you have to do but you fall back on what you’ve learned about yourself, what you’ve done in your training, you fall back on experience and how you’re going to take that experience and apply it. It’s the same in the office.”
A laser-like focus – which often keeps him working on a project non-stop until it’s finished – has been both a benefit and a curse, he said, but his ability to “stay calm, cool and in control” is a help “because if you get too worked up, that’s when things start to go wrong, in athletics and at work.”
He recommends everyone continue to take part in sport, for what it can help you accomplish as both a person and an employee. What he’s learned as an athlete “I could never have learned in a classroom,” he said. “It’s invaluable experience and it’s going through those hard times, those great times and all those times in between that teaches you about who you are as a person.”