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The Athlete's Guide to Nailing Your First Job Interview

"The will to succeed means nothing without the will to prepare." – Juma Ikangaa, Champion Marathon Runner

Engaging in a successful job interview is amazingly similar to competing in a sporting event:  preparation enables success. Here are my tips on how you can nail it. 



Years ago, at age 24, I had my first interview for a “real job,” a securities analyst position with a subsidiary of the Prudential Insurance Company.  This was the big leagues -- perhaps too big because my “business experience” following college consisted of two years as a professional ocean lifeguard in Hollywood Beach, Florida.  In short, my competition seemed to have a huge leg-up on me.

Though I had no specific experience in the securities field, I had forged the general skills of determination and tenacity; these were borne from a life in sports.  Whether it was baseball, football, or swimming, I compensated for any lack of experience or talent with preparation.  Hard work would afford me with the best – and perhaps only – chance to succeed.  

I did not always succeed.  Twice I failed the ocean lifeguard test, a brutal “exam” consisting of running 500 meters in soft sand and then swimming 500 meters back in choppy surf in under 7.5 minutes.  But I passed the third time; and the City of Hollywood hired me because they knew I would do whatever it took to become a better swimmer and solid lifeguard.



As the Prudential interview approached, I realized that I needed to stand-out from my competition in some meaningful way.  It was the pre-internet age and I decided to go to the library and find every resource I could about Prudential.  My leg-work paid-off:  I found a book about the long history of the company and committed much of it to memory.

At the interview I waited for just the right moment to compliment the company for weathering the storm of the Great Depression of the 1930s.  Then I shared with her how cool it was that the company was originally (in 1875) called The Widows and Orphans Friendly Society, then the Prudential Friendly Society.  My interviewer was shocked:  “How did you know all that?” she exclaimed.

No more than a half an hour later I had a job offer.  My new employer exclaimed again “I cannot believe I am hiring a lifeguard!”


Set yourself apart from the job interview competition with intense and creative preparation. Give the interviewer a compelling reason, beyond your skill set and resume, to hire you. Really sell yourself in the interview as being invested and interested in the company and the position.

Here are five tips to help you stand apart from and above the competition:

  • Learn something unique or interesting about the company or interviewer’s background and raise it at the right time in the interview to make sure it feels authentic.
  • Inform the interviewer, using a specific story or experience, exactly how your unique background is fully aligned with the company and job responsibilities.
  • If your “real job” resume is lean, emphasize how you excelled at seemingly menial jobs with a creative and energetic approach no matter how simple or mundane the task.
  • Use self-deprecating humor when discussing how you have overcome work challenges.
  • Read a book on leadership before you go into the interview, and cite the book you just read so that your interviewer sees your outstanding prospective and initiative. Extreme Ownership by Navy SEAL Jocko Willink is outstanding.

Can you think of a time you really did your research and shocked someone? If you have an upcoming interview think of ways you can “shock and awe” your interviewer so they have no choice but to offer you the position! Use what made you the athlete you are: preparation, focus, and desire.