08/16/2012 01:44 pm ET Updated Oct 16, 2012

No Job Experience? Olympians Don't Have Much Either

A lack of job experience and employment history can be a poor indicator of a candidate's potential -- just ask an Olympian. Olympic athletes are returning from London with gold, silver and bronze along with red, white and blue medals. While some may take a short break and return to training for Rio 2016, most are ready to be hired into a new role.

Many former athletes joining the traditional workforce will lack the job experience necessary to score a job in this competitive market.

Olympic athletes have sacrificed much to represent their country. Some have no traditional education, formal work experience or job references. However, all have intensity, incredible drive and an ability to wake up every day and complete an impressive training regimen. While I have never been an Olympic athlete and could not complete a marathon unless assisted by a Segway, I do applaud their incredible ability to get the job done.

So, will they be any less successful in the workforce than someone who has been training in the traditional career path?

Hopefully, no.

While stories of how they made the Olympic team will get them in the door for a first interview, the key to making it on to a second and possibly third round is highlighting the skills they have learned through their rigorous physical training.

Plenty of traditional job seekers face a similar challenge. Like Olympians, they are hardworking, disciplined and determined to excel, but they just do not have the work history required to prove their worth.

As the CEO of a top recruiting firm, I have come across stellar resumes of candidates who lack passion and drive for their job. At the same time, I have also met amazing candidates with go-getter attitudes and little relevant experience. Employers: do not discount the latter.

According to a recent recruiting survey, almost half of American companies are struggling to find qualified candidates to fill open jobs. With these numbers, employers should not strictly focus on the science of the job. They should shift their focus toward the art of the job as well.

Glowing job references and a robust resumes are, of course, long-standing indications of a candidates' potential success -- but they are not always the biggest predictor.

Innate skills, such as communication, problem-solving and a strong work ethic, can be a much better indication of high-performance than work history. After all, it is entirely possible to have years of experience and never be truly challenged or have the opportunity to 'go for the gold.'

Hiring managers many times ask themselves, would you rather take someone who has 5+ years of experience of mediocrity in their chosen field or a few years of brilliance (Olympic athlete, No. 1 in sales, top student) in another field and can be trained in a reasonable amount of time to be an expert at their company?

If the candidate lacks sufficient relevant experience, but comes eager to prove herself there is a high chance they will be successful with just a little training and direction. Of course, if the position is for a doctor, they need the right education and experience or it could get messy. But in our digital age, there are many positions that can be learned with the right attitude.

For example, take Olympic water polo athlete Peter Hudnut who has a finance job lined up at Goldman Sachs. After scoring an internship during rehabilitation from a back injury, he tactfully applied the skills, talent and determination learned from the water to Goldman Sach's private wealth management division.

As he recently told "Much like an investment plan, in water polo there is a very detailed strategy. But we always plan for contingencies."

His mind for strategy, adaptability and effective communication are all skills he transferred from water polo into the world of finance, he said in the interview.

How can candidates interview like an Olympian without the skills necessary for the job?

  1. Pinpoint your top three skills, and emphasize how they are transferrable in both the intro email and interview.
  2. Be open, positive and ready to learn. I have been through hundreds of interviews, and I find it refreshing when a candidate shows a genuine desire to learn and grow instead of being a "know it all." Asking great questions is key.
  3. Thoroughly research the role and company for which you're interviewing. Be able to answer the question, "Why do you want to work here?"

If a job seeker exhibit the drive, determination and work ethic of a champion but happens to lack sufficient experience, hiring managers should take the time to train and teach these candidates. In the long run, the payoff will be well worth it.