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What can recruiters learn from Olympians?

18th August

Walker Lovell Admin

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I’m sure I wasn’t alone in watching open-mouthed as Italy’s Lamont Marcell Jacobs won the Olympic 100 meters in Tokyo.  And not just because he was the first European to do so since 1992.  What was even more surprising was that four years ago, Jacobs was a long-jumper.  Realising that his run-up was more powerful than his jumping, he decided to switch to the track.  And within four years his fellow-athletes were shocked too.

If you love the Olympics, you may remember Rebecca Romero, a gold medal winning track cyclist in Rio.  It was quite some achievement, particularly when she had switched from rowing!

Romero was lauded for her ability to cross disciplines so smoothly, but perhaps we shouldn’t have been quite so astonished.   Both sports require an ability to operate at the athlete’s aerobic capacity for long periods.  One of the biggest barriers to success is the discomfort felt when exercising for long periods at their very max.  Team GB saw that Romero has the core skills necessary to cycle fast.  As a result they committed to helping her make the switch.

Perhaps the most agile athlete of them all was American track and field star Lauryn Williams.  In 2004 she won a silver medal in the 100 meters in Athens.  Eight years later she took-home gold in the sprint relay in London.  Injury then appeared to have put paid to her Olympic career.

Williams had other ideas.  She analysed the qualities required for different disciplines that would put less stress on her injury.  The result was to switch from the summer to the winter games.  And at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Williams took silver with Elana Meyers in the two-woman bobsleigh race.  In two years she had transformed herself from track athlete to ice queen.

What all of these Olympians have in common is their agility.  They analysed their strengths and potential, and then adapted successfully to a new discipline.  

For me, they aren’t just inspiring human stories, but they offer practical benefits for the world of recruitment.

It is so easy to recruit someone who has done that job before in another organisation.  You know what you’re getting.  You remove risk from the equation.  You take the ‘safe’ option.

But there’s also a more creative approach.  A more agile, creative way of finding great candidates by looking at their core strengths and adapting them to new opportunities and sectors.  And it’s an approach we’ve been honing for some time.

We helped a brilliant candidate with a background in commercial construction switch to data centre management.  His brilliant, transferable leadership skills were equally relevant in both sectors and we were confident he could quickly pick-up the technical side.  He has settled brilliantly into the role and now adds ‘data centres’ to his CV!

We’ve found equally adaptable candidates across food and nutrition and across the supply and demand sides in mining, minerals and materials.  We recently helped an animal nutrition engineer into limestone and another from limestone into steel.

Each of these appointments has added real energy and innovation to their new business.  They may not have done the job before, but they bring with them a whole new take on the world and the ability to challenge sector norms.

The result has been to take successful candidates out of one sector and to make them gold medal candidates in another.  Human beings have so much untapped potential.  As recruitment consultants, we see a crucial part of our job as to help untap it.

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