Dec. 8, 2015
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
– One way in which the world of college athletics mirrors the business world is that nothing is guaranteed. You have to go out and earn your place, make the most of opportunities.
Also, as in sports, home-field advantage doesn’t hurt. Last week’s Student-Athlete Career Fair in the museum lobby of the Edge Building gave Georgia Tech student-athletes the opportunity to earn at least an opportunity and, as important, do so in a familiar environment. It concluded a month of career-based initiatives for student-athletes.
Some 115 Georgia Tech student-athletes from all sports, and all academic classes, dressed in their business best and brought their resume and A-game in talking with representatives from 13 different companies. The event was part of the Total Person Program and included among the representatives former Yellow Jackets’ student-athletes Jon Babul (basketball), currently the director for basketball development & community sports program for the Atlanta Hawks, and Jeff Lentz (football), a regional sales manager for Bomgar, a remote desktop software company.
“This is a great opportunity,” said Tech assistant AD/special projects Doug Allvine, the driving force of the career fair and a former Yellow Jackets football player (1987-89). “There’s so much focus on getting a degree and competing athletically. This is why they’re here, ultimately. Everyone has to hang up their cleats at some point so what we’re trying to do is give them exposure. There are a lot of internship opportunities, and it’s been a great development for our student-athletes.”
Bringing so many prestigious companies to one small room gives the student-athletes an edge in making connections while taking the edge off the high-pressure attached to the other career fairs. It’s kind of a home-field advantage.
“It’s on their way to the normal places they go in here so it feels comfortable. They’re still nervous but it’s still a more comfortable setting with the smaller atmosphere and with their peers,” said Leah Thomas, Tech’s director of Total Person Support Services. “They’re not competing against every student across campus, which is thousands. So it’s much more comfortable for them. We do it this time each year because of when companies are recruiting for summer internships and for full-time jobs. It gives our student-athletes good practice for the career fair scene but there are opportunities. It’s not just practice. It’s the real deal. So this is a big part of our program.”
“These companies come here looking specifically for athletes. You’re not just blending into the crowd like in the big career fairs,” said senior tennis player Nathan Rakitt, who is on course to graduate in December 2016 with a degree in industrial engineering. “They’re here looking for us instead of vice versa, which is how it normally works. They want us, which is pretty exciting.”
It can be as exciting for underclassmen.
“I feel like I’m at home,” said sophomore football player Terrell Lewis. “This makes me feel pretty confident if I were to go to a career fair anywhere else. You come here you have a one-on-one feel, which instead of talking to a guy for one minute, hand him your resume and say, `Hi, I’m Terrell,’ you can talk to him for like 10 to 15 minutes, learn about them, and they can learn about you, which kind of makes that separation compared to having an on-campus experience.”
Having the opportunity to cherry-pick from Georgia Tech student-athletes is beneficial to the companies.
“The recruiters LOVE this environment. It’s very intimate,” said Allvine. “I think these companies kind of figured something out, that a student-athlete is, first of all, a student at Georgia Tech but also, being an athlete, builds certain characteristics into the student that may not necessarily be there in a student who may be a really good student. A lot of these guys are at practice at 6 a.m., or they’re on the road, so they have time-management skills, facing adversity. Obviously, winning and losing. Being a team, you need to work together, and you have people of different backgrounds, different educations.”
Allvine is quick to point out that the student-athletes are guaranteed only an opportunity to meet and to sell themselves. Nothing more.
“We don’t say, `We have to get that internship,'” Allvine said. “We just want the opportunity and the exposure. For example, Norfolk Southern reserved our conference room from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. [Wednesday] and they were doing interviews with their student-athletes. Now will our student-athletes get the job? I don’t know. They’re competing with all the other student-athletes. But they’re getting an interview experience.”
Not only are the athletes and companies on board but so are Georgia Tech coaches. Allvine noted that swimming and diving coach Courtney Hart moved practice back to 6 a.m. so her team could attend.
“The coaches have been very supportive,” said Allvine. “[Coach Hart] said, `Hey, if you’re a junior or a senior, I expect you to be there.’ That’s the support we’re seeing across the board from the coaches as they realize this is an integral part of what they promise the parents when they sit down with them. This is a piece of the Total Person Program that Homer Rice envisioned many, many years ago.”
There was no chance redshirt senior football player Trey Braun was going to miss Career Fair.
“My last football season is over, and this spring I’m finishing my MBA and starting out the job search,” said Braun, who graduated in mechanical engineering in December 2014, will complete his master’s in business administration with a concentration in economics either in the summer or fall of 2016 and who was only two days removed from being named honorable mention All-ACC. “I think this is definitely a great way to get your face out there and get some exercise in talking to people and meeting people and learning about different career opportunities. This is one of the things that Georgia Tech does so well for its student-athletes. To see so many successful student-athletes is very encouraging.”
Volleyball junior setter Rebecca Martin, an industrial engineering major, saw Career Fair as an opportunity to prepare for life after classes this spring as much as life after graduation.
“I’m so very thankful that the athletic department puts this on, just being able to talk to these people individually and get to know them on a more personal level than any other career fair,” said Martin, who was looking to get an internship, as she did last summer. “When you’re thrown in with some of the other students, it’s kind of hard to distinguish yourself. But knowing that companies are looking for student-athletes and knowing that we can do some really good work, is really encouraging, and it makes me very excited for the future.”
Martin enthusiastically recommended Career Fair to her underclass teammates.
“We’ve been talking about it for a week now, encouraging all of our underclassmen to come out and talk to some people,” she said. “At the very least they can get some experience talking to some professionals, and even if they’re not looking for a position, it’s good to just get those skill sets under their belt.”
Volleyball is not alone in getting its underclass involved.
“Every year it’s mandatory for juniors and seniors, and highly, highly recommended for sophomores,” said Rakitt. “I got an offer from AT&T here sophomore year. That was big for me. There are smaller lines, it’s not as intimidating. When you go into the big-time career fair, the CRC, there are hundreds and hundreds of companies, thousands of students. Here it’s a bit more intimate setting and makes it a bit less nerve-wracking.”
Lewis hopes to find sophomore-year success as he attended his first Career Fair.
“It was important to me because, even though I’m a second-year it’s a great opportunity to make connections with different companies. It’s great to network,” he said. “That was my goal for today, and if I were to get an internship out of it, that would be great. So I came here primarily for the opportunities.”
Lewis’ commitment impressed Lucius Sanford, Tech’s associate director of development and executive director of the Tech Letterwinners Club.
“That means that he gets it,” said the 1977 first-team All-American and 10-year NFL veteran. “So much of the time here you’re drilled, you’re drilled, you’re drilled, whether it’s in class or it’s in that sport. At one point in time you really have to prepare for the real world, in terms of making the transition. I tell the freshmen `Take the time to walk through a career fair. Take the time to listen to the conversations that are going on. Look at the dress. Look at the culture of that event. Take it all in so that next year, when you go in, you’re going back, you know exactly what you need to do.'”
Redshirt junior football player Patrick Gamble attended his first Career Fair last year and came back wiser for it this year.
“I definitely learned how to talk to people, keep a conversation going, not be so nervous,” he said. “Just calm down and just talk to them, because they’re people just like us. It’s way easier now than it was the first time.
“What’s good about [Career Fair] is they relate to us,” he added. “They know you’re an athlete. They know the way your time is being spent. They know you’re coachable, can talk to people and learn new things quickly. It really gets you a jump rather than going out to the general career fair. It’s very important just to relate to people, connect with them, see what’s out there in the business world because sports are not forever.”
Get The Good Word in your e-mail box — it’s free! Just register here to get the latest features on Georgia Tech Athletics.