Winning attitude serves athletes well in job search

Recent graduates are showing student athletes how the skills they honed on the playing field can serve them just as well in the workplace.

The latest panel discussion of the Husky Pack Chat series was held over Zoom on Thursday, October 14. The three panelists, Kayleigh Bohan, Kim Howrigan, and Shaun McKinnon, are familiar names to USM sports fans. They each talked about their struggles and successes at navigating the job market to help fellow Huskies who will soon be making the same transition.

Pack Chat panelists Kayleigh Bohan, Shaun McKinnon, and Kim Howrigan discuss finding jobs as student-athletes.
The Pack Chat series tackled the transition from college athletics to the working world with input from several recent graduates.

“That familiar face that you saw on the court, on the field, out on the links. . . really made a big difference,” said Samantha Norris, coach of the women’s basketball team. “There’s definitely value from hearing from each generation. This one was particularly special, especially with having the recent hardship of COVID and having somebody that you know has gone out and gotten a job directly out of college in the time that you’re currently working with.”

Norris worked to assemble and host the panel with support from the job search experts at the Career and Employment Hub. The Pack Chat series is one of the many services the Hub provides. Athletics was the focus this time, but other episodes cover the universal skills and resources that would benefit students from any background.

Bohan’s academic background is in the fields of Criminology and Psychology. After graduating last year, she took a job in Massachusetts as a Facility Services Officer for STR which develops technology for use in national security. In addition to her course work, Bohan credits the skills she learned as a softball player with helping her land the job.

Kayleigh Bohan explains how the skills she learned on the softball team helped her find a job.
Now working in the security field, Kayleigh Bohan was a standout softball player in college.

“I feel like employers are definitely impressed with student athletes and they definitely stick out because they’re able to manage their time well,” Bohan said. “A lot of traits that student athletes have transition well to being a good employee and being dedicated, hard-working and also leadership roles.”

Help is available at the Hub for athletes who want to convey that winning attitude through their résumé. “There are a number of transferable skills that are important for them to highlight,” said Michelle Drucker, a career advisor at the Hub. “Delegation, dependability, work ethic, working well under pressure. We could go on and on and on.”

Internships are another difference-maker on a résumé. Any player who rose through the ranks of junior varsity or the practice squad knows the value of starting at a lower level before carrying the full responsibility and stress of performing at the highest level.

The Hub constantly updates a list of available internships on its online bulletin board through the MyCampus portal. But if none of those listings fits a student’s needs, that’s no reason to give up. Sometimes an inquiry is all it takes for an organization to open new internship opportunities and the Hub can help begin that conversation.

“Students can walk in with any kind of questions, any concerns or any needs they have in regards to employment, internships, anything career related,” said Peter Hofmann, who works in the Hub as a career liaison between the campus and business communities. “No matter what it is, come in and we’ll figure it out.”

About her time as an intern, Bohan said, “It’s a great learning opportunity. And it really helps you get into a field and see if you like what you’re doing or what you’re not. And you can also make great connections even if you don’t end up taking a full-time job.”

The importance of interpersonal connections is inherent to any team sport. The coach-player bond that Norris and Howrigan developed on the basketball court was on display in their interactions during the Pack Chat. Howrigan completed the MBA program last year and now works as an audit associate for the accounting firm of Johnson Lambert, LLP in North Carolina. Norris was a key factor in getting her the job.

Kim Howrigan explains how the skills she learned on the women's basketball team helped her find a job.
Former basketball player Kim Howrigan now works in accounting.

“She’s been huge, honestly, throughout the whole job search with classes and everything,” Howrigan said. “When I needed someone to look over a résumé, she would be there. Any letters of recommendation, she’s been awesome. So, it’s really about building those connections with the people who are willing to help you out. And honestly there’s a ton of those people at USM.”

The interview process taps into another set of skills familiar to athletes. Preparation paid off for McKinnon on the golf course, and it paid off for him following graduation in 2019 when he interviewed for the job he now holds as a Social Studies teacher at Edward Little High School in Auburn.

“You always put your preparation in. You have to have preparation that makes you less nervous because you have confidence,” McKinnon said. “Control what you can control. You can control how you present yourself. You can control your letters of references by doing a good job at your internship. And you can control being positive and bringing positive energy to whatever position that you want.”

As with basketball, Howrigan’s advice about interviews is to pick your moment to push the offense and interview the interviewer. “As much as you think they’re going to be grilling you with questions,” she said, “they really are looking for you to ask questions and see what you’re looking for in your employment and see if you’re a good fit.”

Losing is part of playing sports, so every athlete learns to deal with adversity. But searching for a job during the COVID-19 pandemic can test even the strongest coping mechanisms. Athletes who are used to looking their opponent in the eye need to adapt to social distancing.

“It can be difficult to interview on a Zoom call instead of in person,” Bohan said. “It can be hard to get yourself across. So definitely making sure you’re early, on time, dressing nice and making sure your background is professional.”

Shaun McKinnon explains how the skills he learned on the golf team helped him find a job.
After ending his college golf career, Shaun McKinnon put his competitive drive to work as a high school coach.

The challenges don’t end after being hired. Athletes who are used to getting instant feedback from coaches may struggle to adapt at workplaces that are operating remotely. “When it comes to my managers, the upper levels, it definitely is difficult to show your personality to them,” Howrigan said. “Whenever you get the chance to have those Zoom calls or stuff like that, it’s really important just be yourself and just fully embrace the situation you’re in.”

If the office environment doesn’t satisfy the competitive fire that drives so many athletes, there are other outlets to be found. Bohan joined a slow-pitch softball league in her new community. McKinnon supplements his teaching work at ELHS with coaching. He’s an assistant golf coach and head coach of the girls’ lacrosse team.

“That shows how important being a student athlete is and how important those experiences are that you have with your teammates on the road and throughout the season,” McKinnon said. “That’s who they want in their department and in their school. Someone who has been battle-tested in a stressful environment. And that’s what we are as student athletes. We’ve had to work hard. We’ve failed and then came back.”

The Pack Chat series will come back, as well. For the next installment, the theme is Networking & Personal Branding. A remote session on Zoom is set for October 26 at 5 p.m. It will be followed on October 27 by an in-person session at Bailey Hall on the Gorham campus at 4 p.m.