Finding herself at a professional crossroads, Kelley Bugler needed a helping hand.
Before she went to graduate school at Pittsburg State, Bugler played volleyball in high school, at St. Thomas Aquinas, and in college, at Marshall. But it was almost incidental in her résumé, tucked away under “activities” in an oh-by-the-way-I-played-a-sport manner. She didn’t quite know how to market her years as a student-athlete.
Then she attended a Career Athletes seminar led by the company’s vice president in charge of collegiate relations, D.J. Washington. Career Athletes reaches out to
student-athletes and educates them on how they can correlate their athletic career to their own professional path, giving them the tools to connect with employers. Bugler saw it as an answer to a prayer.
“D.J. did a great job just outlining why it is so awesome that we are student-athletes,” she says. “I guess I’d always looked at athletics as something to put on my résumé, but he just really hit some important points on what specifically about being an athlete makes us so wanted by the workforce.”
It occurred to Career Athletes’ founder and chief executive officer, Chris Smith, that he wasn’t doing anything special or innovative as he rose up the ladder at Fortune 500 companies like Eli Lilly and Wells Fargo. He just credits his work ethic from when he was in the football trenches as a center at Hawaii and later at Missouri State. Smith would go to sales meetings where practically everyone was either active in marathons or triathlons, or they had played collegiate sports. There must be something to this, he thought. And the business model started to form.
“There’s all these networking sites that people get connected with, and they have no common bond with each other,” Smith says. “In Career Athletes, all of our members are already connected through athletics. Leveraging that common bond expedites networking, and gets them to where they want to go, which allows them to advance themselves.”
Merging his Athletes4Hire, which Smith founded with former Kansas State football great Dirk Ochs, with two other companies into Career Athletes has solidified the relationships with schools and broadened the scope. With its headquarters in Olathe, Career Athletes has more than 480 university networks from coast to coast, including Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri. It puts on between 80 and 100 seminars at athletic departments across the country, teaching and mentoring athletes on their vocational goals and tying them to their sports goals.
Teaming up with such corporations as KPMG and Con Agra to provide networking and ample job opportunities, one of the priorities of Career Athletes is familiarizing
college athletes with the interviewing intricacies of companies that are hiring. Oftentimes an athlete just says in an interview that he played college football. Only about 4 percent of college graduates were student athletes, Smith says, so odds are that the person who’s interviewing will need some context.
“When I played football at Hawaii,” Smith says, “we practiced at 6:30 in the morning. My day started at 5:30. After practice, I would go to class. Then, I would have to go into the weight room. Then I would have to go back to class. Then I would have to come back after class and watch film of that morning practice. Then we’d go to training table and we’d go to study hall and my day was over at 9:00 p.m. Most 18- to 19-year-olds don’t have a structured day from 6:30 to 9. And we teach them how to articulate that in an interview and how to say, ‘I can handle the workload you’re going to give me. In fact, I can handle more.’”
While he was a punter at Missouri State, Eddie Peña understood the kind of competitiveness and discipline that’s necessary to being on a football team, and he transfers those values to his position selling minimally-invasive medical devices for Stryker in Leawood.
“I probably wouldn’t have the career that I have now if it wasn’t for Career Athletes,” Peña says, “because of their connections, their mentoring of knowing the culture of the company I was interviewing for and what they look for in their candidates.”
Members who are signed on to the Career Athletes website can track jobs that are available and can click on tabs where they network with other athletes and recruiters who have posted openings. The ice is already broken for them, and because there aren’t 100 million people clogging up the site, they actually hear from the employers.
Bugler visited the site two or three times a week to survey options until she was put in contact with a recruiter and was able to secure an internship with Red Frog Events.
The Chicago-based company, famous for its Warrior Dashes across the country, plays right into her strengths of public relations and event planning. She’ll be moving to the Windy City next month.
And as for the volleyball experience on her résumé?
“I have it actually at the top,” Bugler says. “All the [Career Athletes] employees really care about getting you in touch with the right people, and they have the right resources available to put you in touch with who you need to talk to.”
More than 98 percent of members stay in Career Athletes, and they’re in an efficient demographic that companies have consistently targeted: They’ve already had a boss — their coach. They’ve already had co-workers — their teammates. They’ve had clear goals they’re accountable to. And once they graduate, it’s another competition in order to see their name on a roster. Through Career Athletes’ seminars and curriculum, Smith says student-athletes are seeing the resemblance between the business world and their sport.
“Once we explain how similar it is, they get it,” he says. “A light bulb goes off in their head, and they get that confidence that ‘I can succeed. If I take the same dedication, discipline and coachability that I had as an athlete to my employer, I’ll be okay.’"