When two recruiters from Home Depot came to the second day of the Falcons' Career and Franchising Event they weren't sure what to expect. As followers of football, they thought they might recognize some of the interviewees on Thursday as players they'd watched on television before. Like many expect when meeting athletes for the first time, they anticipated a certain bravado or sense of entitlement. What they found were current and former players that were genuine and humble and not only appreciative of the opportunities presented to them through the career symposium, but also eager to begin a new phase of their working lives.
"They're all willing to take a step back for their future," Eric Schelling, Home Depot's Director of Talent Acquisition, said of the players he'd interviewed on Thursday. "It's almost like they're willing to be a rookie again with an entry-level job. They're happy to do what they need to for the right career path for their family. They're all very humble, and they're driven and team-oriented."
For Schelling and his interview partner, the second day of the symposium got off to a roaring start. The first individual they met with blew them away. Like so many of the former players in attendance, this candidate acutely explained his determination, demonstrated his leadership skills and discussed the ways in which he's strategically inclined, many attributes he'd learned from playing football. Schelling was so impressed with the first interview of the day that he had this individual on the phone interviewing with his boss by midday.
In total, 174 interviews took place with players and potential employers Thursday. More than 30 franchises and businesses were present to interview players and discuss opportunities. While no one was hired right away, the day was encouraging and many players walked away with a renewed sense of self and belief in the opportunities that were ahead of them.
For many, Thursday's interviews helped open their eyes to the reality that they have skills that make them valuable assets to the right company.
"You actually talk to them and explain your story and there's a mutual respect between employers and they're accepting of your diverse background and we're accepting of what their goal and mission is," former player and eight-year veteran Steve Tovar said. "It's all about accepting that goal and mission and use those shared backgrounds. I think it's a great combination. I think the players are upbeat and positive and it's a confirmed reality that there's value there. The players already knew they had value, they just didn't know where to direct it."
While the players were all told they had transferable skills during the seminars Wednesday, when they sat down with potential employers Thursday, they saw and heard first-hand that they do have such skills. Although their timeline for entry into the private sector of work is a little behind many of their future peers, the players Thursday learned their skills are highly valuable and if they put in the work and effort they did in football, they'll be just fine.
"If you think about it there are all these people that went to school and started working with they left school," Antoine Harris, a Falcon from 2007-2009, said. "They have great jobs now. We're a little behind when it comes to the business world and you can get down on yourself, especially leaving the game that you love and you've played for so long and to go into a career where you have no idea what to do. Hearing that we do have certain skills that maybe we take for granted because we don't really think about them because they came so naturally in football is a positive."
Many of the players walked out of the hotel ballroom in Atlanta on Thursday afternoon slowly. Many of them continued to linger around, networking and sitting down for interviews. So many of them simply didn't want to leave because their excitement for a new opportunity was growing. Former Pittsburgh Steelers lineman Chris Hoke stepped out to call his wife and tell her about some of the franchising opportunities he'd learned about. He spoke with enthusiasm and maybe a little bit of relief as well. After 11 years of putting his body on the line to earn a sizable income for his family, he was about to take the next step in his life and start a business where he and his wife could work together.
And that's what the symposium was all about: taking the next step. The Wednesday session gave players the insight they needed to begin to transition to life after football and the interviews and meetings throughout Thursday gave them the courage and the confidence to do in the real world of business exactly what they'd done on the football field: achieve success and do something you're proud of and believe in.