Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Experience = Opportunity

Sport's Illustrated's Peter King published an article earlier this week that bothered me on a couple of levels. 11-time Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks can't find a job because he's too old - at age 36. Football is a brutal game made for indestructible 25 year-olds, and the physical punishment inflicted on NFL players makes age a significant and relevant hiring criteria. I get that. But a guy my age too old to work? Took me a second to recover from that one.

What was really striking about the article were the comments Warren Sapp made about the current mindset of young NFL players. He indicated that there was very little interest on the part of younger players to learn from the veterans, as if the older players had nothing of value to share. If what Sapp is saying is true, I hope it's isolated to the NFL, and not a generational trend. If young professionals are not taking advantage of lessons learned from those who've been there before, they are missing out on a tremendous opportunity.

I was very fortunate to have a great mentor early in my recruiting career. The best advice he ever gave me was to not just learn from him, but to also seek out others in the industry for a different perspective. So I looked around my office, identified the top performers, and made it a point to spend time talking shop with them. Along the way I learned some new tricks and heard some interesting ideas on how to be successful in recruiting. Some of what I learned worked for me, and some didn't. But each new idea, approach, or perspective made me a better recruiter and added more tools to my professional arsenal. I can point to specific times in my career where - for a moment - I became Brad, or Bryan, or Vern, or Jim because their approach was the right one to get a particular deal done. I wouldn't have had nearly as many professional accomplishments without the advice of those who had been there before me.

I wonder if sometimes if NFL teams, and employers in general, seem to forget the value of experience in favor of youth and potential. I wonder if after we recover from this recession and cycle through another boom time, employers will be smart enough to hire and learn from experienced professionals to make sure we don't make the same mistakes again. I guess time will tell.

Maybe Derrick Brooks isn't as fast as he used to be. Maybe he's not an every down linebacker. But all indications is that he's still got enough gas in the tank to warrant a roster spot and is willing to work hard to stay ahead of the game. If was an up and coming young linebacker in the NFL, you can be sure that I'd have visited my General Manager's office more than once already, asking if they could take a shot at getting Derrick Brooks. I'd want the opportunity to soak up all of his experience.

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