Recruit Rising Stars: What can we learn from college sports recruiting?

coach
Mike Brizendine, Virginia Tech men’s soccer coach, offers tips for recruiting star players.

The difficulty electrical contractors face every time they attempt to find and attract talented new people dates back further than the oldest tool in their warehouse. It’s always been that way, in good times or bad.

Since the business world thrives on sports analogies, why not look to that world for some fresh thinking on ways to attract new players to the electrical contracting game?

With that idea in mind, we took a brisk stroll across the Virginia Tech campus from Andrew’s office in the Department of Building Construction to drop in on Michael Brizendine, head coach of the men’s soccer team. For an abundance of reasons, soccer seemed to us to hold the best source of transferable ideas.

Brizendine has been at the university for more than 10 years. He has led the men’s soccer program through the ups and downs of many seasons that might readily remind electrical contractors of the construction industry’s cyclical nature. Displaying his famously personable style, he welcomed our questions aimed at garnering takeaways for ECs to use in recruiting efforts.

When we talk to electrical contractors about increasing their service and maintenance operations, they are always quick to point out how growing their business calls for recruiting talented individuals who are capable of consistently creating a winning customer experience.

Do you see a parallel between the way you recruit soccer players and the way contractors might recruit new employees?

Absolutely. In both cases, you’re trying to get the best person you can possibly get—for the right price. In our situation, the price is a college scholarship.

Electrical contractors often start their recruitment process by sifting through a stack of prospective candidates’ resumes. Where do you begin your process?

We start by watching players on the field during games, wherever they happen to be, to identify the best ones. That’s the first step, and it’s the easy part. The second step is checking their academic records. We want to be sure that they can succeed in the classroom and the playing field. The third step, and to us the most important, is we take a hard look at every bit of evidence of their personal character.

Just as contractors order background checks and seek personal references on their candidates, what do you do?

We place a high value on this phase of the process. We have developed a reliable network of coaches in other places whose assessments we know we can trust. We want to be absolutely certain that a player will fit into our culture. Culture will make or break a team. It’s a top concern for us.

How do face-to-face interviews fit into your evaluation of candidates?

We interview players, but we go even further. We have them visit campus for two days. Someone can fool you in a single interview. But they can’t fool you for two days straight. In this regard, I rely on our current team members for input. I trust their observations. Once again, it’s all about culture.

How do you predict that candidates will remain at Tech and continue with the team for four years through to graduation?

That’s a big challenge. The rate of collegiate athletes transferring from one college to another is higher than it’s ever been. This just means that, as a coach, you have to continue to “recruit” players, so to speak, to retain them.

Is there any piece of advice about recruiting star players that you would especially like to pass on to our electrical contractor readers?

You have to spend time and money up front. For example, we sometimes fly overseas to watch players in action on their own team’s playing field. From time to time, we fly them in to visit here. All those airline tickets are expensive. It’s a big investment. But it pays off. So, my best advice is to make that up-front investment.

About the Author

Andrew P. McCoy and Fred Sargent

SARGENT is an electrical industry consultant focusing on service expertise. He can be reached at fred@sargent.com. MCCOY is the Preston and Catharine White Fellow and department head of the Department of Building Construction in the Myers-Lawson...

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