You finally earned that job offer. After an exhausting search, from fine tuning your resume to determining your mission and nailing the interview, you found work in sports.

But then, as you settle in, you realize that maybe the culture doesn’t quite fit your personality. When you struggle with cultural fit, it’s harder to manage your career. After all, you want to thrive with your employer and your team, not constantly butt heads.

You need to think like a leader in the sports world. The higher-ups can provide you with amazing opportunities or they can cause you roadblocks throughout your career.

We spoke to Carl Francis, director of communications for the NFLPA and Georgetown University professor, to better understand how high-level leadership perceives three types of employees: the new hire, the underperformer, and the above and beyond.

This is what he had to say:

The New Hire

Everyone remembers meeting leadership during their first day on the job. It can be intimidating, but as Francis pointed out, it’s a great opportunity for you to exude confidence.

Francis looks at their body language. “I look for an engaging personality,” he said. “Someone who gives a firm handshake, holds eye contact, and speaks with confidence.”

Another important fact to remember — positivity is powerful. “Smiling is important because it usually lets me know they don’t take things too seriously,” Francis went on. “We work extremely hard at our jobs, but you want to create a good, positive environment while working hard.”

Personality can go a long way. In fact, Francis said one of the most important determining factors for new hire success is personality fit.

“Every department and company has a certain personality people must fit to be successful,” he said. “The work is easy. There are thousands of people who can do a job, but do they have the personality to fit a certain environment?”

The Underperformer

One of the worst offenders in the sports world, these professionals often come into a role feeling entitled and not willing to go the extra mile. They have a warped perception of their value and carry a bad attitude.

As Francis indicated, it’s easy to identify who your underperformers are from the beginning.

“One of the biggest red flags I notice in employees is a lack of understanding,” he said. “They don’t truly understand the position they earned. They interview for a role that they hope will turn into something different.”

It’s not just a lack of understanding about the job; many employees don’t do their research on companies either, which Francis pointed out is a common mistake that can hurt your career.

“As a new employee, you must understand the company’s mission and values,” he said. “Find out the ultimate goals as an organization to their customers or members.”

When you look for work in sports, part of your job search strategy should involve researching companies and identifying what employers align with your values and mission. This way, you feel connected to the bigger picture and find meaning in your work.

The Above and Beyond

Francis defined the most valuable qualities in successful employees as those who are flexible, work outside their comfort zone, and are willing to assist others.

In fact, being a good team player is a crucial skill for top performers. “The best skills I see in successful employees fall under this idea of working together,” he said. “These employees are able to collaborate, communicate their ideas effectively, and engage with others.”

Additionally, to be the best of the best, you need to seek out challenges and find opportunities for professional development. Francis suggested a few simple practices to follow.

First, become an active listener and seek out knowledge from others. With a thirst for new information, you’re well equipped to learn and grow quickly.

Then, bring this thirst to your organization — read all materials related to your company. The more you get to know the organization, the more you understand how you can contribute and grow with it. Also, reach out to other departments. This way, you’re getting multiple perspectives from different professionals.

Ultimately, Francis offered a straightforward strategy for those who want to work in sports and build a successful career — build your network. “Meet with as many sports professionals as possible,” he said. “Job seekers should research different careers in sports and reach out to speak with as many people as possible. Read their bios, then ask them relevant questions.”

To find work in sports and build an awesome career, start by developing a sense of direction. Reach out to others who work in sports and get a clear idea of what career path you want.

Stay informed and continue to seek out learning opportunities. No matter where you start, be confident and commit to being a team player. The alternative: stay stuck as an underperformer.

What type of employee do you want to be?

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