Three Ways Recruitment is like Building a Sports Team

The Connection Between Employee Recruitment and Professional Sports

If you’re a sports fan like me, I’m sure you will appreciate this article and the similarities that I see between sports teams attracting talent and businesses doing the same.

For a sports team, there is always talk about the top athletes in the league and how everyone would love to have them on their team.  These are the ones that, if you have the chance to acquire, you will make room for them.  However, dynasties are built on the back of the team’s workhorses: the players who grind it out every day and make up the bottom lines, or role players.

Team of athletes enjoying victory

Three ways to build an effective team

When it comes to building a sports team, there are only three ways to do it:

1: Free Agency

2: Trades

3: Drafting & Player Development

Portrait of powerful hockey player

Free Agency

Free agency is the day when even people who are not big fans have their eyes on the league or their team.  Who is player X going to sign with this year?  Is my team going to get so and so to fill this need within their lineup?  

While Free Agency is extremely exciting, it is also the most difficult, competitive, and expensive way to acquire a player.  In July of 2021, millions of people watched as the Free Agency season opened in the NHL.  According to TSN, the NHL’s 32 teams spent $576,725,000 on 128 contracts on opening day.  During this time, teams are trying to woo top stars to sign with their team; however, they often compete with other teams.  They have to consider the player’s interest, their families, ties to the community, and so much more.

This is the same thing businesses go through when posting jobs and trying to attract talent.  They hope that top-quality candidates will see their ad and want to come to play for their team.  Like Free Agency, this is the most costly, time-consuming, and competitive way for companies to hire.


The second most talked about acquisition tool in sports comes via trades.  While this sometimes lowers competition for a player, it doesn’t always.  Once news gets out that a player may be available other teams most certainly come calling.   It is also expensive. Often you have to give up prospects or future draft picks to acquire the high-profile player you want, which is more of a  short-term, costly strategy.

This strategy can be compared to using an external agency to “headhunt” talent from other organizations in the recruitment world.  It can be very time-consuming and is expensive as some fees can be as high as 25-30% of the first year’s annual salary.  There is also the competition component to deal with as well.  

After five years on the agency-side of the business, I found that talking with a candidate who says they “aren’t looking” is the catalyst that piques their interest in what’s out there.

I’ve lost track of how often I spoke to a candidate who wasn’t initially looking, only to have them turn down our offer because they accepted something elsewhere.  


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Drafting and Player Development.

When it comes to the long-term strategy of building a contending team, General Managers (GMs) rely on drafts and player development to get the players they need.  Suppose their team needs a striker, a point guard, a center, or a quarterback. In that case, there are only so many available in the league, so they turn to drafting and developing players through their minor leagues or affiliate teams.  This is a long process and typically is only followed by true ‘die-hard’ fans.

The same can be said about candidate nurturing as a long-term, middle-of-the-funnel strategy. However, while sports teams have scouts who watch players around the world, recruiters must rely on tools like recruitment marketing automation platforms and recruitment CRMs to build their talent pipeline.

Recruiters can watch who engages with their brand and build long-lasting relationships over time using the right automation, like sending the right message to them based on their needs and where they are in the funnel.  With the right recruitment marketing strategy in place, talent acquisition teams can build for the future by nurturing talent and converting them to qualified applicants when the time is right.  This approach is much more cost-effective, helps close roles faster, and saves recruiters time when it comes to finding suitable candidates.

I know that there will always be the need for “Free Agency” and “Trades” when filling short-term needs in recruitment.  There will always be times when someone leaves unexpectedly, or you land a new contract and have to grow your team. However, suppose your Talent Acquisition team has the right nurturing plan in place when the time comes. In that case, your chance of filling that open spot with a higher quality talent grows exponentially.

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