Career Advice Feb 17 2012

The Career Lessons of Jeremy Lin

By damian ghigliotty

Not many of us are 6-foot-3 Harvard graduates who can play at the level of professional basketball. That hasn't kept career coaches, along with t-shirt, sneaker and other tchotchke-makers, from cashing in on the Jeremy Lin phenomenon at the New York Knicks.

In case you've been hiding under a rock the last few weeks, Lin, 23, has become the National Basketball Association's latest star, with a meteoric rise from bench warmer to starting point guard after scoring a 25-point game against the New Jersey Nets. This is from a guy who never got an athletic scholarship and graduated with an economics degree from Harvard University.

Despite the unlikelihood that most working folks could become professional sports stars, career coaches are weighing in with their own take on "Linsanity," extracting lessons than anyone can apply to his or her career. FINS spoke with three such people from Chicago and Massachusetts and culled through the flood of Jeremy Lin articles and blogs to bring you the best tips of the bunch.

1. Be Clear About Your Goals

The first step to career success is having an end in mind, said Jayne Mattson, senior vice president of the Boston-based career management firm Keystone Associates.

"Jeremy has been very clear about his goals," she said. "He kept that focus and handled challenges and rejections knowing that this is where he is meant to be."

For some individuals that kind of success comes naturally, said Glenn Freedman, an accounting and finance recruiter with the Waltham, Mass.-based staffing firm The Winter, Wyman Companies. "Over time, people with talent tend to be successful regardless of circumstance," he said. "Lin has that conviction."

2. Stay Humble and Respectful

Arrogance has hurt many a career, both inside the NBA and outside it. Lin, unlike some of his peers, has been repeatedly commended for his sense of humility. When asked about President Obama tuning in to watch him play, he said, "I'm very, very honored and very humbled." That statement came right after the Knicks beat the Sacramento Kings, 100 to 85 on Feb. 15.

"Lin knows either intuitively or through someone else's teaching that people are attracted to confidence and not arrogance," said Freedman. "Confidence has equal parts humility and respect. That always plays well in a business environment."

Lin has excelled by listening to those with more experience and responding to "market feedback," writes one career blogger at caseinterview.com.

3. Stay Persistent

Lin failed to impress talent scouts throughout most of his high school and college basketball career. He was later cut by both the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets before the New York Knicks offered him a one-year contract in 2011.

"You have to fail enough times to know how to get yourself out of those situations and put yourself in a better place," said Mattson of Keystone Associates. "He's quickly getting there."

Throughout his choppy start, Lin never took it personally that others were unable to recognize his value, said Freedman of Winter, Wyman. "He knew what he could do and he did it constantly and consistently whether people were watching him or not."

4. Find a New Way to Add Value

Lin has become a huge success story because of his ability to shoot and pass with such dexterity, in addition to his determination and effort, said Freedman.

"You have to find a way to add value before you can expect anyone to give you recognition," he said. "Lin realized that he had to produce something before anyone was willing to reward him."

Young professionals need to do the same, said Ginny Clarke, chief executive of the Chicago-based HR consulting firm Talent Optimization Partners and author of the book "Career Mapping: Charting Your Course in the New World of Work."

"In the workplace you have to show people what you're worth and what you can do for your team," she said. "You have to earn the attention of your peers and those above you."

5. Seize Opportunities

If one of your co-workers is out of commission, view it as a chance to prove yourself. Those are the moments when many aspiring professionals are able to break through.

"In the work place, opportunity can present itself in many forms," writes Benny Lee of the global recruiting firm Morgan McKinley. Part of Lin's success can be attributed to the injuries of his teammates.

"Everyone gets one of those moments to shine," said Freedman. "But what you do with it is what separates those who are more successful from those who are less successful." (Forbes)

6. Find a Culture that Fits You

Organizational culture can impact your career regardless whether you are a basketball player or a chief financial officer, said Mattson of Keystone Associates.

"When you watch him go to the hoop, Lin clearly has a distinct style of playing," she said. "Unlike the Warriors and the Rockets, the Knicks have helped bring that out of him. He found a culture where he fits in the best and where he will excel the most." (Forbes)

7. Build Your Personal Brand

At a time when career stability is so rare, your personal brand is your greatest asset, said Clarke of Talent Optimization.

In addition to every media outlet's undivided attention, Lin now has over 400,000 followers on Twitter, up from 200,000 last week.

"You have to make sure that you are always aware of your reputation and actively seeking to manage it," said Clarke. "Jeremy has already had to deal that with the fact that he was grossly under-represented as an Asian-American for whom stereotypes tend to lean more towards academic excellence rather than great basketball skills."

8. Open Yourself Up to Other Brands

Leveraging your connections is especially important if you are in a field where age is constantly working against you. In addition to building his own personal brand, Lin now also has the support of several big brands behind him, including Harvard University and the New York Knicks.

Next up: Nike is planning a new promotional campaign featuring the 23-year-old point guard, ABC News reported.

"Right now everyone is looking to capitalize off of his success," said Freedman. "But Lin has put himself in a situation where that exploitation will only benefit him."

Having the support a big brand provides an extra boost for those who might go through a career change later on, said Clarke. "Some professional sports careers tend to be short-lived," she said. "Lin already has a several big names behind him and he will be able to leverage that down the road. Maybe he'll coach, maybe he'll go become a business executive."

9. Diversify Your Efforts

Lin also has talents outside of shooting and passing, such negotiating apartment deals and lucrative sponsorships. He even served as the editor of his high school newspaper, according to his NBA profile.

"The only real difference between Jeremy Lin and Billy Ray Bates, the basketball star who robbed a Texaco Station at knifepoint in 1998, is that Lin has a backup plan," said Freedman of Winter, Wyman. "If the Knicks had never recognized his potential, that Harvard education would be serving him just as well."

That last point is worth repeating: Apply to Harvard. It can't hurt.

Write to Damian Ghigliotty at Damian.Ghigliotty@dowjones.com




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