From the Locker Room to the Boardroom

On Monday, Dec. 9, 2019, over three dozen student-athletes crowded into Belfer 921 to hear advice from a panel of five former YU student-athletes about how their lives as YU players helped them achieve career success in an event co-organized by the YU Career Center and the Athletics Department.

On the panel were Zach Charles ’13SB (tennis), a certified player agent; Stephanie Aaron Amos ’98YUHS, ’03SB (basketball), controller for specialty lending at Cross River Bank; David Kufeld ’76YUHS, ’80YC (basketball), director of advertising and client relations at Weitz & Luxenberg; Adira Katlowitz ’09SB (volleyball), vice president of the securities division at Goldman Sachs; and Joshua Pransky ’10YC, ’19SB (soccer), senior consultant at Deloitte. The panel discussion was moderated by Joe Bednarsh ’92YUHS, director of athletics.

(l-r): Zach Charles, Stephanie Aaron Amos, David Kufeld, Adira Katlowitz, Joshua Pransky and Joe Bednarsh

All the panelists explained how the multiple skills of a student-athlete can be parlayed into success, emphasizing such positives as adaptability to changing circumstances, endurance, pushing for the finish line, a willingness to learn new things, mastering pain and pressure, learning from failure, a comfort with taking risks, the capacity for networking, and, above all, the ability to work in teams to accomplish common goals.

These skills, said the panelists, both individually and in concert with each other, map nicely onto what employers look for when hiring new employees.

They also gave detailed advice about how to promote these positive attributes both in the résumé and the interview. “Don’t be afraid to put forward your student athletic experience,” coached Amos, “but be sure to do it humbly. Be honest, but also be humble about it.” Charles agreed but also noted that there’s not a downside to letting an employer know that you possess a willingness to take risks and to accept the challenge of learning whatever it is that needs to be learned in order to achieve success. “It’s as if you’re saying to them, ‘Once you see my ethic, you will want to keep me.’”

Katlowitz summed it up well when she counseled those in the room to apply their student-athlete skills to a career search in the same they would scout out a challenger. “Because of the way you’ve been trained, you all know how to put your practice skills to work for you: do your research, do your prep and training, in the same way you would for an opposing team.”

The panelists also focused on broader concerns of the student-athlete experience that are crucial to successful outcomes. One such aspect was how to handle failure, a situation no athlete can avoid. To a person, all the panelists saw failure as positive and rewarding as long as it was understood properly. Pransky said that one of his responsibilities as a leader at Deloitte is to reduce the fear of failure in his team. “I want them to accept failure and work with it because dealing with failure makes you strong.” Kufeld, who had the good fortune of playing for Johnny Halpert, learned from the legendary coach how “in extreme situations of winning and losing, you get to see how you really are as a person. It is very instructional.” Charles advised them to “take any loss with dignity because you can’t win everything.” Katlowitz phrased it as “fail forward—be able to show that you had a perspective about what you did, that you thought about it.”

That word, “perspective,” was also highlighted by the panelists. Charles described how, as a player, he tended be hot-headed and impulsive, “but I learned that it was always important not to give into that heated moment—take a step back to gain an understanding of what giving in to that impulse would mean. Be that person, not the person with a temper.” Pransky told a story of how he managed a situation of employee grumbling by listening past the noise of the complaining to hear the actually issues underneath. “As a manager, just as with being a player on a team with many different personalities, you have to take the point of view of not being distracted by the noise to actually hear what things sound like so that you can get to the right solution.”

They also had some practical counseling applicable to any job-seeker, based on the number of interviews they’ve had to sit through, some of which sounded simplistic but was nonetheless very important: know your résumé better than your interviewer knows it; know your story and make it fuller than the résumé; know the job you’re applying for with as much detail as possible and be able to explain how you fit into the role; practice the interview; and always, always, always prepare questions to ask.

They also underscored the importance of networking, which Pransky illustrated with a story of how he got a contact for his current job by coaching the son of his eventual boss. Katlowtiz suggested finding a sports team to be part of “because that can put you in touch with people not in your usual professional network,” and Kufeld urged people to maintain their links to their classmates. Pransky noted a simple truth: “You never know where people will be.”

At the end of the session, they all offered sharp and encouraging advice to the people sitting in front of them (where some of the panelists, not that long ago, had been sitting).

  • Pransky: “As a student-athlete, you have built a tolerance to do an enormous amount of work without any guarantee of success. That means you are primed to take on a lot of extra work in a job for which you will not get paid but which will prove that you can do the work and do it well for the organization. Then you’ll get the pay.”
  • Katlowitz: “Work hard and play hard but also find that balance in your work and personal life. Never be afraid to show your passion.”
  • Kufeld: “Put your heart on the line all the time. Risk putting in the effort to do your best. Don’t cheat.”
  • Amos: “Student athletes have a grit and determination that many people don’t have. Make them work for you.”
  • Charles: “Know your craft and work hard at it. No one will hand it to you; you need to go and take it. Be open to change, but the goal always remains the same.”

Matthew Garcia, assistant director at the Career Center, and Bednarsh were very pleased with the way the evening turned out. “The importance of this type of event cant be overstated,” said Bednarsh. “Our student-athletes excel in the classroom and on the field of play, and the skillset it takes to do that is directly translatable to desirable skills employers covet. Learning how to market your ‘soft skills’ in most fields is at least equally as important as marketing your experience.”

Senior Bar Alluf (left) speaks with Stephanie Aaron Amos and David Kufeld