Hitting the playing field the new route to career growth

It’s not just jobs—youngsters find mentors and career guidance on the playground


(Left to right) Nikhil Jha, Vivek Kumar and Srikumar Nair, founders of Gurgaon-based sports tech firm Sportswave that organizes games for corporate executives. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
(Left to right) Nikhil Jha, Vivek Kumar and Srikumar Nair, founders of Gurgaon-based sports tech firm Sportswave that organizes games for corporate executives. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

New Delhi: Archana Ashu, 28, loves playing sports on weekends to unwind from her gruelling job as a media planner.

But there is more to it than a game. It’s at a tennis court where the Delhi-based woman was offered her next job.

“You meet new people and network in the playground. And who knows, you may just land the job you are looking for, or a senior executive present in the ground (as a player) may find the right candidate in you,” said Ashu, who is now working with GroupM, a media planning company in Gurgaon.

If you think that “all work and no play” is the only way to climb the corporate ladder, you are mistaken. Hitting the playing field appears to be the new route to career growth.

“The benefit spans beyond the obvious. If you are enterprising enough, then the playground opens up new job avenues. I landed a job in a leading e-commerce firm as a new-market development manager because of the people I got to know while playing football,” said Rajiv Singh, a resident of Gurgaon.

“I was in a small company, and my new e-commerce job gave me a better profile, more money and exposure,” he said, adding that his game “helped me more than a jazzed-up CV to land that job.”

While in office, you work for your present boss, in the playground, “you may actually find your next boss”, Singh added.

Vivek Kumar, co-founder of Sportswave, a Gurgaon-based sports technology firm, said that an increasing number of executives have begun playing sports, such as cricket, football, tennis and badminton.

Kumar’s start-up organizes such camps across various cities.

He caters to both individuals and companies—while individuals can turn up and sign up for a game, firms organize matches or games weeks for their employees. In the first category, the groups are expectedly diverse in character; in the second category, it’s largely homogenous groups.

“In the first category of people, the networking is stronger as they come on their own and invest in building new relations. This is where the job talks are common before, during or after the game,” said Kumar.

“We’ve already raised money from a Singapore-based angel investor and are readying for the pre Series-A round of funding in a few months. The aim is to expand our network further. There is a huge opportunity in connecting corporates to parks, grounds or play courts. They play, we earn some revenue and we shall be happy to see our clients’ career growth through games,” he said.

Kumar said universities and institutions approach his company for organizing sports and, from there on, “we have seen graduates getting internship or job offers through we don’t keep count of it”.

It’s not just jobs—youngsters find mentors and career guidance on the playground.

“It largely depends on you how to leverage that access. Some do it very well and some just play,” said Chennai-based Nikhil Rai, a financial analyst with Hitachi Payment Services, a payment service company.

“Before coming to Chennai, I was working in a software firm in Gurgaon, and while playing games, I used to network with the partner of a leading consulting company. There I learnt the nuances of analytics, and this person was almost like a mentor to me,” said Rai. Although he got a job offer in a power company through his play mates, he did not join it due to personal reasons. “You get a foot in the door of a company due to the access the game provides. While playing a team sport, you are part of a diverse grouping which helps open your mind to new career avenues,” he said.

Human resource professionals say even senior-level hiring has started taking place at the playground. But there are other aspects to the trend.

“One is hiring but the other important aspect is building team spirit, feeling proud in your brand while unwinding after wok. We would not like to see our employees shift job from the playground but we certainly promote games as part of building better teams,” said Parul Dhir, vice-president of people engagement at Copal Amba, a Moody’s Analytics firm .

Dhir said that team spirit and leadership qualities can be best judged in a non-office setting, say during a game of sport, away from structured PowerPoint presentations.

“Though we have not done it in our office, as a human resource management professional, I know how some companies call senior executives for a game of sports before handing over the offer letter,” Dhir said.

“This is a new trend and shall pick up further as companies make efforts to select the best fit for their offices.”

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