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As competition heats up for new university graduates vying for jobs this spring, student athletes are drawing the attention of companies for having goal-minded qualities that could potentially make them superior candidates.

Although students with athletic backgrounds might find it difficult to compete for jobs with other students because they are busy training in sports clubs, student athletes stand out from the crowd in a climate where many young people are seen as “weak-minded.”

“We aimed for goals, and competed with other colleagues while encouraging each other. I received a high valuation because I had been in a sports club,” said Im Seong-ho, 25, a medical representative at a major pharmaceutical company who possesses South Korean nationality though he grew up in Japan.

Im, who belonged to the university swimming team, competed in the intercollegiate championships three years in a row.

There are joint information sessions specifically held for student athletes and more companies seeking to hire them.

For student athletes who are absorbed in their sports, such as baseball or track and field, job hunting will very often overlap with times when they are preparing for big tournaments.

In fact, Im said that when he was in his third year, a senior who was taking part in another sports club activity suddenly stopped coming to practice due to the pressure to find a job — which resulted in a halfhearted effort in both endeavors.

In contrast, Im found time between club practices to prepare for job hunting.

That was when he learned of the medical representative position, which seemed perfect as a career choice since it would allow him to devote his attention to health care even on the job.

“Even in sports clubs, preparation for job hunting is necessary. It’s about finding the job you want and applying yourself,” he said.

But even though student athletes have been able to land jobs despite their busy schedules, especially because of strong backing from sports club alumni networks, a drop-off in such assistance in recent years is making the task more difficult.

According to employment support company Athlete Planning Co., recently, only 17 percent of student athletes received support from coaches or sports club alumni.

On top of this, the grueling club schedules often act as a further hindrance when seeking employment.

Student athletes, for example, do not have spare time to work in internships like regular students, so they have a tendency to gather less information when seeking employment. Because their schedules do not permit them to take part-time jobs, firms will often complain that they lack experience in the real world.

“We do not unconditionally hire just because the person is from a sports university club,” said an official of a major manufacturer.

Still, many tout the goal-oriented discipline learned from strenuous training in sports clubs as an asset, which demonstrates how candidates might show a similar toughness of resolve and an ability to plan on the job.

“There are few young people who have the backbone not to be unruffled by something minor,” said a personnel manager of the same manufacturer, admitting student athletes still draw high interest from the company.

Naris Cosmetics Co., a cosmetics sales company based in Osaka, has aggressively recruited student athletes over the past 20 years. On average, new graduate student athletes have accounted for about 20 percent of hires since 2010.

“They take initiative, demonstrate their leadership, and have a courteousness, which our customers highly value,” said the company’s personnel representative.

Software development company Fenrir Inc., also based in Osaka, hopes to employ university athletes in sales positions for the first time next spring.

“They’re energetic and lively. We expect the ability to focus, which they have fostered (over the years), to really come in handy,” said a company official.

In March, Sportsfield, a Tokyo-based employment support company, held joint information sessions geared only to student athletes, drawing nearly 1,500 and about 80 companies, including many major firms.

A 21-year-old male student, who plays on the basketball team at a private university, said he was given advice by a senior who has already entered the workforce to attack job-hunting the same way he plays on the basketball court.

“Moving to find challenges is the same in basketball and job-hunting,” he was told. “It will be difficult, but I want to give it my all so I have no regrets in competition and employment.”

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