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[How We Hire] Retaining a talented, passionate staff

Published on: Apr 25, 2017

The United States Olympic Committee is charged with supporting American athletes who inspire the nation and represent Team USA at the largest peaceful gathering of nations worldwide. Pam Sawyer, USOC managing director of human resources, and USOC Recruitment Manager Tim Henderson are charged with recruiting, assembling and retaining a talented, passionate staff to help prepare Team USA for the Olympic, Paralympic, Youth Olympic, Pan American, and Parapan American Games. The USOC’s “Team Behind The Team” consists of approximately 450 staff members who are primarily based in three U.S. locations—Colorado Springs, Colorado, New York, and Washington, D.C.—and either fill traditional business roles or work directly with athletes as coaches, sports scientists, dietitians and more.


Our pitch for potential hires
Come join the Team Behind The Team! We don’t just identify Team USA with our athletes, but with everyone who supports those athletes.

What people love about working at the USOC
We administer an annual employee engagement survey, and one of the key indicators we use is the question, how connected do you feel to the mission? Regularly, we see 95 percent or more feel that connection. We have 450 employees across the U.S., and the people who work directly with the athletes—in coaching, food and nutrition, sports sciences and more—say they most love seeing athletes compete, succeed and stand to receive medals. Responses from those of us on the business side tend to be more varied: the challenging work, international travel, and getting to know people around the world are popular responses. The other key thing people love is how collegial and family-oriented we are, with really strong relationships across the board.

What we love about working at the USOC
Pam: I’ve been with the USOC since 2009, when I moved here from a for-profit position in Atlanta, and the mission-focused environment was a terrific change. One of the great things about the modern-day Olympics is that it was started as part of the peace movement, so it’s pretty cool to say that I’m working every day for peace through sports.
Tim: I was with the U.S. Air Force for 22 years before joining the USOC in 2010, and it’s similar to my military experience in that it’s bigger than myself and it’s about serving others. There is nothing more rewarding that seeing our athletes competing at the international level.

One trait essential to employee success
The ability to form positive relationships with all key constituents—athletes, coworkers and National Governing Bodies—is a very important trait for USOC employees. We determine that ability with behavioral interview questions about their experience developing relationships in other jobs, and by seeing how candidates communicate and engage with us during the interview process.

If our office was a person
Pam: Our office would probably be an athlete—we are focused, competitive and always looking for ways to raise the bar in our performance. We also have quite a few employees who are Olympians and Paralympians, and turned their passion into a career after retiring from elite competition.

Our favorite interview question or ice-breaker
Tim: Tell us why you’re interested in this position. It’s very telling—sometimes we’ll get someone who is stymied by that question, or we’ll get someone who says, “I’ve been a fan of the Olympics since childhood, so working here would be a dream come true.”
Pam:I like asking them to tell us about their favorite Olympic or Paralympic moment. Mine is when Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic torch at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, which was such a great surprise!

What newcomers first notice about the office
Here at the Colorado Springs headquarters, people might first notice one of two things. There’s the athletes, who might be part of Team USA or visiting from Africa or South America for training, which gives you a real sense of our global community; or, when you walk into the building, the imagery on display throughout the office showing historic moments from the Olympic and Paralympic movements.

Something cool we do to support our staff
Not everyone gets to travel to the Olympic or Paralympic Games, so we celebrate those who stay behind to carry on their work with fun sports activities, complete with special apparel we use as uniforms. During the Paralympic Games in Rio, we hosted a Race to the Roof, where 30 USOC employees signed on to race up five flights of stairs, while coworkers gathered on each floor to cheer them on and ring cowbells.
Tim: With the re-instatement of golf into the Olympic program for the first time since 1904 in Rio, we hosted our first annual mini golf tournament at USOC headquarters. We set up golf holes throughout the offices and awarded prizes for first, second, and third place.

The U.S. Olympic Committee is responsible for preparing athletes for the challenges they face, providing the support and training services athletes need to excel and realize their full potential, raising resources in support of that mission, and ensuring those resources are wisely and effectively used. Find out more on their website, or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.