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TempTalk with Tabia Charles, Olympic Long Jumper

A woman in a business suit long jumps over a city

A former professional long jumper and participant of the Beijing Summer Olympics Games in 2008, Tabia Charles is no stranger to determination. That’s why, after suffering an ankle injury that halted her athletic career, she got right back up to travel a new path. “The experience was amazing in Beijing,” she says. “It was definitely one of the highlights of my life to go there. Sports has taken me places I never thought I would go, travelling the world and meeting amazing people. So I definitely don’t regret my choice to compete for Canada. But I’m so happy that I have an opportunity now to actually start my next career path.”

Although professional competition left little time for work, Tabia took advantage of what opportunities she could get to bolster her resume. “Even in university I worked,” she recalls. “I always liked making extra money and being independent. But once I got to a certain level in track and field, I didn’t have time to work anymore.” Still, she participated in a work program for athletes at a major Canadian bank and had jobs with a variety of employers, including yet another bank, a home improvement retailer, a major Canadian beer company, and a major Canadian telco. However, it’s her current placement at Coca-Cola in Toronto – which she gained through the Athlete Career Program – that fuels her fire despite her initial apprehension.

Having completed her master’s degree in Human Resources Management, Tabia was on a mission to start her career in HR. “I was looking for Human Resource Management jobs. But when I was on the phone registering with Adecco, I was told they had an opportunity I might be interested in because they were looking for Olympians.” After finding out that the role at Coca-Cola was in Marketing, Tabia wasn’t sure how to feel – until her father provided some perspective. “At first, I was hesitant,” she recalls, “because Marketing is not my background and I didn’t want to stray too far from HR; I had invested so much into it. But my dad said to just give it a chance because Coca-Cola’s an amazing company and there was no way of knowing where I’d end up – the sky’s the limit. So I decided to take the chance.”

And she hasn’t looked back. “I’ve been working there for about four months now and I honestly want to stay on the Marketing route,” she says. “I’m loving it here. They’re giving me so many projects that I’m leading. They’ve really trusted me to carry out a lot of innovation on projects, creative briefs, and work with the agencies. A lot of project management. So it’s really working out for me here. I’m on track towards becoming an assistant manager.”

When asked about whether she regrets not being in an HR role, Tabia highlights how broad HR is as a field and how transferable HR skills are. “Every company has an HR department, so it’s not going anywhere. There are so many different roles in HR, whether it’s a generalist role, in training and development, or in compensation and benefits – there are so many different parts to HR and companies are always looking for HR people. It’s a great career. But I’ve learned so much in my master’s program that I can transfer into my Marketing role or anywhere that I go. One day, I’d want to be a manager here and I can use what I’ve learned in my training, leadership and management courses, and I can apply all of it to any position.”

Of course, sport also imbues athletes like Tabia with a set of skills and characteristics that employers look for, including ambition, teamwork, and accountability. “To be an Olympic and professional athlete, it takes a lot of hard work. We’re doing two-a-days and we’re training six days a week. You have to be disciplined and you have to work with a team, whether it’s your chiropractor, your coaches, your teammates, or your nutritionist. You can easily transfer that into working at a company with managers, the HR department, other employees, and clients. Olympians have this competitive nature; we always want to do well. We set the bar really high. This also comes into play when you’re working in an organization. When you have projects to do, your name is all over them, and you want to make sure that you did the best work possible because you want to be number one – you want to excel. It’s the same with athletics: you want to be number one at what you do. The ambition, the drive, the determination, the discipline – I think that any company would appreciate having a top athlete in their business because I know for a fact that those attitudes and characteristics transfer over.”

Based on her experiences, Tabia has some advice for her fellow athletes: “You have to understand that sports, and track and field especially, is not guaranteed and that it’s very fickle. It’s not consistent. So you have to begin to prepare yourself midway or towards the end of career to set yourself up for success in the working world. In track and field in Canada, people usually focus just on their sports goals. And I get that they want to accomplish goals, but there comes a time when you have to realize that there’s a life beyond track and field. There’s so much more. Use what you’ve got from the hard work and the travelling and apply it to putting your foot forward and getting into your career.” And she reinforces the importance of opportunities like the Athlete Career Program: “For those who are trying to transition from sport to work, opportunities like these are very necessary, and I think it’s great that Adecco is supporting athletes.”

Tabia also has advice for anyone, athlete or not, who’s trying to find their footing on their own career path: “Whether you’re an athlete or not, it is so important to evaluate where you see yourself. It’s so essential to do research online. Look to see what’s in demand, what you can be successful in, and what can make you happy. Then start on that route whether it’s by taking courses, going back to school, or doing a trade. It’s so important to do that research and ask where you see yourself and what you can do to get there.”

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