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Sir Alex Ferguson's employability audit

Sir Alex Ferguson this week celebrates 25 years as Manchester United manager. To be continually employed for a quarter of a century is quite an achievement, especially in a field where job security is rare. From a careers professional's point of view though, it's interesting to consider what would happen if, perhaps through no fault of his own, Sir Alex had to look for work. Would he readily find another position in the same or another field? Is he still employable?


Qualifications are becoming increasingly important in football, as in other sectors. Formal coaching qualifications are required in many overseas countries and for new appointments in the Premier League. In addition, an increasing number of aspiring managers study for the Certificate in Football Management offered by The University of Warwick.

Outside football, a degree is certainly an advantage in many areas of work and required in some. There is also recent research to suggest that the pay differential between those with a postgraduate qualification and those with only a first degree is increasing, but this depends very much on the field. Many employers say that they do not place a premium on postgraduate qualifications.

Sir Alex can point to a number of degrees, most recently honorary doctorates from both the universities of Stirling and Manchester (both 2011). So far so good for Sir Alex - but academic qualifications certainly don't guarantee a job.


Sir Alex has a total of 37 years' experience as a football manager, 10 years' as a professional player and, before that, he was an apprentice tool maker in the Clyde Shipyards. However, it's not the length of his service that will matter in future but his achievements and what he has learned during over 50 years of work.

Skills profile

Although the skills and personal attributes required vary from job to job, there are some that appear on almost all employers' wish lists. These include: leadership, team working, communication, problem solving, commercial awareness and time management skills.  Although the above are by no means exhaustive, we should get some idea of how employable Sir Alex is by using them to examine what evidence he might put forward to convince a prospective employer that he'd be worth taking on.

• Leadership This should be relatively easy for Sir Alex. His record as Manchester United manager usually speaks for itself, but he would need to be sure not to assume prior knowledge on the part of a prospective employer. He should list key achievements (being careful not to make his CV too long), such as the many trophies won, his knighthood, the regular accolades (including those from his peers, such as Manager of the Year awards), together with the major part he played in changing the culture and financial performance of the then struggling club he joined.

Team working At first sight, a little more difficult given his 37 years as the 'boss', but he should be able to impress by articulating how his understanding of  teamwork has been critical to the creation of many winning sides over the years. He could also show how he operates with a successful team of coaches and alongside the Manchester United Board of Directors.

Communication He would be able to highlight the many different types of people with whom he has worked to achieve unprecedented success (such as young multi-millionaire footballers, many of whom don't speak English as a first language, non-playing staff, directors, owners, fellow managers, fans and journalists) and the different sorts of communication he employs: negotiation (eg, over transfer fees); and persuasion (eg, to keep the likes of Wayne Rooney and Eric Cantona at the club).

Problem solving Examples could come from the field of play (eg, when he has changed tactics during a game that United appeared destined to lose) or the wider business (eg, how he responded to Chelsea's, and now Manchester City's, greater  financial means).

Commercial awareness His record in buying young players relatively cheaply and selling those whose market value he feels about to be in decline is persuasive.  He could also mention his understanding of the need for United to play pre-season tours of the Far East or the USA, important new markets for the club, or to play matches at times to suit TV, from which United derives a huge income.

Time management  Not only can he demonstrate his ability to handle the many demands on his time, which range from managing the club, watching other teams and media work, but even his opponents will point to occasions when he has somehow influenced match officials to allow an extra few minutes of playing time, long enough for his team to turn a losing position into a winning one!

Sir Alex will have to carefully consider the requirements of any particular job, but it appears he can be confident that he has a mix of skills that will make him attractive to future employers. But is that enough to make him employable?

Room for improvement

He should reflect and consider what additional skills might be useful in the future. For instance, he might think about:

Learning a foreign language Football, like many others, is an increasingly global industry. A good grasp of another language would undoubtedly open up opportunities overseas and give him an edge when buying or managing foreign players. Encouragingly, it appears that he might already be aware of this. He concluded a press conference earlier this week with a cheery "Hasta la vista", but he should expect any claims to fluency in Spanish to be tested at interview.

Online profile Sir Alex is not a user of Twitter or Facebook. However, he still needs to consider what others are saying about him online. He should be encouraged by his high profile, but might want to address his sometimes negative image in the media. Depending on the field of work he is considering, he could consider whether a carefully managed LinkedIn or Twitter profile might be advantageous.  In the meantime, the recent resolution of his long-running feud with the BBC should help. Again, this suggests that Sir Alex has the foresight and drive to improve his employability profile.

More than just skills

Top jobs in football management, like those in other sectors, aren't always advertised. Sir Alex's impressive CV wouldn't be worth a thing if it lay unread on his desk. And, 25 years in one job isn't necessarily an advantage in today's labour market. Many people find it difficult to convince another employer of their worth. Perhaps their experience and skills are too specific to one company or sector, or they don't have enough external contacts - Sir Alex has managed to avoid all these pitfalls.

Outside interests Despite the demands of managing a top football club, Sir Alex has found time to contribute to his profession. For example, he currently serves on the executive board of the League Managers Association. Earlier in his career, he served as a shop steward. Besides enabling him to develop new skills, they give him new contacts and allow him to show a wider commitment to his area of work.

His ownership of successful racehorses will allow him to demonstrate that his understanding of sport isn't confined to football. And his charity work will help him come across as a rounded individual. He can cite his attempts to learn the piano as evidence of persistence. However, unless relevant for a particular post, he may choose not to mention his well-known appreciation of red wine!

Trump card Finally, his address book would ensure that Sir Alex needn't spend long out of work. It is well-reported that he manages to find time to keep in touch with former players, fellow managers and even childhood friends. There is no suggestion that he maintains these contacts purely to help him find work, but it would certainly come into its own if needed.  Many employers would take him on just to gain access to it - and he should certainly make sure that his many contacts knew the sort of opportunity he was looking for.


AGCAS members, who are careers practitioners in higher education, will no doubt be able to help Sir Alex with his employability audit and we will update this piece, as they do, but on current evidence there can be little doubt that he is not only employed but that he is highly employable too, albeit with a little room for improvement. Congratulations are in order.

Higher education careers services will help students and graduates carry out their own similar employability audit. It's an essential first-step to finding a fulfilling job.

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Tags: football Sir Alex Ferguson AGCAS

Created on: 06 November 2011

Last updated: 07 November 2011

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