Olympics lessons for your career

Milkround's Mike Barnard on what you can learn from the Golden Games"

Just days before the opening ceremony, question marks remained hanging over the London 2012 Olympic Games. Commentators were quick to suggest that Danny Boyle's use of a "traditional" British setting in the Olympic Stadium, complete with parading animals, was going to be an embarrassing start, and that transport chaos in London was going to render it impossible to get to the various venues. The UK's medal hopes had been hyped up, but no one would have been too surprised if the predictions for golds didn't all materialise. It wouldn't have been the first time Team GB, or the nation in general, had under-performed.

And yet, London 2012 has largely been hailed as a huge success, thanks to the impressive display from Team GB's athletes and the sterling work of hosts of organisers, volunteers and military personnel. Even the transport network seemed well prepared to handle the massive number of visitors. Tubes and trains ran later than normal to ensure no one was stranded in Stratford, and to minimise any commuter disruption. The result has been a outpouring of feel-good emotion as politicians, athletes and respected figures around the world have praised what have been dubbed the "Golden Games".

The doom-mongers who maintained, right from the moment that London's bid was successful in 2005 up until the eve of the opening ceremony, that the city would be crushed under its own ambition have been proven wrong. Security issues, fears of transport gridlock, a lack of border control officers and potential strike action all loomed like dark clouds, adding to the near permanent natural raincloud that hovered over the UK for much of the summer. But now there's immense pride across the country in London 2012, proving that there's nothing wrong with aiming high and being ambitious as long you have a professional and organised plan to fulfil those ambitions.

While the Olympics seemed to be a smooth operation on the surface, this was only possible due to meticulous planning by LOCOG. Thousands of volunteers were drafted in, and praised for their cheerful demeanour and helpful advice to visitors. Getting around the venues was made as easy as possible by the use of signs and a dedicated travel planning service. Meanwhile, in the competition itself, Britain's medal hopefuls were well supported financially in the years running up to 2012 and given unprecedented support by the media when their big days arrived.

Now, the whole country has been buoyed by the success of Team GB and London 2012 in general. But what lessons can be learnt from the Olympics for your career? Think of your future path as following a similar trajectory to London's Olympic journey. Aiming high is an excellent place to start, but be realistic: you need to put the right preparation in if you want to achieve your goals. In the case of the job market, that means building up your skills base so you have the depth of knowledge and experience which will see you recognised by employers as someone to invest in first with training, then with responsibility and - ultimately - promotion to that role you've always wanted.

Also, think like an athlete by looking at who is at the top of your chosen career ladder and tracing their career history back to their roots to see what they did to get where they are today. Athletes try to follow in the footsteps of those who know what it takes to be a sporting great, and career success stories such as those of the late Steve Jobs at Apple, the entrepreneurs dishing out advice on Dragons' Den, and the leading man of The Apprentice Lord Alan Sugar are easily found and will help inspire you. If there was an Olympic gold medal for their efforts too, they'd all be on the highest step of the podium.

If you try to take a short cut to the top, however, you'll soon get caught out - just ask Belorussian drugs cheat and discus thrower Nadzeya Ostapchuk, or the eight badminton players who deliberately tried to lose in order to get an easier route to the final, only to end up being booed by the crowd, then ejected from the Games. But if you stick to old-fashioned hard work and take inspiration from more worthy role models than these discredited Olympians, London 2012's legacy might just be even greater than we thought.