After retiring from athletics, Ashton landed a role as a Product Development Engineer with Intel.
He is now working on a programme to help you with your own career transition, and believes networking is key.
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It either takes a certain kind of mindset or you develop a certain kind of mindset when you’re pursuing your Olympic dream, and you carry that with you for the rest of your life as far as I know. For athletes, the way we think about approaching problems and trying to get them done is a real asset to companies around the world.
When I was an athlete, I always thought the way you get a job is you put in a résumé and you sit in an interview or a series of interviews, and that is true – but there are other ways, too.
I would say the single biggest thing you can do while competing is to network; essentially, meet people and build relationships. Often during my career, I was very head down, I kept my circle small and actually pushed people away and tried to focus. I think, to some degree, that was helpful for success, but it would have been even better [to have done more networking], especially for post-sport.
As an athlete, you’re often travelling around the world and you’re meeting so many different people, whether they’re from different companies or different national governing bodies. So just talk to folks, ask them what they’re doing and explain what you’re interested in. You never know who you’re going to meet, what their story is and who their connections are.
I actually found these things out after sport, and I imagine if I’d done it during sport I would’ve been way ahead of the game as far as my plans in what to do after [were concerned].
Reach out during downtime
I WOULD SAY THE SINGLE BIGGEST THING YOU CAN DO WHILE COMPETING IS TO NETWORK, ESSENTIALLY, MEET PEOPLE AND BUILD RELATIONSHIPS.
I know that for most athletes, you actually have a lot of downtime. You can’t output your body at such a high level all the time, and so take those rest periods or take that travel time – and especially after competitions I know there’s a lot of rest time – to reach out to people.
Before I [got involved with] Intel, I would just email people and say: “I’m this Olympic athlete who retired from sport and I’m kind of interested in what you’re doing; would you talk to me?”
It’s something that simple.
Recognise the benefits you can bring
You have a very interesting story. Not everybody is an elite athlete pursuing the Olympic dream, so for somebody to get an email and have you be interested in their company, I think they would open up to you.
I think athletes have such a unique mindset and approach to the way we do things, the way we see life, the way we try to accomplish goals, that really tend to fit well with, for example, a company like Intel, which is trying to solve a lot of global problems.
Don’t be put off by a lack of experience
For me, it was just so cool to see a company that has really been at the forefront of developing the technical world as we know it today working on something that I have a history in and that I’m passionate about.
I think we throw around the term “technology” and that it could scare you into thinking: “Maybe I don’t have the technical background to really understand or to be involved in these things”. I very much had that fear as well, but while the things we’re working on are complex in the background, technology is really just a tool to help us either better understand or better perform.
Use this moment in time productively
Specifically at Intel, we are launching some resources that you can use to develop your skills and knowledge for post-sport. We’re partnering with LinkedIn, which has a suite of education options that I actually looked to when I was an athlete and that can really prepare you – first, to open up your mind about what business and technology and other things might be about, but also give you some of those initial learnings before you decide to transition in your career. So I would use this time wisely to start developing that stuff.