There is no doubt about it: athletes are at the center of the Olympic Games. They are the focus of the crowds in Rio and at home. They are the stars of media interviews. However, it takes more than world-class sportsmanship to pull off the Olympics. With nearly 11,000 athletes and 500,000 foreign travelers arriving to watch the Games, thousands of people work tirelessly behind the scenes to run the infrastructure and support the events.

Here is a small sample of those virtually invisible Olympic jobs that make the events come together.


By now you must have seen the picture of the bored lifeguard by the Olympic pool that nearly blew up the Internet. OK, maybe he was not working tirelessly at the moment the picture was taken. However, the law requires him to be there. While he may seem (and feel) redundant when swimmers like Michael Phelps are in the pool, some water sports do carry a certain amount of risk. Water polo and diving are just two examples when first aid may become necessary.

Ball Person

Yep, those are the men and women who scurry after the balls on the tennis courts. As you might imagine, that job involves a lot of sprinting, so the ball persons have to qualify for the position. In addition to the physical demands of the task, there are mental pressures as well – after all, the ball person must track the ball at all times, anticipate what happens next, and be ready to move at any second.


All those athletes and guests have to be fed! An international team of chefs stands at the ready to serve the crowds, with 60,000 meals to prepare and serve daily to the athletes alone. There are five buffets: Brazilian, Asian, International, Pasta and Pizza, and Halal and Kosher. Chefs must guarantee that all meats are free from steroids that might cause an athlete to test positive on a doping test, so coordination with catering companies is critical.

Cleaning and waste management

As anyone who has ever attended a public event can testify, crowds sure generate a lot of trash. Clean-up at the Olympic facilities is a constant uphill battle. From sweat mopping on the courts to trash pick-up, janitorial crews keep the venues from turning into rivers of used napkins and wrappers. The Olympic Committee for the London Games in 2012 set the lofty goal of zero-waste to landfill. The Games in Rio have been plagued by a much more challenging starting point (human waste in the water is just one of the problems), so the organizers and coordinators have a big task ahead of them.


The 2016 Rio Olympics are the first Games in South America, a premise that comes with its unique set of security challenges. Brazil is known for street crime and protests, and tourists and athletes might look like easy wealthy targets. Security planning for the games involves intense preparation including security surveys, route analysis, and crisis response. Security teams coordinate and interface with emergency first responders in the event of a threat or injury. Security personnel must be trained on Olympic procedures, as well as cultural sensitivity and situational awareness.

With a range of jobs stretched far and wide, and exotic destinations as a bonus, have you considered that you can work at the next Olympic Games? While it may be too late for you to jet to Rio, recruiting has yet to kick off for the upcoming Games in South Korea, Japan, and China. The hiring teams will be looking for about 150,000 staff, contractors and volunteers to make the Games run smoothly.

Think you have what it takes to be a part of the Olympic support team? Here is the list of requirements. The specifics vary depending on the location, and organizers report that approximately one out of every 10 or 20 candidates gets hired, although that hiring rate varies by position. For jobs that require little technical skill and have a large candidate pool, 99% of candidates might be turned away. For highly specialized and technical positions that require a targeted executive search, one out of every three applicants might get hired. Here is what the hiring team is looking for.

Strong team players

Most positions that support the Olympic Games are temporary by definition. As a result, for these Olympic jobs, the organizers usually seek out strong team players who have demonstrated the ability to learn quickly and work well with a group of professionals who are new to each other. The ability to connect with the mission of the Olympics, as well as understand the interdependent pieces of a large-scale project, is also critical for certain roles.

Language skills

For the Games in Rio, the organizers were looking for candidates bilingual in Portuguese and English – a tough requirement that narrowed the candidate pool considerably. The ability to communicate is critical, so if you are proficient in the host language and English you may have an advantage over other candidates.  

Flexibility, adaptability and resilience

With a different host country and facilities for each Olympic event, organizers and support staff do not have the “same-old” routines to fall back on. As a result, for many Olympic jobs, recruiters look for candidates who have demonstrated flexibility and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Professional experience

Many support jobs at the Games require little technical training, but certain other positions, like facilities energy management, project management and logistics, and specialty IT support demand extensive professional experience. Henrique Gonzalez, Human Resource Director for Rio 2016, observed that ideally he seeks out candidates with both academic qualifications and strong professional experience. However, experience is key. So if you have a rare specialty and experience supporting a large-scale project, you may be in demand.

Cultural awareness

Olympic Games bring together athletes that represent hundreds of countries, each with a unique set of customs, traditions, taboos, and dietary requirements. Respect and cultural awareness are critical ingredients to help avoid misunderstandings and create an inclusive experience.

As you can see, getting an Olympic job is not all that different from doing it anywhere else! Many hiring managers are looking for the same characteristics as the Olympic hiring committee, and hiring success is ultimately the result of a good match between the position requirements and the candidate's skillset and experience.

While contributing to the Olympics is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it is not the only way to move your career forward. Every job experience is a unique opportunity to grow, learn, and develop a new set of skills. The Olympic Games offer all of us a chance to appreciate the invisible jobs that make the world go around, and use the opportunities we have to advance and get better at what we do. When this happens with the backdrop of incredible sportsmanship, paying attention is easy!

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