Career Risks: What They Are and Why We Have to Take Them
Gone are the days when building a career was as simple as climbing a ladder.
Flatter organizations and the faster pace of disruption and evolution within industries have replaced the career ladder with, at best, the career lattice. Or maybe the career labyrinth is a better metaphor.
The point is careers today progress through sidesteps, twists, and turns. Standing still for too long — by not developing new skills, expanding your knowledge, or engaging in new experiences — may leave you dangerously exposed.
Any career transition or (re)negotiation of the terms and conditions of employment represents a potential for risk. But whether these risks are real or sizable depends in large part on how you view them. Ultimately, the nature of a career risk is defined by you and your circumstances.
What the Poll Tells Us
We asked readers of CFA Institute Financial NewsBrief whether they’ve taken career risks and how they feel about having taken them or, conversely, having avoided them. A vast majority (79%) of the 897 respondents report having taken some kind of career risk, while only 16% say they played it safe. The good news is that 71% of respondents do not regret their decisions.
Have you taken risks with your career?*
* Results do not add up to 100% due to rounding.
Half (50%) of poll participants reported taking significant career risks, with 41% saying they were glad they did and 9% expressing regret. The lowest incidence of second thoughts came among those who took small career risks (28%), with only 4% regretting the choice. Meanwhile, the most second guessing came from among the 16% who did not take risks, with 10% expressing misgivings and only 6% saying they are glad they didn’t take any chances. Put another way, not taking risks seems far from the safest bet when it comes to managing your career.
Tips for Thinking about Career Risks
As the poll results suggest — and today’s professional climate demands — taking risks can be a positive and critical part of your professional journey. Here are five things to think about when you consider risk taking in your career.
- Avoid “misfit” risk. In Career Success: Navigating the New Work Environment, Khalid Ghayur, CFA, FSIP, and Dwight D. Churchill, CFA, explain that your values, interests, and style should align with the culture of your work environment. When these factors are out of sync, especially when a career decision departs from your deeply held values, the misfit often leads to regret, dissatisfaction, and career setbacks. (Ghayur and Churchill further explore how you can clarify your own values and interests and evaluate an organization’s culture, and provide thought exercises to help.)
- Optimism and confidence mitigate the experience of risk and can be learned. Develop the habit of crystalizing your concerns and considering what outcomes are within your power to influence and of the outcomes you are worried about, which actually have advantages.
- Build, tend to, and heed the input from your professional network! Your network can provide critical information, perspective, advice, and support when you are facing a career risk. Whether it’s cautioning you to steer clear of a particular path, offering guidance as you navigate a risk, reinforcing positive results, or helping you reset after a less-than-ideal outcome, your network can be an invaluable asset as you navigate your career.
- Be aware of the biases at play in your decision making. Many of the behavioral biases you are aware of in your investment decision making can come into play in your career decision making. Consider whether such biases are relevant or influencing you in times of career transition and negotiation. Specifically, double check if you are accurately assessing both the potential for a negative outcome and the opportunity costs of a decision.
- It is easier to take risks earlier in your career. Taking chances when you are just starting out in your professional life can help clarify interests and values. Moreover, when you transition among various industries, job functions, and geographies, you diversify your professional networks, which can pay enormous dividends as your career progresses.
If you have experience navigating significant career risk and care to share your tips, please do so in the comments section below.
If you are interested in this discussion and want to read more, here are some additional articles and blog posts on career risk taking.
- “Not Taking Risks Is the Riskiest Career Move of All” (Harvard Business Review)
- “Take a Risk: The Odds Are Better Than You Think” (Forbes)
- “How to Master the Art of Risk-Taking” (Inc.)
- “Five Career Risks Worth Taking” (Business News Daily)
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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.