Why career risk can be a good idea

My coaching client B has been offered a job after six troubling months of searching while unemployed, after leaving her previous job abruptly – and not on good terms. It meets all her criteria: challenging work, respected organization, the work easily within her competence, good salary. But she is hesitating. Why? It does not have the words ‘Head of…’ in the title. Fortunately B soon realized that job titles rarely mean much outside the organization and that it was more important to have a decent job than to worry about what the job was called.

But B’s experience is common where careers are concerned. We can get too preoccupied by minimizing risk, by trying to re-create the mirror image of what we had before or by trying to find an exact match to what we want for the future. In today’s job market it can pay to take some prudent risks. What might this mean?

Target the organization  you’d like to work for, research them, find out what their problems are likely to be, look up the LinkedIn profile of the person who might hire someone like you. Call them. Tell them you’d like to work for them and  then say, ‘How can I help you solve whatever your most pressing problem is?’  OK you might get rejected, but is that the worst that can happen?

Never expect the employer to notice how wonderful you are. It’s hard for many of us to overcome  childhood messages about the horrors of appearing ‘boastful’ or about how it is desirable to be ‘seen and not heard’, especially for women, but if  we don’t act as skilful advocates for ourselves how can we expect others to  believe in us?

Get that unhelpful metaphor of a ‘career ladder’ right out of your head. With ladders you can only go up, down or fall off. In 23 years as a coach I have never once met a client who has made a long-term career plan that actually reflected their career path. Be prepared to move sideways or even to start again in a more humble role if it will allow you to develop your skills and work in  an organization and for people that you admire

Don’t get hung up on whether you are a 100% perfect match to the job specification: 70% will do. Employers know that the perfect candidate is a fantasy. They are impressed by enthusiasm and willingness to learn

Many job-seekers look for safety and stability, especially if they have worked for many years in  long-stay organizations. But safety and stability are illusions: nothing is safe and stable. Look instead for a company that is growing fast. These organizations are flexible, they have more work than people to do it, they will take a chance on you, rapid promotion is possible, personal development expected

If you are feeling stuck in a current role, ask what risky new assignments are possible and if offered, accept. Don’t rule yourself out by worrying about whether you need to get further qualifications and training first or asking whether you have all the skills you need: skills are best acquired on the job not in a training room.