How to Identify and Mitigate Risks In Your Career

In Summary

•We start our careers with great aspirations.

•We believe we will land our dream job straight out of the university

Susan Kiamba.
Susan Kiamba.

Everything in life is a risk. But no risk hits closer home than the risk that you might lose your job or be passed for a promotion after working hard to earn it. Trust me on this. I know because I have been there. The most painful part was working in what I knew was my dream job - the perfect match between your knowledge, skills, talents, interests, and values. But less than two years later, I was getting ready to walk away thanks to my position becoming redundant after a corporate restructure. In this article, I'll share my six lessons about identifying and mitigating career risk.

Expect the unexpected

We start our careers with great aspirations. We believe we will land our dream job straight out of the university. In two years, we will be managers. We will be star performers who get promotions and salary increments every year. We will earn enough money to pay off all our loans, drive the best cars and live in the leafy suburbs. Sadly, this isn't the reality for many young professionals.

Then there's the professional who has been working for a few years. They've steadily been growing their career within the organization. They've put in the hard work, understood how organizations work, and seen the growth they always desired. Then the unexpected happens, the management announces a corporate merger. Or they suddenly find themselves reporting to a new boss following a corporate shuffle.

Here's the hard truth: life happens when you're off making plans. While you may have a psychological contract with your employer, the thing is, you are replaceable. And that's the first lesson on identifying and mitigating career risk: expect anything to happen. After all, you've heard the saying, "the only thing that's constant is change."

Read the signs.

Sometimes the signs of what is coming stare us in the face. Yet we may choose to ignore them, much like the proverbial ostrich, which buries its head in the ground, hoping to avert looming danger. Whether out of fear, anger, disbelief, or denial, we must face what is before us sooner or later. 2017 is a significant year in my career story. Because it marked the beginning of the end of that phase in my career. For you, 2020 might have been that time in your career when you came face-to-face with the reality of impending unemployment. You can probably attest that knowing you might lose your job and losing it are two different things. How then do you handle the signs?

Understand what the signs mean.

Simply because we know what we need to do doesn't mean we know what to do with that information. When it comes to managing career risk, you may have seen the pattern of restructuring within your organization and decided you will soon be next. But is that the only thing the signs are telling you? No. Remember, your organization operates in a business environment that is impacted by a myriad of factors. The PEST analysis tells us to consider the Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, and Environmental implications. The signs may be telling you your industry (as a whole) has been affected, and you need to seek opportunities outside your industry. It could also be that you need to look beyond borders for your next career opportunity because other markets may offer you more favorable terms.  For someone else, it may be time to take the plunge into the world of business and entrepreneurship.

Put a plan in place.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry put it so well when he said, "A goal without a plan is just a wish." You may have seen the signs and interpreted them correctly. However, without a solid plan to help you mitigate the risks, you could easily be standing in the exact place six months later. Your plan needs to capture your options, the pros, and cons of each option, what you need to implement, potential obstacles, timelines for implementation, and your order of preference. In other words, a summary of your plan A, B, C, D, and E.

Always be building your brand.

You've probably heard that you should be known for something. There is no better career risk mitigation measure. When people know you are an expert in a specific area, the minute they hear you are looking to make a move, they'll be reaching out to offer you an opportunity. If you're known as a problem solver who is easy to work with, every manager, senior executive, and team within your organization will be looking for a way to work with you. Brand building is not a one-time activity. It's something you should do continuously. Now would be a good time to brush up on your LinkedIn profile, start connecting with other professionals, and engaging meaningfully with others on the platform. The same networking you do online, bring it offline to the office, your professional networks, and your business community. 

Don't take it personally.

In many action movies, there’s usually a scene where one bad guy says to the other, "it’s not personal. It’s business.” The same rule applies to your career. You might have gone through the process of identifying your risks from start to finish. You might even have ten backup plans to help you bounce back in the unfortunate circumstances where you lose your job. As a result, you may bear resentment towards your former employer. You gave them your best years and did your best work for them. The organization prospered because of your contribution. You may feel like they owe you. In those moments, remind yourself it’s not you – it’s the organization. Businesses were created to survive for as long as possible. Therefore, every person within an organization is replaceable.

Looking forward

The best part about identifying and mitigating career risks is that you will be ready when the risk presents itself. Even if the risk results in a lost job, promotion, or opportunity, you have the power to bounce back. The only limits are those you place on yourself. Have you conducted a career risk analysis? If you have not, take a moment to do so today. Then plan for all the possible eventualities.


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Susan Kiamba is a Career Coach, Trainer and the creator of Unlock Your Career Growth Bootcamp

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