Archive for May, 2013

Averting Risk Can Be a Risky Proposition

May 23, 2013

In just the last month, I’ve heard the word “risk” uttered more times than when years ago, I divulged to my parents my decision to leave a safe and well-respected university to attend music school.  When it comes to risk, some candidates have a visceral response akin to skydiving against their will.  Granted, skydiving isn’t for everyone (although I can’t wait for my next jump), yet when it comes to career and hiring decisions, why the sudden onslaught of gut-rumbling trepidation?

Of course, every situation is different.  People perceive risk in different terms and for different reasons.  However, it may help to list some of the common risk aversion decisions I’ve seen of late.  Although hiring managers are just as likely to fall into this risk aversion trap, let’s focus for the time being on candidates.

  • The company is too small
  • The company hasn’t established a long enough track record
  • Not familiar enough with the company’s space
  • Existing employer is far from perfect, but at least their foibles and shortcomings are well-known
  • With a couple of back-to-back short stints on the résumé, need to remain in current role for awhile

Generally these risk aversion points speak to underlying issues that touch upon people’s deep-rooted insecurities.  For example, a small company can be just as viable and offer greater innovation, agility, growth and advancement prospects.  Yet, a candidate may succumb to the fears associated with entrusting an earlier-stage company to successfully execute on its vision and business plan.

Many of these candidates seek stability — whatever that means in this day and age.  Perhaps they just bought a home, had a baby or got married.  Funny enough, it’s the large stalwart companies that are more apt to eliminate thousands of jobs at the drop of a hat.  It’s the larger companies that are more likely to keep you stuck in the siloed role you’re so good at.  As is so often the case, no good deed goes unpunished.

A Candidate who tells me that they’re not familiar enough with the space in which the company plays, truly mystifies me.  A highly innovative company, which endeavors to carve out a well-differentiated position in the market, is going to appear foreign to nearly everyone.  Are these candidates seeking “safe innovation?”  There’s an oxymoron if I ever saw one!

All innovation carries inherent risk.  All innovation charters a course along uncharted waters.  Yet, without innovation, business (let alone our economy) would become stagnant.  I wonder if some of these candidates question their own ability to understand, embrace, and gain command in a new area.  And besides, what else are these candidates going to do with their career track?  Cross the road just to work for a similar company in a similar space?

In the same vein, many candidates relate all the reasons why they’re fed up with their current employer, only to decide to “stick it out.”   Why?  Because at least they know the problems and idiosyncrasies they must contend with.  It’s the old devil-you-know syndrome.  Once again, when the rubber meets the road, many candidates bag out, opting for the safety of their mediocre familiarity.  But how safe (and fulfilling) is it?  It reminds me of a saying.  To paraphrase:  wherever you currently are, that’s your comfort zone.  Wherever you’re not, that’s where the magic happens.

Understandably, some candidates become queasy over the prospect of adding another short stint to their résumé.  While I appreciate the concern, why let this be the reason to become imprisoned for the next one to two years at a company that’s not providing as much career fulfillment as other exciting companies out there?  Last time I checked, life is way too short for this thought process.  Moreover, given the tumultuous economic environment over the last several years, most candidates have endured at least one, if not several, short stints.  And yes, the fear of joining yet another company that doesn’t work out long term makes candidates think twice.

When considering the risk of making a career move, it is equally important to take into account the risk in not accepting the opportunity.  It is vitally important to ask yourself several key questions:  What am I passing up?  What real safety is there in staying put?  How much safer is it to join a bigger, more established company?

Every move – or non-move for that matter, carries inherent risk.  There are no guarantees.  Despite your best effort to conduct due diligence, you will never know for sure how well you’ll fare in a new company until you’re actually in the role and getting ramped up.

Oh sure.  You think you know what a great car-buying decision you just made.  But you really won’t know if it’s the right car until you’ve driven it for a while.  Same thing with any other life issue – buying a house, getting married, replacing your washer and dryer, going on vacation.  No matter what decisions you make in life, there is an inherent leap of faith.  Thus, if the primary basis for your career decision lies in the extent of perceived risk, you’re doing yourself a grave disservice.  We all make decisions to progress our lives and take that bold step forward.  It takes courage, self-assurance, a yearning for something better, and an understanding that safe choices can be the riskiest of all.

Action items:

1.  If it makes you too squeamish, you certainly don’t have to join a bootstrap start-up with no funding or proven revenue model.  Yet, joining a 4-year-old VC-backed, highly innovative company whose sales are growing shouldn’t present the same level of risk in your eyes.  At the other end of the spectrum, try to ferret out the risk associated with joining a larger, well-established company.  There’s risk everywhere; the challenge is putting it all in perspective.

2.  Deciding not to make a move carries plenty of risk.  Think of the types of risk you’d make by a non-move:  risk of lost opportunity, risk of forcing oneself to tolerate a compromised situation, risk of becoming jaded or disgruntled, risk of going in an undesirable direction or worse, going down with a sinking ship.

3.  Most career moves feel uncomfortable at first.  After all, they’re getting you out of your comfort zone.  Look back at your career history and think about those times when you made a bold move out of your comfort zone.  Did you survive?  What did you learn about your career preferences?  What did you learn about yourself?