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Tip Sheets

Risk-Taking and Career Decisions

Taking an active role in your life and work involves taking some risks. How you approach risk-taking can have a major impact on your career.

When you’re making career decisions, your comfort level in taking risks tends to depend on the kind of risk you’re considering and the amount of control you feel you have over the situation.

Kinds of risk

The career decisions you make can expose you to physical, emotional and financial risks.

Physical risks are more likely in some occupations than others. For example, working with power tools or toxic materials may be riskier than working in an office. However, you can reduce physical risk on a worksite by following safety regulations. Keep in mind that if you feel bored and trapped in an office environment, a desk job could also put your health at risk.

Emotional risks are part of many occupations since they tend to be a result of interacting with other people. For example, you may find it difficult to ask for help from your co-workers if you’re worried they will think less of you. On the other hand, not asking for help could create bigger problems.

Financial risks are often associated with quitting a job or investing money in an education program or business venture. The best way to reduce the chance of financial loss is to find out as much information as possible about the options you’re considering.

Kinds of risk-taking

Your typical approach to risk-taking probably varies, depending on the kind of risk. For example, you may feel comfortable taking financial risks like buying lottery tickets or a new car, but have problems with emotional risks like committing to personal relationships. Or, you may be quick to take emotional risks but cautious when it comes to taking physical ones.

Impulsive risk-taking involves making decisions very quickly, with little or no attempt to reduce the risk or consider the possible negative outcomes.

Calculated risk-taking involves knowing the chances of success and the consequences of failure before taking the risk. This is often the most consistently successful approach to risk-taking.

Extremely cautious risk-taking involves taking a long time to make decisions and doing everything possible to prevent negative outcomes. Because this kind of risk-taking delays the decision-making process, it can result in lost opportunities.

For each different kind of risk, put a checkmark beside your usual risk-taking approach.

Impulsive Calculated Extremely Cautious
Physical Risks _____ _____ _____
Emotional Risks _____ _____ _____
Financial Risks _____ _____ _____

Effective risk-taking

Effective risk-taking is usually calculated or planned, based on

  • having a clearly stated preference or goal
  • knowing the options available to reach the goal
  • gathering up-to-date, accurate information about each option, including chances of success and the possible negative consequences
  • choosing an option based on the information and the goal
  • assessing challenges, such as possible negative outcomes, and planning how to deal with them

If your risk-taking tends to be impulsive, the following tips may help you:

  • Never risk more than you are willing to lose. Any risk can result in a loss.
  • Reduce the risk by researching your options. Informed decisions are based on what the consequences are likely to be.
  • Consider all of the possible outcomes, including what might happen if you decide not to take a chance. However, doing nothing can be a risky option. For example, choosing not to take emotional risks can have all sorts of negative consequences.

If your risk-taking style is extremely cautious, try the following suggestions:

  • Practise risk-taking. If job interviews make you really nervous, go to as many interviews as possible. The more you do something, the easier it gets.
  • Practise taking small risks before you tackle big ones. For example, if you feel as though contacting someone you don’t know on a referral is an emotional risk, save making this kind of phone call or email until you have successfully completed less important ones.
  • Realize that most big decisions are actually made up of many smaller decisions. Think of big career steps as a series of smaller steps that you can take one at a time.
  • Keep track of risks you take and new things you try. Review your list whenever you need to boost your self-confidence.
  • When you risk and lose (for example, you’re unsuccessful in a job interview), try to see your loss as an opportunity to learn how to succeed next time.

There’s no such thing as a sure thing but as you move forward in your career, planning can reduce the out-of-control feeling of too much risk. You may have to push yourself beyond your comfort level to try new things. Chances are, both you and your career will benefit as a result.

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