Sittin’ on the Career Couch? Open your Career Journal!

The Wall Street Journal, like the NY Times, has a career section.  Their’s is aptly called the Career Journal.  On top of having excellent news coverage of careers in the U.S., they’ve got a super Tips section for job hunters and satisfied job-holders alike, with topics from resumes and networking to how to ensure a successful promotion and how to deal with a stressed out coworker. 

One catch is that for some parts, you have to be a subscriber, which really grinds my gears, considering other prominent online news sources offer this info for free.  (And there are thousands of other excellent career advice sources on the internet- so why pay???).

In any case, here’s a taste of what they have:

When Taking A Risk Is The Only Way To Go


Q: I have an opportunity at work to take a lead role in a new product launch. I’m excited about this product, but it’s in an area my company hasn’t been involved with before. I’ve done well in the job I have and it’s a secure position. But I worry that if I jump at this opportunity and 6 months from now the company decides to drop the product, I’ll be out of a job. Is there any way I can negotiate some safeguards into agreeing to take the new role without hurting the negotiations or seeming like I’m not a risk-taker?

At some point in a career, the question of risk comes up. Is it worth it to take a chance on a less than sure thing? In today’s economy, it might seem prudent to hold back. But, by doing so, you could be missing out on a number of important things, including career advancement and recognition as a self-starter.

“Executives want employees who are willing to take risks, because they need people in leadership positions who are willing and able to grow along with the organization,” says Dr. Michael E. Silverman, a New York psychologist and author of “Unleash Your Dreams: Tame Your Fears and Live the Life You Were Meant to Live.”

Take, for example, the case of Swayne Hill. Years ago, he worked at Cognos, an IBM company. While a sales rep there, he was asked to lead the go-to-market team on a new product launch. “I had many reservations,” remembers Mr. Hill, who was just starting out in his career at the time. He asked himself a host of questions, some similar to yours: “Would this work? Would I really get company support, or would our group be seen as a rogue team confusing the market? What would happen if it failed? Would I be tagged to it forever?”

But, on the flip side, he was also very excited about the possibilities. “What if I could help lead our company to the next wave of hyper-growth?” The thought of that outweighed any predictions of doom, and Mr. Hill decided to go for it. But, even with a great team and significant market interest, the launch failed.

But that isn’t the end of Mr. Hill’s story – and it shouldn’t be yours, either. “I was worried about all the wrong things and I underestimated the value our company placed on people willing to put themselves out there and share in the risk,” he says. Ironically, it was this experience that launched his career, he says. Mr. Hill moved straight into a regional management position, then to a directorship, and finally on to a vice presidency. Today, he is CEO of Cloud9 Analytics, a successful Silicon Valley start-up. “When I look back, it’s pretty clear that the early failure left me bitten by the entrepreneurial bug,” he says.

Of course, not all “failures” end on such a high note. But, in today’s tight job market, it is more important than ever to distinguish yourself from your co-workers. And one of the best ways to do that is by showing management that you are willing to take a real risk. You certainly won’t do it by blending in – or by trying to secure guarantees in advance.

Dr. Silverman says that there is no effective way to negotiate safeguards for such an opportunity. “Indeed, there is empirical evidence suggesting that attempting to do so could be counterproductive to future placements as well as future performance evaluations,” he says. “Bottom line, if you’re currently perceived as a valuable employee and the new project does get discontinued in six months, they will find you another place within the organization.”

Of course, all companies are different. One way to test the waters would be to ask some of your more veteran coworkers what’s happened in the past when people took similar risks. Depending on your boss’ style, you could also invite him or her out to lunch and discuss your future at the company if the project were to boom – or go bust. Just watch that you aren’t sounding too risk adverse. “If you become perceived as someone unwilling to take a risk, you will not only be more likely to be overlooked by your superiors in the future, you’ll likely be perceived as someone who cannot grow with the organization,” says Dr. Silverman.

So, the only real career safeguard would be to go for it, contingency-free. If the product ends up failing, that’s okay. Like Mr. Hill, at the least, you will be able to chalk it up to experience and just as likely, you’ll be able to use the knowledge you gain to your advantage when you move on to another position either internally or at another company.

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