5 Steps to Execute a Calculated Career Risk

By Maria G. Arias, Principal, Arias Solutions

Are you a risk taker? For many of us, the word risk connotes feelings of uncertainty, vulnerability or even physical harm. It’s no wonder human beings have a natural aversion to risk — it simply places us outside of our comfort zone.

When it comes to your career, whether you’re thinking of starting your own business, asking for a raise or promotion, or taking a leap of faith to pursue a passion, it’s normal to have doubts and hesitations. While these concerns are legitimate, you should consider the potential benefits of taking a risk. After all, the status quo will rarely lead to the development and growth necessary to get to the next level and propel your career aspirations.

Before you take the plunge, it’s important to assess whether a career risk is worth taking. Leadership guru Stephen Covey writes in his timeless classic, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, you need to “begin with the end in mind” and determine your goal. Is your goal a new role in your existing organization? Is it a higher salary or a promotion?

Once you know your goal, you need to evaluate the risk by asking a series of important questions. Will this risk get you closer to your goal? Will this risk provide you with the opportunity to learn a new skill? Will taking this risk expand your experience and increase your exposure? What are the consequences if taking the risk fails? Before any career altering decisions are made, it’s important to evaluate the pros and cons. Once you’ve decided to take a career risk, there are five steps to set yourself up for success.

Step 1: Research & Preparation

Research and preparation are key to successful risk taking. Research and gather all relevant data and information related to the risk. For example, for a higher salary, you can research your industry for compensation benchmarks. For a promotion, you can conduct a competitive analysis of the roles you want and document your accomplishments to socialize with your stakeholders. Decision makers will know you are serious when it’s evident you have taken the time to research and prepare for the next step in your career.

Step 2: Align Your Allies

It isn’t enough to be excellent at what you do, decision makers will often look into how you worked with others in previous roles. The second step in preparing yourself to take career risks is to identify allies. To find voices within your organization who can support you, look over your work history to identify colleagues, mentors, team members and former bosses. These individuals can help you create a critical support system and provide endorsements for you.

Lastly, ask your allies to listen to your pitch and ask tough questions. This step will sharpen your preparation and help you with step 3.

Step 3: Prepare for Opposition

The third step to preparing yourself for career risk is to evaluate and prepare for potential opposition. It’s important to be prepared with solid answers to questions about company policies on raises or promotions, your past work experience and your accomplishments. Decision makers want to know that you have a thorough, 360 degree understanding of the organization, its strategic goals and most important stakeholders. Having strong responses to these types of questions can greatly impact the success of asking for a promotion, higher salary, etc.

Step 4: Create Options

More often than not, the path to your desired goal will not be a straight line. There will be road blocks and detours. At times you might even feel like you’re moving in the wrong direction. However, you need to flexible and willing to realize that what might have seemed a wrong turn could eventually be a critical stepping-stone towards your goal.

When taking career risks, it’s important to identify options. If you pursue Plan A, but the outcome didn’t yield the results you wanted or expected, you’ve got to be prepared to pivot and immediately run with Plan B. For example, if you asked for a promotion and your boss said she isn’t yet prepared to promote you right now, ask for specific steps you need to take and timelines. Do not be afraid to ask what you need to do to obtain your ultimate goal.

Step 5: Be Confident

In addition to creating options and getting specific with the decision makers, it goes without saying that you need to be confident in your abilities, your experience and your drive to succeed. True confidence comes from an internal belief that you are capable and worthy of what you’re asking. It’s not to be confused with arrogance. Being confident doesn’t necessarily mean the absence of fear, but rather moving forward in spite of fear.

Confidence is exuded by standing tall, making eye contact, extending a firm handshake and trusting that your unique skills, experience and potential is what makes you the right candidate for a promotion, raise or new role. Healthy confidence is attractive and magnetic. Decision makers are looking to promote and retain confident employees who will reflect well on the organization.

Learning From Failure — Seek Feedback

If you’ve read this far, I would be remiss to not touch on the sometimes painful reality that even when we’ve taken all of the necessary steps — we fail. We all fail. Failure is not fatal, but a step on the road to success. As Thomas Edison once quipped when asked how he felt after over 10,000 unsuccessful attempts at the invention of the light bulb, “I haven’t failed. I just found 10,000 ways it won’t work.” So, what can you do if the risk didn’t work out in your favor?

One important way to make the most out of failure is to garner feedback. If a career risk didn’t work out, don’t be afraid to follow up with the decision maker and ask for specific input on what you could have done differently. Constructive criticism is essential to learning and will help you assess and prepare for your next risk.

Soliciting feedback is also a great way to ensure you will not burn any bridges. As you seek first to understand, this proactive step will communicate to all involved that you are sincerely seeking to grow and develop. Every failure is an opportunity to learn a life lesson. When you demonstrate resilience, it shows your peers and direct reports that you have the internal strength they need in a leader.


Maria G. Arias is the Principal of Arias Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in diversity, inclusion and multicultural initiatives. She recently was the first Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion for Comcast Corporation. In this role, she established the Corporate Diversity & Inclusion department which oversaw diversity and inclusion initiatives at Comcast Cable, NBCUniversal, Telemundo and Comcast Spectra. For more information, visit www.arias-solutions.com.