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Are you playing safe?

19 August 2020

Which job should Tammy apply for?

Tammy has held a mid-level management role in an organisation of about 380 people for the past six years.  She finds her role fairly interesting and her small team presents her with few people management issues.  She is bored though and knows she could be contributing at a higher level.  Financially she needs to maintain her current level of income.

A role in her current organisation is about to be advertised.  The role, in an area adjacent to her own, is something she has been expecting to come available for the last two years.  It is a small promotion and will see her manage a larger team.

Simultaneously a colleague sends her a link to a role they think she would a great fit for.  As Tammy reads the position description she feels flattered that her colleague thought of her and can see where her skills and experience would be useful.  The role, though, is at a level quite higher than her current one and is in an organisation that does work in an area unfamiliar to her.  It is a scary proposition.

If you were advising Tammy what would your advice be?  Which role should she apply for?

Many people in Tammy’s situation quickly choose the first option.  It is much more of a safe bet.  It is something that has been anticipated for a long time.  Others expect her to apply.  It is a comfortable progression of her career.

Most people in Tammy’s situation don’t even look at other roles.

We don’t like going from certain to uncertain, from known to unknown, or from sure to unsure.

We prefer to stay safe and to stay right.  We prefer to take the sure bets, or at least as close to sure bets as we can get, when it comes to career change, and this artificially limits what people consider when it comes to career progression.

In reality Tammy is in a great situation to consider a more audacious career move and there are clear ways she can de-risk the choice.  De-risking is not turning the choice into an easy one, but it is about not making it more difficult than it needs to be.  

Here are some questions it would be well worth her spending some time answering:

1.     What really scares me in considering the more audacious role?  Come up with a first answer then dig a bit deeper: What is it about that (or those) fear that are most concerning?  Then dig deeper one more time to get to the heart of the concern.  This will often shrink it to something you can plan to mitigate.

2.     What are my back door options should this not work out?  Rarely is a career move a one way door.  Prepare, in advance, a list of things that would alert you to needing to find a back or side door.  Then list the options you could pursue should these circumstances eventuate.

3.     What buffers of safety do I have should things go awry?  This is about arming yourself with knowledge about the people, financial, and self-resilience resources you can call upon.

Of course, should you find yourself in the situation where you are advising someone like Tammy let her know she is asking the wrong question.  The question is not which role Tammy should apply for (go for both), but which role to take.  And that is a totally different question.

The current outlook is likely to result in greater numbers of people avoiding career choices they deem risky.  More people will play it safe with their careers as we navigate a different reality post COVID-19. Those able to de-risk their career moves are well placed to step into the opportunities that others will avoid.  

As always, wishing you a flourishing career.


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