Early Career Professional: A Time to Take on Career Risk

Early career professionals should be willing and ready to take on ‘career risk’; this might include working in another country, joining a startup, choosing a job based on purpose (rather than salary), taking on a role in another discipline, starting a graduate program, etc.  Each of these choices might be considered risky because it:

Career Risk
Career Risk
  • Lacks stability.  Most startups will fail, so if you choose to work for one you may have to find another job in a few months. Why do it? The ride is a life changing experience! It is absolutely thrilling to be part of something with potential. Moreover, you often dictate how much you contribute and invest into a startup. I have twice been part of a startup and drawing from my experiences I can say: it significantly accelerates how fast you build skills and it adds breadth to your skill set. There is pressure to move quickly and take on tasks that were never part of an initial job itinerary.
  • Earns lower income. Non-profits do not pay much in salaries. This is risky because you have to pay back student loans and should squirrel away money towards graduate school or a down payment on a house. Why do it? It provides a sense of purpose. There is satisfaction in giving back to the community, which is especially compelling for the Millenials.
  • Requires competition. There are many jobs that require a high level of skill. You have to perform from the starting gate because if you do not employers may drop you in less than two weeks.[1] This is risky because hopping between jobs looks bad on a resume and damages an ego. Why do it?Higher skilled professions pay well and are often stimulating. Moreover, there are many enticing job openings.  If a young professional has the skills and proves it, then there is potential to make a big contribution.
  • Accumulates more debt. Going to graduate school is a significant financial outlay; it could cost somewhere between thirty to one hundred thousand dollars. Like with any investment, a ROI should be conducted where the risk is included in the analysis. Why do it?An increasing number of professions require a graduate degree because the required skills and knowledge are only taught at the graduate level – like a MBA or JD. Moreover, professionals who are underemployed or unemployed should commit to finding ways to build skills and knowledge so they become more marketable. I always knew that I wanted to go to graduate school for a MBA. After working for a startup for a couple years, I felt it was the right time to elevate my learning by going to business school.

Honoring a calling enables people to use their talents and skills in ways that bring their lives greater meaning.[2]

There are many reasons why early career professionals should consider taking on risk. First, an early career professional is unencumbered with financial responsibilities – such as mortgage payments or family support payments. (Usually there are ways to defer payment on student loans.) Second, an early career professional has few obligations. For example, deciding to live abroad for a few years might be a once in a lifetime opportunity for a young adult – something a family rallies behind. Third, an early career professional has time to rebound after harboring a failure. If a startup is not successful, simply try another one. Finally, an early career professional of this age – a Millennial – is looking not only for salary, but also societal purpose.


[1] Stephanie Gleason and Rachel Feintzeig. “Startups Are Quick to Fire,” WSJ, December 11th, 2013

[2] Margie Warrell. “Stop Playing Safe,” Wiley (Melbourne, 2013).

Original Image © Depositphoto/choreograph #4276399

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