How an Aspiring Risk Management Professional Can Break Through

As my blog has grown, so too have questions from readers located around the world. I always enjoy and appreciate when risk professionals reach out to me with their specific challenges – thank you!!

In addition to questions about risk identification, risk appetite, risk monitoring, and other technical challenges, I often field questions from both students and established professionals wanting learn more about how they can pursue or advance their career in risk management.

As uncertainties continue to grow and the world continues to change at lightning speed, the need for managing risks will continue grow along with it. Organizations of all types and industries will need specialized talent if they are to remain competitive, especially if they want to not just manage risks but ensure success..

Opportunities to grow into a career in risk management are not going away anytime soon, but there are still challenges that you will have to overcome.

Below are three common scenarios that prompt  risk professionals to reach out to me for guidance on getting their careers off the ground.

Scenario #1 – Recent graduate from college looking for career opportunities

This scenario includes recent college graduates from non-risk related degree programs seeking job opportunities in a dynamic, growing field. The truth is just because you earn a degree in a certain field doesn’t mean you will be locked into that for the rest of your life. Many accounting, math, sciences, business management, or even graduates of liberal arts programs like English or the Humanities may find risk management a suitable career option.

Individuals who fall into this category reach out to learn what they can do next.

What I tell them is that they must first get more specific…after all, risk management  is such a broad term and field. Some specific career tracks can include:

  • If you like numbers and data, credit risk, modeling, or financial risk management (i.e. investments, etc.) may be of interest, especially if you were a math or statistics major.
  • Managing insurance programs like workers’ compensation, liability coverages, property, auto and other coverages an organization must have (you could work for any company or an insurance broker or agent if you want to work with multiple clients).
  • Managing risk around operations and business processes to ensure employee/customer safety, regulatory compliance, business continuity, disaster recovery, etc.

Once you have determined the specific area that interests you, find job descriptions on LinkedIn, Indeed, and other sites to see what employers are looking for. See what commonalities exist between each position description and focus on improving your skills and expertise in these areas.

One thing some employers may look for is a special certification or designation.

In a past article on ERM certifications, I mention how risk management designations tend to be more focused on  documentation and process instead of  ensuring long-term success. However, areas like financial risk management and other industries may require or strongly prefer a specific certification. Position descriptions  will guide whether you pursue a designation or additional education.

Scenario #2 – A graduate of a risk management program having a hard time breaking into the field

If you are a recent graduate of a Bachelor’s or Master’s level risk management program, congratulations! My first exposure to ERM was through my Master’s in Risk Management Insurance from Florida State University, which is one of several excellent programs in risk management and insurance..

A degree program, though, will often not be sufficient for many employers, even for entry-level positions. Many companies prefer applicants to have some type of prior hands-on experience. As I will discuss more in a forthcoming eBook on linking ERM to strategy, those new to risk management, especially from a degree program, have lots of exposure to theory but not practical experience for overcoming challenges.

A few ways you can obtain valuable and practical hands-on experience include:

  1. Internships – These arrangements are typically coordinated through your university for academic credit, especially if it’s an unpaid position. Regardless of whether paid or unpaid, internships are a great way to get your foot in the door at a company you may really be interested in. However, an internship doesn’t have to be with a large company. Smaller organizations may be willing to hire you for a risk management internship because of limited resources or need to hire someone full-time.
  1. Build relationships – As I’ve learned as both a practitioner and consultant (…and discuss in this post), relationships are integral part of not just effective ERM, but business in general. If you are just embarking on your risk management career, reach out to directors and managers in companies and industries you are interested in working in. Even if none of these contacts offer you a job, any discussions will surely lead to insights and give you an edge over other applicants. Find a mentor in a company or field that you want to pursue, and listen and watch closely.
  1. Examine past work experience – it’s possible that your past work experience included risk management without you even realizing it at the time. Think about past jobs and how you applied a risk management mindset and then think about how to best word this on your resume. If you worked as a customer service representative, in a communications role, or in some other job dealing with the public for example, you were also managing reputational risk for the company.

If you are a recent graduate and have submitted applications and sent resumes with no response, don’t give up! With perseverance, your efforts will pay off.

Scenario #3 – Experienced professional looking to transition into risk management

This final scenario likely applies more than #2 to me since I had already been in the work force for many years when I earned my M.S. degree. It was only when an opportunity came up with my then-employer did I transition from data analytics to risk management.

This is more common than you may think. In fact, Hans Læssøe, thought leader and former strategic risk manager for the LEGO Group, and I discussed this topic in an interview earlier this year..

What Hans and I have in common is that we both transitioned from other roles in our respective companies. You will, in fact, be in a good position if you can do this since it is much easier to learn risk management (the best way) than to learn the ins and outs of a company.

This situation again stresses the importance of relationships.

Other talented risk professionals came from a variety of backgrounds, including audit, law, technology, operations, accounting, and more.

Regardless of which of these scenarios you fall in, or wherever you are in your career, the most important thing to remember is to always keep learning, to keep a growth mindset.

For further reading, check out the following:

What motivated or is motivating  you to pursue a career in risk management?

Stories like this are both interesting and even inspiring, especially to those just starting out, so please feel free to share your thoughts below or join the conversation on LinkedIn.

If you are a company looking to fill a role on your risk team and need to figure out the right skill sets to seek, let’s talk about your situation to get you on the right path the first time.

Featured image courtesy of Baim Hanif via Unsplash.com

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