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Why taking a career risk can have huge pay-offs

When it comes to stepping up in your career, there’s often no reward without risk. When an opportunity presents itself, sometimes deciding how to act takes a careful calculation, and sometimes it takes a brave leap into the unknown.

We spoke to three people who took a chance on a career risk – from starting a business, to flying to Denmark for a second-round interview, to shifting jobs without a safety net – to see if it was worth it.

Flying across the world for a job interview: career risk or no-brainer?

Ben Campbell

Ben Campbell, who’s lived and worked in four countries, is no stranger to taking risks.

In his first professional job, as a lecturer in marketing at Qingdao University, Campbell was already pushing himself outside his comfort zone.

‘I was a PR graduate and yet now I was supposed to teach a bunch of Chinese kids how to do marketing,’ says Campbell. (It was also his first time overseas.)

‘There were no whiteboards, no computers, no internet.

‘As it turns out, once you’ve lectured in a topic you know nothing about, to a bunch of students who don’t really understand what you’re saying, in a country that makes no sense to you, there is nothing in life that is too difficult.’

Jobs in Sweden, Denmark and Melbourne followed, along with a Master of Communication from Deakin University.

So when Campbell spotted a job advertised at Lego, he thought nothing of quickly applying, without realising the job was in Denmark.

To his amusement, a recruiting manager got in touch a few days later, Campbell landed a Skype interview – and was flown over for a second interview.

‘I didn’t really see this a risk – if anything, it was the opposite,’ Campbell says. ‘I had nothing to lose. If I got the job, great. If I didn’t, it was a free all-expenses-paid trip to Europe for the week.

‘As it turned out, I got the job, and relocated my life to Denmark, starting at Lego (as a senior communication strategist) a few months later.’

An average day at work now involves anything from researching future toy markets to creating ads in New York or London.

‘It’s fun. Every day is different. It was worth the risk and I’d do it 100 times over,’ Campbell says.

Taking a calculated risk to move overseas and start a business

Sally Cotching

When Sally Cotching moved to Los Angeles two years ago, it was the riskiest gamble of her career.

But she craved new challenges: ‘I knew I needed to get out of Australia and leave the familiar.’

She shifted to LA to build a PR and marketing agency, only knowing only one person – her business partner Marina Piche.

‘I’m always fairly optimistic, and while I was nervous I wouldn’t succeed, I just channelled that into excitement, which gave me the momentum to keep venturing into the unknown,’ Cotching says.

While there were countless roadblocks, Cotching had a secret weapon up her sleeve – the hard-won knowledge that came from establishing her earlier PR business, Silk & Scotch PR, back in Melbourne.

She’d set that business up full-time, after finishing her Bachelor of Arts (majoring in public relations and advertising) at Deakin University, and a ‘dream gig’ at a fashion label that turned into a nightmare and she quit after a few months.

Cotching says keeping her new business afloat was ‘completely daunting’.

‘I didn’t have a financial buffer, but I felt like I had no choice; I didn’t want to go back for working for somebody else.’

For Cotching, that experience later gave her the confidence to trust herself and take her LA gamble. Her business, Three Fold Agency, is now booming.

So was it a calculated risk? Yes and no, she says.

‘I think if I’d never moved to a different place before (I grew up in Tassie and moved to Melbourne for university) or never started my own business before, it would’ve been a terrible idea to try this in LA. What made it seem less like a risk is that I got to it incrementally.’

Swapping job security for progression: a career risk worth taking?

Aastha Shrestha

Sometimes in life there are huge chances to be taken. But more often, it’s a series of smaller leaps into the unknown that can progress – or stall – a person’s career.

For Aastha Shrestha, a decision to leave the safety net of a full-time, ongoing position as a corporate administrative assistant at Deakin University for a fixed-term role within the same organisation wasn’t made lightly.

For starters, side-step to the new job, as a work integrated learning coordinator, offered no guarantees of further employment beyond the 12-month mark. And people warned her it meant she’d lose some of the other benefits that come with a permanent role.

But in the end the ‘pure joy’ she felt at taking on the new role won out.

Three months in, Aastha loves every minute of her work. She is not sure if her contract will be extended beyond next January.

‘But I know that even if it doesn’t get extended, I’ll have a great experience, I’ll have learnt a lot of things that I did not know before,’ she says.

Aastha says she is not by nature a risk-taker, but believes it’s important for people to take a chance now and again.

‘After a few years when you look back I do not want to be the person who says, “what if I had done this?”’

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