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Are You a Risk Taker?

In a professional context, there are pros and cons to taking risks. For example, pursuing a risky business idea can bring about immense success or become a massive financial loss. Different positions call for differing approaches to risk-taking, which is why hiring managers ask the common question, “Are you a risk taker?”

Why do interviewers ask about being a risk taker

In some roles, like a creative director or sales manager, taking risks can be a good thing and even a required part of the job. For others, like accountants or pharmacists, risk-taking can be needlessly costly and dangerous. 

An interviewer asks to determine if your attitude towards risk aligns with the position. It’s an important answer to get right because it can make or break your candidacy.

What hiring managers are looking for in an answer about taking risks

An interviewer wants to uncover your feelings on risk and understand how they might play out professionally. They want to learn how you’d react when faced with a risky decision or an uncertain scenario and gauge whether you’d succeed in such situations. 

They’re also looking for examples to back up your answer, which can help them envision you in the role that’s up for grabs. So, you’ll want to come armed with some real-life scenarios where taking a risk (or not taking one) was the right judgment call.

How to answer, “Are you a risk taker?”

Consider the job carefully

In some positions, it will be obvious whether it’s better to position yourself as a risk taker or not. If you’re interviewing for a job as a commercial driver, for instance, an employer clearly wants to feel assured that you won’t take chances when you’re on the road carrying valuable cargo. 

The “right” answer might not be as straightforward in other jobs, like corporate roles. Use the job description and your research on the company to determine what this employer is most likely to be looking for. Job descriptions prioritizing qualities like creative thinking and adaptability are more likely to favor risk-taking, while those emphasizing stability and precision will be looking for someone with a more conservative approach. 

Balance your answer

Most of the time, an employer isn’t seeking out a candidate who’s overwhelmingly cautious or who throws caution to the wind with reckless abandon. These are the extremes. Rather, they’re looking for someone who navigates from somewhere in the middle, able to make intelligent decisions about whether to take risks depending on the context. 

Thus, it’s a good approach to balance your answer by explaining that you take risks when it’s necessary or when you determine that the potential upside outweighs the disadvantages. Then, walk your interviewer through how you’d make such a decision. 

Give a past example

Show the interviewer how your approach to risk-taking has paid off by telling a story from your background of the time you did or did not decide to take a risk. Your anecdote should outline what was at stake, demonstrate how you considered the pros and cons, explain your decision and showcase the positive resolution that came from it.

How not to answer

Reveal reckless behavior

When describing examples of times you took a risk, avoid behavior that could be considered careless, dangerous or ethically questionable. 

Sample answers to the question “Are you a risk taker”

Example #1

“While I wouldn’t describe myself as a risk-taker, I believe we can’t make progress without taking some risks. During the last software launch I worked on, there was some uncertainty about whether the product would be 100% ready in time for the release date. This date had already been widely publicized, and thousands of customers had subscribed in advance. I had to decide whether to push my team to wrap things up by the launch date, which would require a sizable effort, or to delay the launch. 

After considering the pros and cons, I decided that there was too much at stake with our reputation, stock price, and customer satisfaction and that a delay could significantly damage all of them. I approved unlimited overtime for my staff and brought in a support team of freelancers to assist with finishing up the code. Ultimately the risk paid off. We launched on time with a product that everyone was very proud of.”

Example #2

“As a quality control technician, it’s my responsibility to ensure that our products meet the required industry and safety standards. If I don’t fulfill this responsibility, it will lead to product returns, and at worst, someone could get seriously hurt. 

Once, I was inspecting a delivery from one of our long-time vendors. Since we’ve been working with this vendor for years, other technicians can be pretty lax about inspecting their shipments and give me grief about being so stringent. However, on this particular day, I discovered that there was a serious defect in a part that affected about 50% of the shipment. If I had waved the delivery on without inspecting it, all of the products assembled with that part would have had to be discarded and potentially even recalled. Not taking a risk saved the company thousands of dollars, maybe more.”

To summarize, taking risks is a desirable quality for some positions and a deal breaker for others, so your answer should be crafted based on the responsibilities and overall goals of the job you want.