The Institute of Risk Management (IRM) asks its members what working in risk is really like and what hints and tips they'd share with people looking to move into the industry.Shane Mc Mahon Profile Pic

 

How did you get your job?

I celebrated my 21st birthday in Pristina, Kosovo after naïvely packing my camera and heading off to photograph post-conflict reconstruction. This was my first introduction to risk assessment although I was “far too young and carefree” to give it much thought. The photography career didn’t work out but remains a hobby to this day. I then spent 10 years with the Police and this is where my interest in risk management really began. Following a Terrorism Studies course, I decided to sign up for the IRM International Certificate in Risk Management as I couldn’t justify the costs of studying for a degree. Having obtained my IRM Certificate I moved to the private sector as business Continuity Manager in London and here I had the opportunity to put theory into practice. Risk management and business continuity as a bit like steak and chips or gin and tonic they complement each other.

What’s a typical day like as a Risk & Resilience Specialist?

Without sounding cliché there really isn’t a typical day at Horizonscan. In the first few weeks of 2018 I’ve conducted a risk-based site survey of a company in Netherlands, completed several business impact analysis reviews in Ireland, assisted with a crisis simulation exercise in London and trialled an organisational resilience audit. I have a great bunch of colleagues who have range of different skillsets and experiences and we bounce ideas and problems around the office every day. No one person has all the answers to every problem nor should they. I spend most of my time in listening mode trying to understand what the client wants, understanding their current capability and risk appetite and working out how the team and I can help them achieve their goal.   

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I’m a people person and I enjoy getting out of the office as much as possible, I couldn’t cope with being stuck in the office 9-5. I find it interesting meeting people from such a diverse range of business sectors. On a Monday I could be assessing plans during a tabletop exercise, Tuesday reviewing control measures for a company that supplies Europe with a product that we all consume. Wednesday in busy city centre office building discussing the latest terrorist attack methods and Thursday and Friday writing up reports.

I believe you need to enjoy your job whatever you do, life’s too short to be stuck doing a job you don’t enjoy. I remember coming to London for the first time and getting a job in telesales, I hated it and left after two weeks!

I also get to develop less experienced colleagues and there is nothing more rewarding than seeing people’s confidence and skills improve over time.

What are the challenges?

The main challenge like most workplaces is time management, sometimes I feel like I could do really with more hours in the day! Industry tip: Develop your time management skills. While some of the ISO standards are very useful in helping with frameworks much of my time is spent creating tailored made solutions for our clients. I’m also quite proactive in keeping my knowledge and skills up-to-date up with the latest risks and trends across different industry sectors.

In what way are your IRM qualifications relevant?

I honestly believe that I wouldn’t be where I am today without my IRM qualifications, it’s given me knowledge and confidence while enhancing my CV. The IRM qualification sets you apart. I know from interview feedback that employers like the mix of education and practical experience. Before the qualification I struggled with job applications as I lacked a degree, interestingly many major companies have dropped the degree requirement for applicants and I believe this makes sense as the people I’ve learnt the most from my career and life never stepped foot inside a university.

What would you say to others thinking about joining IRM as a member?

If you are in two minds whether to take the IRM qualification consider it as a long-term investment in yourself, its money well spent. I self-funded my IRM certificate. Study Tip: Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can complete all modules in one sitting, it doesn’t work! One module per exam term is enough if you are in full time work this will also allow you time to complete the wider reading material.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions? Has being linked to the IRM helped?

I’m really enjoying my role with Horizonscan and see personal development as a continual process that never ends. I will be starting a MSc in Risk and Resilience at Portsmouth University this year and I’m looking forward to the challenge. One ambition I have is be part of a risk or resilience project at a national or international level in the future. I’m doing some project work in the Caucasus region last year and found it very interesting.

I’ve have met some very helpful people and built up a host of good contacts through IRM membership events and other industry events.

Top tips:

There is no exact route for a career in Risk & Resilience, naturally there are lots of ex-emergency services and ex-military in my industry but don’t let that put you off. If you have a passion for understanding complex issues and enjoy designing simple solutions that people understand and might use then this could be a career for you. Industry Insider tip: There is a strong and growing demand for more female business continuity and risk professionals.

Some advice:

  1. Start to widen your knowledge and outlook, you don’t have to be an expert in every area but it helps to have a good general knowledge of risk and what is happening in the world. I highly recommend reading a selection of quality newspapers and publications.
  2. Practice putting complex information into short reports that people will have time read and understand.
  3. Be open to constructive criticism, once I learned to accept it as something useful, it has allowed me to develop and improve faster.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, you will never have all the ideas and answers.
  5. Don’t be put off a career in risk or resilience just because you didn’t study a related subject at university. I believe the risk profession benefits from people from a diverse range of career background and with some life experience.