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Challenging Times: Career Reflections for Fraud Fighters

It’s obviously a tough economic time and employees in all industries are feeling the pain. The fraud and risk space is no different. Whether you were recently laid off or are on a roller coaster of career ups and downs, I wanted to share some thoughts.

Reflecting on my own career roller coaster, I think there are some valuable learnings…

Let’s provide some background:

My professional career was derailed in 2008 when I left a finance job in Manhattan due to OCD and an anxiety disorder. I was ashamed and embarrassed. I moved back in with my parents and got a job waiting tables at a Bennigans. Yikes. This from someone who was a Walk on Division I athlete and went to a competitive university.

2008 also brought the worst recession we have seen since well, now. I was scared and confused. I navigated different treatments for my mental health while waiting tables (at a now classier establishment!). In 2011, I stumbled upon a job advert for a “Fraud Analyst”. I didn’t have the slightest clue what it entailed but it seemed cool and I ended up getting that job at eBay Enterprise. If I didn’t know what being a fraud analyst was like, I would learn soon with peak/holiday season around the corner.

I will be honest, I was not loving life. I was not enthralled with the “good” of fraud fighting. It was a grind. It was productivity centric. And I was the low man on the totem pole. But, if I was one thing in my school, sports, and work career it was a hard worker. So I pushed through it. 

I remember one colleague actually saying to me “why do you care so much”. And I wish my answer was “because we are doing good”. But looking back it was because I was conditioned to try really hard in anything I did. For better or worse. This wiring contributed to a debilitating anxiety disorder/OCD… but on the flip side of something we hate about ourselves… is something that helps us. That makes us unique and dare I say even a little special superpower.

But I was still looking for my place and purpose in fraud prevention. I explored fraud investigations, analytics, product management, content marketing… I wasn’t sure what my fit was. I thought about leaving the merchant side to go to a bank. I thought about going back to business school. I thought about becoming a professional baseball player (ok, that was age 6, but hey you never know).

An alternative approach

I soon learned that the next step in my career was not obvious. It’s wasn’t right in front of my face. It wasn’t a formula where I learn x, achieve y and would get z. And it wasn’t something I could simply solve with “trying harder”. It was actually more helpful to take a step back and open my mind and scope. 

Expand beyond tactical actions and look more at what lit me up inside. What got me excited and what did those skills look like in a professional setting. And then, what productive actions could I take to do more of that. Whether there were obvious short term benefits or not.

Humans tend to shy away from actions that have no immediate or obvious benefit to them. Humans also tend to narrowly box themselves into skills that translate to professional success and ones that don’t. 

So, even during the best of times, we don’t naturally follow our passions or hidden skill sets.

And in the worst of times, well we really don’t want to “waste” time on things that don’t immediately and obviously benefit our current professional growth.

Quick pause: I fully support tactical planning of short term/long term goals to grow one’s career. You know… the more obvious stuff. It is an essential component. But it’s not the only lever to pull…

When we just respond tactically and for immediate/obvious benefit… we miss a different part ourselves. One that is not confined to rigid lines of thinking. One that doesn’t get sucked into anxiety and fear. A part that taps into the most genuine part of us and makes us feel alive. 

That isn’t always career related, but it often does tap into what some of our strongest attributes. And that can translate into professional skills and career opportunities.

For me, I really enjoyed a lot of random things that didn’t obviously map to my next step in fraud prevention. I loved writing, developing relationships, understanding product value, building a brand, and entrepreneurial challenges. So, I ventured beyond the obvious.  

And in doing so, I stumbled into a gentleman named Ronald Praetsch. German, different personalities, different continents… but I loved the concept of About Fraud. An educational resource hub for folks who work in fraud prevention. I had writing and branding ideas racing through my head. I was quickly developing a relationship with him and others in the industry to talk through this idea. I had genuine passion I was not used to feeling. 

For the next few months, I connected with Ronald regularly and shared my thoughts and vision for About Fraud. I had no clue if Ronald or About Fraud would help me find my place in the industry, but the entrepreneurial venture excited me and tapped into skills I always wanted to leverage. 

There’s more of us out there than you think

We often think we are the only one’s with this struggle. Slamming our head against career roadblocks without the time to focus on other cool passions, skills and interests.

I would venture to guess there’s loads of folks in the same boat. And it doesn’t always lead to career advancement but it’s a really interesting thread to tug on…

  • I see tech savvy folks getting involved in hackathon’s outside their normal workdays. Who knows who they may meet and where that takes their career…
  • I see creative folks doing extra graphics and posts on LinkedIn to share their creative flair. Who knows who’s seeing that and how it develops their personal brand… 
  • I see fraud fighters getting active in working groups to share their knowledge outside their company. Who knows who will take notice and how that reflects on their work ethic…

Many of these actions are what people in a tough spot feel like doing least. Or if they feel like doing it, they don’t think they should as they need to focus on getting to that next step. Moving their career forward.

When in reality, this could be just the thing that moves their career forward.

It’s not easy, but I encourage folks to give it a shot. Your career is a lot more than what you know. It’s who you are. It’s your personality, your work ethic, your flair that makes you unique. Of course you have practical knowledge building actions… but you also have other ways to show your value to the world. And sometimes these aren’t obvious but can result in big career opportunities.

Wrapping up…

What a weird windy path. None of this happened how I would have expected. From majoring in finance, to an anxiety disorder and OCD, to finding an entry level role in a field I knew nothing about, to taking calls from pissed off parents at Christmas time, to getting product management certifications because maybe that’s what I wanted to do, to writing marketing articles because maybe that’s what I wanted to do, to pursuing a weird side business with a German dude, to successfully scaling that side business, to climbing the ladder in the fraud prevention world, to launching Fraud Fight Club next year.

The current economic climate is rough. The job market is rough. No sense in ignoring reality, but it’s how you handle challenges like this that matters. 

Productive tactical actions and goal planning is a must. But, don’t lose sight of the unstructured bit that is harder to map out or even be aware of. Don’t ignore the juices that light you up and frankly, things that come a bit easier to you. Find ways to leverage those skills, show them off and see where it takes you.

Worst case, you are doing more of what you enjoy.

Best case, you are doing more of what you enjoy and have unlocked career opportunities you could never have dreamed of.

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Author: PJ Rohall

PJ guides the strategic roadmap. He leverages a strong understanding of the fraud ecosystem, both provider and end-user, and informs feature development. Outside of About-Fraud, PJ is the Head of Fraud Strategy & Education at SEON. He speaks, engages and educates folks on relevant fraud trends and strategies, while continuously learning from the industry and empowering fraud fighters across the globe.