Making Decisions about Your Career

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by Melanie Allen

For most people, a career decision is complex: a mix of practical, logical and emotional factors. Most of us take logical and practical factors into account (unless you're very impulsive!). We research, analyse information, make lists of criteria and plans. What we often forget to do is to take emotional factors into account, ignoring our intuition and ‘gut reaction'. This article aims to help you make balanced decisions, step by step, starting with your approach.

Approaching the decision

We make decisions all the time: what to wear, what to buy, what to eat. Most of the time, they are made and forgotten without a second thought. They aren't important. Problems arise when the decision is loaded with meaning. Making the wrong career decision may lead to catastrophe. But will it really? It's all in the way you look at it.

Is there a 'right' or 'wrong' decision?

Yes and no! It depends on your mindset. The fear of making a mistake or making the wrong decision is often the reason for avoiding it.

Fact: in these fast-paced times, people tend to change jobs every few years.

  • The downside is that you're not likely to find your first job then gently move up the career ladder with that employer. It happens, but not often.
  • The upside is that you're expected to move about. So your career decision isn't irrevocable. You can take some of the pressure off yourself if you can see it as another phase rather than an enormous life change.

You might find change, risk and the unknown exciting, in which case a decision to change career may be welcome. If you always go for the safe option, then it can be fraught with difficulty. However, if you're unhappy with what you're doing now and you can see a way forward, do you really have that much to lose?

Two other major sticking points related to career decisions are:

1. Having too fixed an idea of what you want.

You don't actually know what's out there, so take a look. You aren't committing yourself by doing that.

2. Making decisions before you need to.

Make your decisions one step at a time. If you start extrapolating into the future and planning what you will do if this or that happens, you could talk yourself into paralysis or into disappointment.

Step by step

Changing career isn't just one single enormous decision. If you can see it as a process rather than one event and break it down into a series of smaller step-by-step decisions you'll find it less scary - and you'll still get there. Take the first step and approach each decision as it arises, considering it on its merits and making it at the right time (and not before). That way, you minimise the perceived risk at each stage. For example:

  • Decide to look for a job - then do it.
  • Decide to apply for a job - then do it. Don't start thinking about who will look after the cat at this stage. It's amazing how problems can be overcome when the time comes.
  • If you get an interview, go for it. Don't decide in advance that you don't want the job. See how it goes!
  • If you are offered the job, you may decide not to take it. Fair enough. An interview is a two-way process, after all, and you will have gained experience.

How do you make decisions?

We all make decisions in different ways. The trick is to make a balanced decision, using both your head and your heart. A beautifully logical decision can be scuppered because your heart isn't in it and an impulsive decision could backfire if it hasn't been properly thought through. If you tend to be impulsive, back your decision up with one of the ‘head' decision-making methods (see below). If you're inclined to be analytical, try one of the ‘heart' decision-making methods.

‘Heart' decision-making

  • Intuition

Don't be afraid of your gut reactions. Take your emotions into account. How does it feel?

  • Give it time - sleep on it

Give it as much time as you can. You need it to process all the information. Sleep on it or let it fade into the background as you do something else (preferably something you enjoy, otherwise it will nag at you!). Set a time when you will revisit it the issue.

  • Talk it through

Discuss it with friends, family members, colleagues or anyone who has made a similar decision. It can help you see your position more clearly. Just be sure not to be swayed by their opinions.

‘Head' decision- making

  • Weigh up the pros and cons

Write everything you can think of on a piece of paper, in two parallel columns, labelled Pros and Cons. Give each one an ‘importance' value from 1-5. Add up the numbers in each column. You now have a numerical ‘answer'. The process of writing it down can clarify your priorities.

  • Think it through

Carefully think through the possible consequences of making one decision, then do it for the opposite decision.

  • Test it out

You could make a tentative decision, and try it out before committing to it completely. Get some relevant work experience on a voluntary basis or talk to someone who already does the job.

Make the best decision you can

Fact: If you make a balanced decision in the first place, you're less likely to regret it

Fact: Once you've made your decision and taken action, you can only go forward and make the best of it. If you really do regret it, you may not be able to turn back the clock, but you will be able to make another decision...

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