It can be hard to make decisions, especially about your career. This page helps to guide you through the decision-making process.
Why it can be difficult to make decisions about your career
Some decisions have a big influence on your life. It's natural to feel nervous that if you pick incorrectly, you will end up feeling unhappy.
Examples of these types of decisions include:
- Choosing a major.
- Deciding between work or further study.
- Determining what you want to do with your life.
Some things can get in the way:
- Lack of knowledge of the options open to you and lack of awareness of your strengths and weaknesses.
- Belief that there is a perfect career out there. In fact, no one career path is perfect; knowledge can help you find work that satisfies most of your requirements.
- Belief that any decision you make is 100% binding and must be 'correct'. Actually, few decisions are 100% irreversible and we are likely to make new career decisions throughout our lives. Also, none of us can predict the future and no one can control outside forces.
A decision-making process
Identify your options
What are the choices you have to make? What career path am I considering? What other options are there? You may want to talk to a Career Development Consultant and/or do some research to check this out.
Gather information on your options and yourself
Examine the information and resources you already have. Seek out new information to fill any gaps. Develop a real understanding of yourself - what are your skills, interests, values, personal qualities, strengths and weaknesses? For ideas on how to do this, see:
Use one or more of the evaluation techniques described overleaf. If it helps, discuss your options with another person, eg, a Career Development Consultant.
Select one of the options
Based on the information you have gathered and analysed, select the best option. If you do not have enough information to choose one option over another, you may need to do more research. You may wish to identify your best alternatives too: your plan A, B and C.
Make a plan and implement the decision
Identify what information or resources you need to follow through on your decision. Identify possible obstacles to implementing your decision and plan to overcome them. Try not to worry about your decision: if you have fully assessed the situation and all possible outcomes, you have nothing to fear. Whichever option you take, there will be benefits: new experiences, opportunities to find out more about who you are and what you want.
Review the decision
Reflect on how you made your decision and how successful the outcome was. Think about how you can use what you learned when making future decisions.
Talk to a Career Development Consultant for help with any part of this process.
Option evaluation techniques
Pros and cons method
- Consider all the information you have gathered about your options and yourself.
- Write down all the reasons you can think of in favour of a particular option (pro).
- Write down all the reasons against that option (con).
- Assign a score to each reason (pro and con) on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the strongest.
- Add up the scores and compare the results.
- If the cons win, make a list of alternatives to the decision. One of those may jump out as the preferred option. Otherwise, you can then repeat the exercise for each alternative.
Start by thinking about your values, what's most important to you in your life and in work. Do you want to spend time helping others, developing expertise, making money, working in a team etc? Career Development and Employment Services can help you identify your values through a range of activities. Then, measure your options against your values. Which option(s) will most closely match your values?
The "What If…" approach
Imagine that you have decided on one of the options before you. Work through the option (eg, "What if I decided to do post graduate study?"), imagine you have taken that decision and imagine the consequences.
How do you feel about that decision? Do you feel excited, relieved, regretful, happy, sad? Is your body tense, relaxed? You could rank each response on a 1-5 scale to indicate how significant they are to you. Then imagine that you have decided on one of the other options and imagine the consequences. Our feelings can give us strong clues about which decision is right for us.
A career is an evolving process, and in our rapidly changing world an ability to be flexible about decisions and positive about uncertainty are valuable skills. This approach encourages you to accept that uncertainty is real and a positive part of decision-making. Becoming too focused on a particular decision early on can prevent you from seeing other possibilities.
A way to use this approach is to divide a sheet of paper into four quarters with headings:
- Short-Term Positive
- Short-Term Negative
- Long-Term Positive
- Long-Term Negative.
For each option you are considering write down all the possible outcomes you can think of under each heading, however unlikely they may be. Then ask yourself, "'What else could I do and what else could happen?".
Selected books and resources:
- Gelatt, H. B. & Gelatt, Carol. (2003) Creative decision-making using positive uncertainty. Boston: Thomson.
- Manthei, Marjorie. (1990). Decisively me: a guide to effective decision-making. Auckland: Heinmann Reed.
- Bolles, Richard Nelson. (any recent edition). What color is my parachute? a practical manual for job-hunters and career-changers. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.
- Jeffers, Susan. (1992). Feel the fear and do it anyway. Carlsbad , CA: Hay House.
- University of Berkeley Careers Centre: Decision making worksheet (a worksheet which compares options against your values). Download the worksheet: Decision making worksheet (123KB PDF)