How to Make Big, Career-Changing Decisions

At certain points in our lives, we are confronted with some big decisions. It could be whether to take a new job or change careers, start a business, buy a house, or move to a new location.

When facing such a challenge, it is natural to wonder about the best way to go about making a decision. Should you rely on your head or your heart, think things through as rationally as possible, or rely on your feelings? Actually, you should do both.

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In fact, begin the whole process by assessing how you feel about making a particular decision. Imagine taking a particular course of action and see how it makes you feel. Do you feel good about your choice, or does something not feel right about it? It is OK to trust your instincts because they may be telling you something.

  1. Clarify your decision.

The first step is to pinpoint exactly what you need to decide because the crux of your decision may not be what you think. For instance, you may be faced with a decision about taking a job in a new city but you’re not sure if the salary you’re offered will provide you a better lifestyle in your new home (or even merely the same lifestyle).

So, the actual decision here is not whether or not you want the job – you do – but whether or not it’s financially worth it to move to another area on the salary you’ve been offered.  You have to consider the cost of living new the new town and how far your new salary will go in it.

  1. Gather information.

You naturally want to gather as much information as you can about the choices available to you and the consequences of those choices. (In other words, you’ll need to research how much things cost in the new city). But you also need to be careful here because you will seldom be able to gather all the information you want. You will always be under some kind of time constraints, and often you will have to act rather than waiting for more data.

  1. Cause and effect.

Another framework to help in making decisions is to look at them in terms of cause and effect – the decisions being the cause and the consequences of that decision being the effect. Logically, this takes the form of an if-then proposition – if something is decided in a certain way, then particular effect will follow.

For example,  if your salary will go far in the new city, your life probably will be easier and if it’s not, you may regret making the career move.

  1. See the decision as the beginning of a process.

We often look at decisions as a once-and-done kind of thing, a choice that we make. And while this is true in part, we also need to look at decision making as part of a process, because every choice we make has consequences. Everything we do after making that initial decision is important as well. We need to follow through and do whatever we can to make the decision the right one.

Taking the new job in the new city question: if it turns out you discover your new salary won’t go far in the new city, but you decide to take the job anyway, you will need to figure out how to make the salary work in your new home. What additional decisions do you have to make? Can you downsize from a home to an apartment? Cook at home more? Take fewer vacations? Could you ask for more money before you even decide whether or not to take the new job?

We can make a good decision (a great, new career opportunity) but even good decisions can have poor consequences. You need to consider what the consequences might be and if you can live with them.

  1. Watch out for cognitive bias.

Cognitive biases are things like emotions, ego, and prejudices that color our thinking and get in the way of making good decisions. For example, one such inclination is called the anchoring bias. It describes the propensity we have to give more weight to the initial information we receive about something than information we get later.

In the case of whether to move or not, your first thought upon receiving the job offer is how great your new position will be and how much you’ll enjoy your new role. Once you realize your new salary won’t go as far in the new city it may not register as strongly as your initial excitement about the position.

Yet that information is important and you should recognize it as such. After all, living like a pauper day-to-day may – or may not – make up for your fabulous new position. Only you can decide that, but you need to be careful about how cognitive bias and anchoring can make you “forget” about how hard it may be actually live in the new city when you’re not working.

Bottom line: think through any big career decision carefully, from all sides, from pros and cons. Think about the what-ifs and what you’ll do if they occur.

If you’re considering a big career change – such as a complete change in careers – consider “trying” it out a bit on an assignment with Helpmates. Contact the branch location nearest you to learn more about our temporary,  temp-to-hire and direct-hire opportunities.

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