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.

So You Trashed Your Career When Young

Let’s say you were – like all of us – young and foolish. Let’s also say that you were so foolish that you trashed your career in some way:

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  • You told your boss you were sick so that you could take the day off to see a ball game, but who should you see at the game but your boss (who took real PTO) and she fires you on the spot.
  • Or you weren’t “foolish” per se: bad things do happen to good people: you went through a nasty divorce and couldn’t function well at work and got fired, for example.
  • Or you took a youthful chance and cashed in all your retirement savings at age 29 to start the company you told yourself you always would before you were 30….and it failed, leaving you with pretty much nothing and a big gap in your work history.

Things, in other words, happened, and you need to pick up the pieces and put the trashed part of your job history behind you.

Here’s how to do so. Take a look below.

  • When you have pretty much nothing but bad job references.

If you were fired for cause (as in the first trashed-career example, above), or if you’ve left jobs too soon, too often, and/or before they could fire you, you probably have few if any good references. You’re going to need decent former-employer references to land a decent job. What to do?

You’ll need to both ‘fess up and find different references.

If applying for a job that requires references as part of the application process, be ready. You should talk to friends who know you to be of good character who can speak of that good character. List them as references.

Once in the interview, the hiring manager or recruiter undoubtedly will ask for some on-the-job references. Here’s where you tell the truth and you make it totally your fault. Tell the interviewer you were young, you were foolish, you were cocky, you made some doozy mistakes. Tell the interview how you “paid” for those mistakes (fired, demoted, had to take lower and lower paying jobs always quitting jobs, and so on).

Then be sure to tell the interviewer what you learned from these mistakes and how they’ve actually helped you: you’ve matured, you’ve seen how being arrogant before proving oneself (even AFTER proving oneself) is never a good thing, and so on.

Then offer references at former employers who can speak well of you.

You can bet that the company will try to speak to your former manager, so having backup references of former colleagues who can sing your praises will be a big help.

  • When your life blew up, you didn’t handle the stress well and your boss ended up letting you go.

Very similar to above: tell the interviewer you were young, your personal circumstances took a turn for the worse, you didn’t handle it well, and you’ve paid the price. Let the interviewer know what and how you’ve learned from the experience, and so on. Keep those reference of non-former-boss people who speak well of you handy.

  • When you took a big risk that didn’t pan out.

This is where you explain your lack of current job references and the gap in your history to as the fact that you took a risk to follow a dream. Most hiring managers understand the impatience of youth and will cut you some slack for following a dream that you probably didn’t plan well enough for. Take full responsibility for the disaster and tell the interviewer what you’ve learned from the experience, making sure to add how your new-found wisdom and skills will help his company. (They will, by the way: failure is a terrific teacher.)

Need to get your career back on track after some self-administered or “life” setbacks? Helpmates can help. Many of our temporary assignments can help you get your career back on track rather quickly. Contact the branch office nearest you to register with us.

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