Yes or no? That’s the question. We spend almost a third of our day working. That means the number of decisions we make regarding our work are aplenty. But problems arise when career decisions involve making tough choices that will affect our future (and possibly other people’s future, too). It’s hard to find help and valuable information on how to make better career decisions, leaving you feeling lost and confused.
This is meant to serve as a 10-step guide to follow when you’re faced with a career decision. Whether you’re evaluating a job offer or completely pivoting in your career, going through these steps will help you land in a work situation that makes you feel positive and confident about your choice.
Steps to making better career decisions
1. Take a step back to move forward
When you’re approached with challenges involving your career, one of two reactions is typical. You’re compelled to make a quick decision without fulling thinking through it, or you feel paralyzed at the tough choice in front of you, resulting in indecision. Bypass both scenarios by taking a deep breath (and a step back) so that your final decision is part of a well-crafted response.
Consider taking time to reflect on the situation before making any rash choices. This is an important part of your career development and professional growth journey. Journaling is a great way to get all feelings, emotions and facts out of your head. Don’t judge yourself, allowing this step to serve as both therapeutic and tactical so you can move on in the decision-making process.
2. Consider your personal circumstances
As you’re facing hard career decisions, it’s critical to be honest with yourself. What do you need for your career to work for you at this stage of life? As we progress through different seasons, our priorities change. What you wanted — or what worked for you — ten years ago may no longer be the same. If you’re a parent or taking care of a loved one, flexibility to work from home may be necessary. Taking a job with a lower salary than what you’re currently making could be a deal-breaker.
Ask yourself some key questions to better understand how your career can work for and not against you. Do you need the flexibility to work your own hours? Is travel for work important to you? Is money a big or small factor in your overall decision? Answering these types of questions will make the choices easier because you’ll feel confident about what you need in your career — a change or to stay put.
3. Gain clarity on what you want
After evaluating your career needs based on your personal circumstances, it’s time to focus on what you want. Think about your biggest (and favorite) strengths and what you love about your job. If you’re trying to figure out whether to take a promotion, ask yourself if the new role will allow you to use those strengths and work on projects that excite you.
What do you need in a boss to thrive? Is being part of a team important? What size company do you want to be a part of? Do you want to be a people manager or individual contributor? By simply posing questions to yourself and answering them honestly, you’ll gain incredible insight and clarity into hard career decisions.
4. Write your dream scenario
An important part of the decision-making process is taking time crafting your ideal work situation. As you go through this Vivid Vision (PDF) exercise, write it down on a piece of paper or journal. Refer to it often when you start to doubt yourself or your decision.
Start by asking this: What does my ideal work situation look like? Pretend it’s one year later and you’ve just written a letter to yourself reflecting on the prior year. If you could be doing anything, what would it be? Describe it in detail and even formulate it as a letter to yourself. This activity does wonders in showing you the truth about what you want at work. You’ll want to make sure the decisions you make lead you to your dream scenario.
5. Investigate the path
Each decision you make will lead you down a different path. It could be a familiar route or a road you’ve never traveled. Understand how the path will change the course of your career (and life) based on decision A or B. Map out the path for each decision and lean into which one feels better.
One route may be harder in the short term but reap unbelievable rewards in a few years. The other could leave you feeling less stress now but require more strenuous work in the future. Only you can decide — based on the four prior steps — which decision is right for you.
6. Create a plan
You’re now at the point where a decision is near. You’ve gone through self-reflection and spent time determining what you want and need out of your career. To feel good about your career decision, create a plan for what will happen next.
It can be as detailed as you want but should state what the outcome of your career choice will be. Then, work backward from that outcome to deliver a step-by-step process to get you there (like what we’ve done in this guide).
7. Make your decision with confidence
Now that you’ve done your due diligence, it’s time to make a decision. What felt like an impossible choice before should now seem doable. And if it doesn’t, go back to step 1 and start this process again. You might find it helpful to download our helpful worksheet at the top of this article to help you through the process.
Be confident in your path and plan while looking toward the possibilities and opportunities. Focusing on fear and trying to predict the future won’t do you any good. Courage will help make tough decisions — in both your career and life — easier today and further down the line, too.
8. Act on your plan and see the decision through
Remember when you created that plan in step 6? It’s time to put it into action. When you’re trying to figure out how to make better career decisions the work doesn’t stop once the choice is made. Following through on your decision is critical and will ensure it was the right one. You have every step, task or action you need mapped out for you. Now, your job is to act on it.
9. Practice patience and prepare for roadblocks
Whether positive or negative, every decision has consequences. Maybe your career choice leads you to ongoing opportunities. Or a decision could leave you feeling even more challenged. The aftermath of a career decision might be hard at first but be patient knowing you went through the right process to get there. And when roadblocks — and more decisions — on your carefully crafted plan come up, you now have the tools to push through them.
10. Celebrate your success
Once the decision is made and you’ve started seeing the results of it, take time to celebrate. You took the appropriate steps to enable critical thinking and smart decision-making during a challenging time. That’s not something to take lightly. And now you have a formula to follow the next time you’re faced with a tough choice. That’s something to celebrate itself!
Final thoughts by Samuel Kwame Boadu
As a part of the workforce, big and small career decisions are inevitable. How you handle them will determine the trajectory of your career. Following this step-by-step guide and answering some important professional growth questions will lead you to making better career decisions, while feeling confident in the process.
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