Career decision-making

Pay attention to how you make your choices

The need to make quality decisions is pervasive and continuous throughout our lives. This is especially germane when it comes to the ongoing practice of our careers. All along the long-term spectrum of our careers, from our initial professional entry point through to when and how to retire, decisions need to be made that ensure our professional goals are steadily being addressed and realized.

Over recent decades, decision-making has become an identifiable psychological and operational construct. There are a variety of models and multi-step plans designed to render the decisionmaking process as a rational exercise, which is considered by many to be more effective than a process too invested in emotions or irrational thinking. The premise is that attaining any consequential aspiration can often be confounding and perplexing requiring application of a logical and objective method.

Executing a career proficiently can certainly be considered among the significant goals of our lives, so it makes sense to consider an approach that fortifies how we make decisions. The range of career-related decisions we typically face involve innumerable choices such as determining areas of specialization, optimal compensation levels, acceptable stress levels, the purpose underpinning our work, a reasonable work-life balance, among many more crucial preferences we select to improve our careers.

But before we reach for an off-theshelf decision-making model to guide us, we need to take into consideration the premise mentioned above. By using a more rational decision-making approach, the better the outcomes will be. The truth is we are humans and not computational and algorithmic programs.

We each enter decision-making as individuals impacted by prior experience. Our singular views of reality are therefore necessarily subjective. To suggest any rational methodology will capture the only and truly best decision for everyone may be over-relying on pragmatic analysis at the expense of a more viscerally human variable.

I am not advocating for ditching all seven-step decision-making plans and the like in favor of depending on gut feelings only, but am proposing the better process may be a decision-making hybrid consisting of a use of logical and sequential steps that are colored and influenced by our feelings and intuitions. Skewing too much to one side or the other of this hybrid could result in low quality and ineffective outputs.

However, both rationally based and contemplatively based procedures carry with them liabilities. Rational approaches assume the decision-maker can clearly identify and weigh all options, alternatives and consequences. We may try to select the choice that best finds a great solution, but we are often limited by things like lack of time, overwhelming amounts of information, conflicting opinions and competing priorities for our attention. In actuality, while rationally based decision-making processes can yield useful insights for determining the course of your career, they almost always turn out to be limited to a degree.

Integrating elements of introspection into your decision-making process means you will exercise your reflective capacity. Focus on past decisions that were successful. Extend that to your values encapsulated in rules of thumb known as heuristics. Some examples are, “Treat others as you wish to be treated,” “The customer is always right” and “Always maintain a professional demeanor with subordinates.”

But beware of too much reliance on what feels right. Lurking in our feelings are biases which may warp our ability to make sound decisions. A particular liability is confirmation bias — a condition where we ignore or discount evidence that conflicts with our preconceived beliefs. This has the effect of closing off avenues which could potentially benefit our careers.

Career-oriented decision-making is part science and part art. Paying attention to how we make decisions and how that process can be improved can go a long way toward enhancing our professional selves and extending the gains enjoyed from a flourishing career.

Bill Ryan writes about career, employment and economic topics from his home in North Sutton.

Categories: Business Advice