The Problem with Career Decisions

Career development challenges

Which direction should I take my career?
Should I apply to this job posting?
Should I take this job offer?
Promotion? I guess that is the next logical thing...

I have observed over the years that personal decision making as it relates to career direction, job opportunities, and other issues that impact how you make a living is a weak skill set for most people.

Why is that? I think most people aren’t good at career decision making for 4 reasons:

1. Not enough practice

How many times during the course of your working life do you make these kinds of decisions? Not enough that you are going to get significantly better at it without purposefully trying to improve your decision making process.

2. Poor self-knowledge

In order to make a good decision, you need to know some things about yourself. And you need to be honest with yourself. Where do I fit and don’t fit? What do I need to be successful? How good am I really? Can I be successful here? What are my strengths relative to this job? Does this opportunity really take advantage of what I have to offer or am I selling myself short, or going down a path that isn’t what I wanted? The list goes on, but you get the point.

3. Not doing the homework

In order to make a good decision, you need the facts, not only about yourself, but about the opportunity, project, or career path you are considering. You need to ask good questions. Collect the data. And analyze it. What is it really like to work in this job? What are the performance expectations...can I achieve those? Where is the company going? Could I work with my potential boss? Do they have integrity? And on, and on.

4. Lack of choice

Having options, or choices, is, I think, a prerequisite to a good decision. How can you make a good decision with a job offer, for example, when you do not perceive that you have any choice? If you feel lucky to have any kind of opportunity, then you are not likely to say no that job offer, even though if you really looked at it, you might find that it is the wrong job, or the wrong team, or the wrong culture for you. There are times when we really don’t have any immediate options. Sometimes, that is our fault. Sometimes it is the market.

4b. Is courage (can I say, boldness)

You can know who you are, what you want, do your homework well and have all the information to make a good decision, but not act on it, or go in a direction that is contrary. I see this all the time. It is connected to choice, but it is also about valuing yourself, what you offer, what you want to do, and then deliberately putting yourself on a path to get there. It can mean taking a risk. Saying no to opportunity is a difficult thing to do. But, necessary to properly manage your career.

I am convinced that the root of a large portion of career challenges has to do with poor decision making. You can be a top performer, a dependable, enthusiastic employee. Someone with great technical skills. But, if you put yourself in the wrong job, you will likely fail, or at least not succeed in one of two ways:

On the job itself.

And, in the other parts of your life: You see, there are some aspects of our lives that have rippling, or cascading impacts on other parts of our lives. If you are in the wrong job, or the wrong environment, or operating under expectations that don’t work, you are going to feel that pressure. In your health. Or family life. Or your behavior.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this is big. What happens when you make a bad decision? You spend months, or years dealing with the impact of that decision until you extract yourself. That’s big.

So, what can you do about it?

In a future article, I will provide some thoughts and tips on how to go about making better decisions.

Seth Godin on Funk
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