Can’t decide whether to change careers? Read this

You’ve been offered a great job but you’re torn about whether to stay or go; or you want to change your career but faced with so many possibilities you feel overwhelmed and can’t decide which avenue to follow.  Don’t worry you’re not alone – many people struggle with making the ‘right’ decision, especially when it’s about your future career.

This is not a blog about writing a list of pros and cons for changing careers, this is about understanding your approach to decision making, and how listening to your gut instinct AND working out what criteria you need to be able to make a decision about your career are both important.

Become a satisficer

There is an approach to decision making that prioritises an adequate solution over an optimal solution and is known as ‘satisficing’ . If this is you, it means that once your criteria are met you make a decision or take action. Your criteria can be very high but once you have found something that meets it you’re satisfied.

Maximisers on the other hand want to make the optimal decision and therefore have to examine every option so they know they are making the best choice which can sometimes lead to paralysis and feeling overwhelmed.

Think about when you go shopping and you’re looking for a pair of new work shoes. You know they need to be black, stylish and not cost more than £x – do you buy the pair in the second shop that fit well and look good, or do you go to every shoe shop to see what is available before you buy?

Barry Scwartz in his book The Paradox of Choice argues that satisficers tend to be happier than maximisers who often feel anxious about whether the choice they have made is the best one.

If you want to develop more satisficing tendencies you need to identify your key criteria at the outset and, once it is met make the decision and resist gathering more information.

Listen to your gut

Then there is the whole issue of instinct or ‘gut feeling’. A powerful decision making tool but did you know there were three different types? William Duggan, Professor at Columbia Business School believes there are –

Ordinary intuition is just a feeling, a gut instinct.

Expert intuition is snap judgments, when you instantly recognize something familiar, the way a tennis pro knows where the ball will go from the arc and speed of the opponent’s racket…

The third kind, strategic intuition, is not a vague feeling, like ordinary intuition. Strategic intuition is a clear thought… That flash of insight you had last night might solve a problem that’s been on your mind for a month.…

Expert intuition is always fast, and it only works in familiar situations. Strategic intuition is always slow, and it works for new situations, which is when you need your best ideas. This difference is crucial, because expert intuition can be the enemy of strategic intuition. As you get better at your job, you recognize patterns that let you solve similar problems faster and faster. That’s expert intuition at work. In new situations your brain takes much longer to make enough new connections to find a good answer.

A flash of insight happens in only a moment, but it may take weeks for that moment to come. You can’t rush it. But your expert intuition might see something familiar and make a snap judgment too soon. The discipline of strategic intuition requires you recognize when a situation is new and turn off your expert intuition. You must disconnect the old dots, to let new ones connect on their own.”

So be prepared to spend a bit of time mulling things and switching off the snap decision button in your brain, to allow strategic intuition to surface – often at the most surprising times. This is really important when considering new career choices.

Tips for career decision making :

  • Think about what the most important elements of job satisfaction are for you e.g. organisational values, recognition, opportunities to learn and develop, salary, colleagues, etc . When you have ranked these evaluate any job offer or career options against them to see how they stack up.
  • Think long term – how does this role fit with your overall plan? What skills, experience and opportunities will it give you? Ask yourself how long do you see yourself in this role – is it a transition role or is it for keeps?
  •  Don’t go it alone – find someone you trust who can be as objective as possible to talk it through with. Saying things out loud can bring a new perspective.
  • Ask yourself the question ‘what advice would I give to someone in my situation?’ The answer you give will be from the heart and is often very illuminating.

So to make a positive career decision, whether that’s to change career, take that promotion or stay where you are, make sure you use your strategic intuition but also be clear about your criteria for the change.

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