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How NOT to make career decisions

 In Careers, Insights, Life decisions

A few years back, I made a bad decision. I was sitting in company X, doing a job that I was not enjoying. Although it was a great company and I was learning and being challenged, I didn’t fit in the culture. Some days my head would pound from how much I didn’t want to be there. One of those days, an email popped into my inbox about a potential job at company Y: would I be interested in having a chat?

I went along for an interview, and before I knew it I had escaped from the cultural clash of company X into the warm and well-paid embrace of company Y.

Today, many years hence, I consider this to be a decision-making mistake. Why a mistake? Surely, I escaped from a job I didn’t like. So that makes it a good decision doesn’t it?

How NOT to make career decisions

I’ve been discussing career decisions with career expert Janet Matta, of careerjanet.com fame. She described some of the top mistakes people make, and I could see a whole bunch of them in my decision above.

Out of the frying pan into the fire

Janet commonly sees people jump from a job they don’t like into the first one that comes along, without evaluating the new one properly. Pretty much nails my decision above. The postscript to the decision above is that I realised on day 5 at the new job that it wasn’t the right move, but stuck it out for a few months until I made a much better decision and landed up in the right job.

Moving for money

We often see people moving for a title or money. This gives you a little frisson of excitement, and gives you the opportunity to share your new found success with your social circle. We know from research that extrinsic motivators (money, recognition etc) are not as powerful as intrinsic motivators (doing good, making a difference, creating innovations), so the excitement of a few more dollars in your monthly pay packet wears off very within 3-4 weeks, while moving to a job with good intrinsic motivators is a benefit that keeps going much longer.

Limiting your options

I loved this analogy from Janet: “People think choosing a career is like choosing a partner. But it’s not at all. With partners you are choosing from a set of options, trying to find someone compatible with you. With careers, you can design your own to fit you. You can’t do that with a partner.”

This is a key insight. People often make career choices just like I did, from two unsuitable options. You have to try to at least have 3 options (current job plus two new ones), and even then you need to try and design these options to suit you. Start with your current company: how can you make a business case to create a great job for you internally? Then use your network to try identify your ideal job. Or look at the option of creating your own job by starting your own business.

Careerjanet and X or Y’s top tips

We’ve looked at the top mistakes, what tools can you use to make a good decision? Here is more advice combined from @careerjanet and X or Y Decisions

Look back to look forwards

Looking back over your life and identifying the kind of things you like to do, talk about, spend money on, spend your time on can reveal the truth of what you really value. Identify the patterns, which will reflect your personal values. Finding or creating a job that matches your values will give you so much energy (so much intrinsic motivation) that you will bound out of bed every morning ready to start. That’s how I feel these days as my job fits very closely to my values.

Zoom in zoom out

If you’ve got an idea what you might want to do (set up a cafe!) then make sure you “zoom in” by going to interview some cafe owners – what’s it really like? what are key factors that make a cafe work?

Then you need to “zoom out” by looking for data. What is the business model for a cafe, how many succeed? What margin do they make? How many hours do cafe owners work? Go looking for the data to establish these key facts. Don’t just guess.

Don’t think about it, do it.

Janet inspired me with some words on design thinking. Applying it to careers means focusing on doing, not thinking. Look at what problems you’re interested in, what you’re curious about. Make a hypothesis about how you might solve it, find a job/career that would let you work in this area. And then start doing. Spend a day in a cafe. Create a pop up cafe to test your approach.

It’s like a chef tasting their dish. Many people spend hours cooking without tasting what they’re making on the way. If you are cooking up a new job, make sure you try it before you make your big decision.

Leave a comment below with your stories or strategies.

How NOT to make career decisions was written by Rob Pyne with thanks to Janet Matta @careerjanet