How to Evaluate Whether You Made an Effective Career Decision

Tom made a major career decision 3 months ago: he decided to leave his position as chief information officer at a large manufacturing firm to become an entrepreneur and start a company to provide software that helps manufacturers improve the quality of their manufacturing process.

He made his choice after talking to his friend Dave, who left his chief technology officer position in a high-profile manufacturing company to become an entrepreneur six months ago.

At first, Tom felt excited and confident that he could play it by ear. He threw himself into the process of setting up a home office and working on the details of the software he planned to launch.

However, over time, he found himself unmotivated and unproductive. When the initial excitement had worn off, he found himself feeling isolated in his home office. Tom also realized that he only had enough cash to make some good hires, create and start pitching a prototype, and cover his operating expenses for six months.

There was no room for any missteps. Thus, Tom found himself increasingly wondering whether he’d made an effective decision.

Have you ever found yourself pondering that same question about a major career decision?

After all, we tend to be much less rational in our decision-making strategies than we think we are. Fortunately, recent neuroscience and behavioral economics research offers some useful strategies to assess whether you’re making the best business and career decisions.

The Science of Effective Decision Making

Decision science indicates that determining whether you made the best decision starts with your intentions.

You need to paint a clear vision of the outcome you want to see. The more concrete and specific you can make the vision, the better.

For a career decision, ask yourself these questions:

  • What are your career goals and aspirations?
  • How do you want the world to be different after you make your choice?
  • How confident are you that you will look back at it as worth the money, time, and other resources you expended on making this move?
  • How would you feel about this decision in the short, medium, and long term?

In answering these questions, you will develop certain expectations about the career decision. Make sure to ask yourself whether these are realistic expectations.

Put Numbers On Your Expectations

Next, you need to develop a way of measuring whether your intent is addressed and your expectations are met or exceeded with the career move. It’s time to get even more concrete and specific, by putting some numbers on your expectations.

Will you be earning more, the same, or less? Do you have enough saved up to weather any unexpected problems that might arise in this new role? Can this change wait until you are more financially prepared?

You should also put a number on the impact of this choice on your mood. You can evaluate your mood on a scale of 1 (I feel down) to 5 (I feel great) just before you make the career move, and then evaluate your mood again shortly after you make the jump, as well as throughout the transition.

One of the biggest failures in our decision making comes from a cognitive bias called the overconfidence bias. We tend to be excessively confident about the quality of our decisions. As a result, we fail to consider all of the important decision-making criteria that we should think about. To address this problem, it helps to slow down your career decisions and make sure that you consider all the relevant factors in your decision.

A related problem in our decision-making comes from the mental blindspot called the planning fallacy, our intuitive belief that everything will go according to plan. To address the very high likelihood that problems will crop up, you need to consider the possibility of these problems and plan for contingencies.

In conclusion, if you want to make sure you made an effective career decision, you need to determine a clear intent, develop realistic expectations that address cognitive biases, and then use specific measurements to evaluate whether your decision addresses your intent and matches or exceeds your expectations. 

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