How to Make Big Career Decisions a Little Easier

How do you feel about the work you’re doing? Are you enlivened? Is your career headed down the path you had in mind? Or do you find yourself wondering whether it’s time to make a career change that will help you meet your goals? If you’re considering such a change, the enormity of this decision may be weighing on you, as you evaluate a choice that will impact more than your work life.

When making career decisions, you’ll benefit by breaking the decision down into smaller parts, to help you identify the criteria most important for you. Once you identify your needs, interests, values, and ideals for your work, you will have what you need to evaluate the suitability of your current and potential future jobs.

Getting Started What are the Core Needs you have in order to become fulfilled at work?

Theorists have found that we are born with our Core Needs, and they stay with us throughout our lives. Individuals, either consciously or unconsciously, tend to look for ways to have these needs met. When met, people feel energized and enlivened. When missing, people tend to feel more drained of energy and dissatisfied. Therefore, the extent you can align your Core Needs to your work will enable you to realize greater joy and satisfaction.

Questions you may ask to clarify your own Core Needs include:
1. What do you consider essential in order to be fulfilled at work?
2. What are your most cherished values?
3. In what ways do you prefer to interact with others?
4. How do you like to get your work done?

The outcomes of such questions result in your ability to identify your core needs, values, and preferred approach to your work. Take your responses, and start a list of each need you have, and how important each need is. An example is offered below.

Career Decision Criteria CORE NEEDS ~ RELATIVE IMPORTANCE *Make a significant impact ~ Must Have *Skillful performance ~ Must Have *Variety ~ Must Have *Contextual Thinking ~ Must Have *Ability to take the time necessary to get the best result ~ Must Have

What are your Compelling Interests and Motivations? The second set of questions to ask yourself will help you identify your Compelling Interests and Motivations. Researchers suggest that our interests and motivations tend to stabilize by our mid-twenties, meaning you may experience a bit more change in this area than in your Core Needs. As your career progresses, you’re likely to find this area stabilize.

Identify your Compelling Interests and Motivations by exploring these questions:
1. What kinds of occupations have you always found most interesting?
2. What subjects are most interesting to you?
3. What work activities have you enjoyed the most, and why?
4. What do you find particularly motivating?
5. What do you never grow tired of talking about?

Once you uncover your Compelling Interests and Motivations, you will be able to identify your most compelling occupational themes, interests, and motivating factors that will provide another set of inputs towards your decision.

Career Decision Criteria COMPELLING INTERESTS/MOTIVATIONS ~ RELATIVE IMPORTANCE *Helping others in original, imaginative ways ~ Must Have *Independence ~ Must Have *Writing ~ Must Have

When you’re aware of your Core Needs, Compelling Interests, and Motivations, you’ll have a much greater ability to weigh various career decisions against this set of criteria that is true to your ideal career qualities.

Of course, the complexity of a career decision doesn’t stop there. There are at least three, and possibly numerous additional criteria categories you have for your career. The three aspects we’ll cover next are the places where you may find the most change throughout your work life.

What is your preferred work Context? Context has to do with who you serve in your work, who you work with, where you work, and how you work.

To clarify your preferred work place, customers, and coworkers, ask yourself questions such as:
1. Who do you want to serve in your work?
2. What qualities do you value in your coworkers, managers, and workplace?
3. Where do you want to work?
4. When do you want to do your work?
5. How do you define your ideal work day?

Career Decision Criteria PREFERRED CONTEXT ~ RELATIVE IMPORTANCE *Working from a Home Office ~ Like to Have *Having a regular and stable schedule ~ Like to Have *Having a combination of work as part of a team, and independent work ~ Like to Have *Working with people who value quality and relationships ~ Must Have

What Competencies do you want to be able to use at work? This next area, Competencies, also contains elements that will serve you and remain constant throughout your work life, while others will come and go as your work environments change. This is where you want to do some work describing the knowledge, skills, and abilities you’ve developed that you want to keep, and what new competencies you want to add.

These types of questions will help you identify your preferred competencies: 1. What knowledge, skills, and abilities have you developed that you enjoy using? 2. What projects or work experiences do you think of as your career highlights? 3. What new competencies interest you?

Career Decision Criteria COMPETENCIES ~ RELATIVE IMPORTANCE *Listening and identifying unmet needs of others ~ Like to Have *Communicating effectively through writing ~ Must Have *Designing customized programs for customers ~ Like to Have

What Connections are most important to you? The Connections you have throughout your Career will be diverse. Some of your connections will stay with you over many years, and others will come and go as your circumstances change.

When considering your potential change, ask yourself these questions:
1. Who do you love to be around, and why?
2. How does your spending time with these kinds of people enrich your life?
3. Who do you support, and who supports you, in your career?

Career Decision Criteria CONNECTIONS ~ RELATIVE IMPORTANCE *Opportunities to stay current and connected with others in my field ~ Must Have *Finding a mentor in my workplace ~ Like to Have *Working with peers who have similar skills ~ Like to Have

Putting it all together: After you’ve found clarity regarding your most important career decision criteria in the above five categories (Core Needs, Compelling Interests and Motivations, Context, Competencies, and Connections), you can build a decision table to reference as you evaluate your current job and research new jobs. To create your table, you may want to use MS Excel, or simply write all your criteria down on one sheet of paper. Your criteria will be listed along the left hand column, with the Relative Importance directly beside your criteria. Then, create a column for every job you want to evaluate against these criteria. Start with your current job. If you find that your current job truly does meet all of your needs, yet only one or two desired qualities are missing, you may want to start by exploring what possibilities there are for bringing what’s missing to your workplace.

If you find yourself struggling to generate meaningful answers to the kinds of questions asked throughout this article on your own, you may want to consider working with a professional career services provider, so they can help you gain the level of clarity you need to make a sound career decision. Good career service providers offer a full range of career assessments, tools, and resources to help you make decisions and navigate through the career transition process.

The career landscape presents thousands of job choices that can be overwhelming in their diversity. This approach of breaking a big career change decision into smaller parts helps you quickly identify your values, interests, natural talents, and working style preferences, all of which will help you narrow the vast array of choices you’re faced with when selecting or changing your career. Once you find clarity regarding your core needs and interests for a career, then the work of active experimentation, networking, informational interviews, and job shadowing can take place within a few targeted areas. As you align your work and workplace to your personal preferences, natural talents, and interests, you’ll find that you experience much less strain and greater satisfaction in your work.

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