Unsure about which choices to make about your future? These four podcasts are here to guide you along your career path, with practical tips and advice on how to make the right decision - and how to avoid common pitfalls.
Part 1: Introduction and some essential facts
This podcast focuses on the task of making choices about your future and, in particular, ways in which you can evaluate future career options to increase your chances of making the optimum decision. It also offers some practical tips and advice on avoiding common pitfalls around career decision making, including for instance, the fact that career decision making is a process rather than an event – it requires time and effort.
Part 2: Finding the right question to ask
In this podcast the focus is exploring and answering the kind of questions you could ask yourself in order to be clearer about what you are looking for from future options. These 6 basic questions help to refine the criteria you will use for evaluating your options. These 6 basic questions consist of: Why? What? Who? How? Where? And When?
Attachment: Asking the right questions (PDF)
Part 3: Finding the insights you need
This podcast concentrates on how you can gather information that will help you to make good decisions. It suggests that one of the best ways to evaluate future options is to find people who are already living those options - or something like them and offers some tips on finding potential contacts and how to engage.
Attachment: Intelligence Gathering (PDF)
Part 4: Making choices
This podcast explores how to avoid some of the common problems that lead people to make decisions they regret or lead them to avoid making decisions altogether. It suggests that your chances of increasing a good decision if you combine both systematic, analytical thinking and listening to your gut instinct.
This theory is based upon Economist Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking Fast and Slow”, where he discusses these two decision making processes and their pros and cons. The slow, analytical process works best if you give it time and structure, the fast, instinctive process works best if you give it experiences and stories.
At different points in your life you will be faced with difficult choices about your career.
If you’re facing redundancy or restructuring, you will have to decide what to do next — Should you try to get a similar role or make a complete change?
If you have outgrown your current job, when is the right time to move on and what should you aim for?
If your circumstances have changed, how do you make a change in your career that might impact on people important to you?
If your perspective and values have changed, how do you find something more authentic?
If you are in a bad situation, how do you get away from it without ruining your future chances?
All of these situations involve dealing with change and you may find it helpful to listen to the podcast on “Personal Transition - Change and You” for advice on how to anticipate, deal with and make the most of change in your life — whether you have chosen the change or not.
In this podcast we will focus on the task of making choices about your future and, in particular, ways in which you can evaluate future career options to increase your chances of making the optimum decision.
So, what do you need to make good career decisions? On the face of it, it is fairly simple, you need...
- a suitable range of options to choose from
- a set of clear criteria — important factors that will help you to differentiate your options
- appropriate information about each of your options that help you to weigh them against your criteria
- a systematic way of comparing that information
But, of course, life doesn’t usually make things that easy. Career decisions are often emotionally charged which doesn’t make it easy to take a systematic rational approach. The situations about which you are making decisions are complex and often subtle differences can have big impacts. The consequences are big — may not be just a change of job but a change of identity, of lifestyle, of community. Most of the time all the information is not available, is hard to obtain, or is difficult to interpret. Often you don’t have the time or the resources to get the information you need.
This podcast won’t solve all of those problems, but we will try to give you some practical tips and advice on avoiding common pitfalls around career decision making. We will also try to stimulate your thinking with a few thought provoking questions.
Let’s start with some essential facts about career decision making.
- It is a process rather than an event – it requires time and effort. The career decisions you are least likely to regret are the ones that you refine as you go along rather than the ones you are rushed into. In part 2 of this podcast we will look at how you can save yourself time by working out the right questions to ask.
- You won't get to the right answer on the first try – you will have to explore a number of dead ends before you hit on the right path. Don’t be discouraged by the dead ends — learn from them. In part 3 of the podcast we will look at how you can gain the most useful insights from every bit of your exploration.
- You will never have all the information you need and you will eventually have to be comfortable making decisions with a certain level of uncertainty. In the final part of the podcast we will look at how to make well-considered decisions and deal with the inevitable uncertainty.
Before that — a quick note on generating options - because you can't evaluate and decide if you don't have alternatives.
Many clients ask for help in generating more career options. Often that's not really what they need. They have already generated quite a few ideas, but they have rejected them all. I call this premature evaluation and what I try to do is steer people back to more career exploration. Your first ideas may not be the right ones but, if you reject them too quickly, you fail to do the exploration which could lead to other, better ideas.
Many people confuse career exploration with job hunting. Job hunting is about finding something you can do now; career exploration is about finding out what you could become if you can discover a way of making the change. Job hunting is about finding the right opportunities; career exploration is about finding potential leads.
If you are genuinely at the very early stage of idea generation, there are a number of ways to start. One thing to do is to Google “occupational profiles UK” and look at lists of job descriptions. Or you could just ask people for ideas – but it’s much easier to do these things if you have some clear ideas yourself of what you want from your job and you have some good questions to ask — which is what we cover next.
The first set of questions you need to find are ones addressed to yourself that help you to start answering the big question about what you want from your future career. They help you to refine the criteria you will use for evaluating your options.
There are various tools that can help you to clarify your criteria. The Roles and Goals exercise that came with part 2 of the Personal Transition podcast is one such tool. However, you can start with six basic questions – Why? What? Who? How? Where? And When?
“Why?” is about your motivation for doing the job and the meaning the job has for you. What makes it worthwhile, rewarding or satisfying for you? What kind of purpose do you want to have? What kind of impact? What kind of problems do you want to solve? Is the job a means of earning money to support your real interests, or do you want it to mean something more? On the flip side... what would make a job less meaningful or rewarding for you?
“What?” is about the content of the job — the activities you engage in, the topics you deal with and the skills you use on a regular basis. What tasks do you like performing? What do you find easier to do than other people? What subjects could you talk about all day long? Alternatively, what activities do you never want to have to do ever again? What topics turn you off completely?
“Who?” is about the people your role will bring you into regular, close contact with. Who do you want as your colleagues, collaborators, clients or customers? Who do you feel at home with? Do you like to spend time with people with similar values, educational level or personality as you... or would you be more stimulated by meeting people from different cultures, with different perspectives and opinions?
“How?” is about the way in which you like to work — does it fit with your personality? Can you be yourself or do you have to behave, to think and to feel in a particular way? Are you a plan six months ahead or a get it all done at the last minute type of person? Do you prefer to think strategically or act practically? Do you want to be professional and businesslike or warm and welcoming? How would you find it most difficult to behave, think or feel?
“Where?” is about location and environment. Are there particular parts of the country or the world that you want to be in or to avoid? Do you want to be in one place or to move around? Do you want to be in an office or out and about or in your own home? How much commuting are you prepared to put up with?
“When?” is about balance and your career over time. How much of your life do you want your work to occupy? Do you want it to be something you live and breathe or do you want to say goodbye at the end of the day and forget all about it? Also, how do you want your work to change over time? What opportunities for development would you like to have available to you in a few years’ time?
The handout that accompanies this podcast entitled Asking the Right Questions gives some examples of how these six questions can be used to examine any career options you are considering.
There is a seventh question that’s worth asking — how much? This isn’t just about the money. It’s a question that helps you to compare the relative importance of different factors and to compare the relative merits of different options. For any factor, such as the contact with people, the opportunity to use your communication skills, the amount of travel you get to do, the opportunities for being spontaneous — how much is too little and how much is too much? What are your minimum and maximum requirements for this particular factor?
It’s not always possible to answer for every factor, but when you can, it makes it easier to see where a particular option fits on the scale compared to other options. This scaling process can help you to avoid black-and-white thinking which can lead to poor ecisions.
One thing you can do is to go back over your previous experiences and ask these questions about each thing you have done. Have the answers to some of these questions changed over time? Which answers have stayed the same?
In the previous part of this podcast we looked at the kind of questions you could ask yourself in order to be clearer about what you are looking for from future options. In this section we will look at how you can gather information that will help you to make good decisions.
When talking about new career options, people often say “I won’t really know if I really like it until I get there.” This is, of course, partly true. It is impossible to predict all the things that you might experience in a new setting and to anticipate the effect they will have on your career satisfaction. However, just because you cannot predict everything, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to find out as much as you can before you make a commitment to a particular course of action.
There may be an opportunity to gain some direct experience of a new option if you are able to volunteer or do temporary work in a particular area. Many people who set up their own companies or consultancies do their first jobs for free in order to gain experience and gain recommendations for future work. Failing that, it’s always worth trying to arrange some kind of observation or shadowing of someone who is already doing the job.
Such opportunities are sometimes easier to set up than many people believe, so it’s always worth asking. However, even if this kind of direct experience or observation is not possible, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a lot more than you might think by tapping into other people’s experiences. In fact, relying on other people’s experience may be a better way of predicting our own future happiness than we think.
In his book Stumbling on Happiness, psychologist Daniel Gilbert describes numerous observations and experiments which demonstrate that we humans are consistently bad at predicting how we will feel in the future and what things will make us happy. However, he concludes that one of the best ways of predicting our future feelings is to find out what other people are feeling, especially those who have already experienced what we are about to go through. One of the best ways to evaluate future options is to find people who are already living those options - or something like them.
One of the first tasks, then, is to find those people. Check out our other podcast on networking for some advice on generating and talking to contacts. In this podcast, I will look at how the questions you have asked already can help you to build your network and gather the information you need.
First, a couple of questions to help you start the networking process when you don't have existing contacts in a career area you are considering.
- Who do you already know who has a better chance of knowing someone in this area? Or, if you find that difficult to answer…
- Who do you know who has a larger and more diverse network than you do?
If you come up with someone as a result of asking these questions, here are some questions you can ask them to generate more ideas for options and possible contacts. They are based on the outcomes of the Why, What, Who and Where questions from the previous part of this podcast.
- If you have identified particular purposes or problems as a result of asking “Why?” you could ask… Do you know anyone who might be working on this type of problem or who is trying to achieve this particular purpose?
- If you have identified particular activities, skills or topics as a result of asking “What?” you could ask… Do you know anyone who does a lot of this activity or deals a lot with this topic in their work?
- If you have identified particular groups of people as a result of asking “Who?” you could ask… Do you know anyone who works with this type of people or in these particular communities?
- If you have particular geographical limitations, you could ask… Do you know anyone who works in this location?
Hopefully, this should start the process of finding potential contacts. Now you need to think about what you are going to ask them when you meet. The accompanying handout, Intelligence Gathering, lists quite a few questions to get you started. However, bearing in mind that you are hoping to learn from their experiences, the best question you can ask is "Can you give me an example?"
Encouraging your informants to share stories and anecdotes with you has several advantages:
- It helps you to imagine yourself in a new role by putting yourself into the story
- It helps you to see how your existing skills might be used within a new context by thinking about how you would deal with the situation
- It means you can form your own opinions rather than relying on other people's opinions by thinking about how much you would enjoy that experience.
- It helps you reshape your own narrative to make the new role a continuation of your story by linking your past experiences to potential future experiences
Whether you gain insights from direct experience or by hearing other people's stories, you will learn more if you spend time reflecting on your encounters. Here are some more questions to ask yourself:
- What new things did I learn about the role or the industry? Or which of my existing assumptions were challenged or reinforced?
- What did I learn about myself from the way I responded to this experience?
- How do I feel about this area now?
- Did I feel like I belonged?
- What new questions do I have?
In the previous parts of this podcast we looked at how you formulate the questions you need to ask about your future options and how you ensure that you can obtain information that is actually helpful in making decisions. In this final section we will look at the decision itself and, in particular, how to avoid some of the common problems that lead people to make decisions they regret or lead them to avoid making decisions altogether.
One cause of decisions that people regret is where they allow one factor to dominate decision making — so you go for the option that gives you the best work-life balance but end up getting frustrated by the lack of challenge. You pursue the path that provides you with maximum autonomy only to find that you miss the support of a more structured organisational setting. You follow the money and end up not having a life. This often happens when people are changing jobs or careers to get away from something. The thing they are trying to get away from dominates their decision making disproportionately. To reduce the risk of this, make sure you are considering a range of factors and have thought about their relative importance – what percentage impact should each factor have on your decision?
Another cause of regrettable decisions is excessive risk or cost avoidance. There are no safe options in career choice and it is best to assume that all options are equally risky — it’s just that for some options the risk or the cost is obvious or occurs upfront and for others the risk is disguised or happens later. To balance this natural risk aversion, look for the hidden risks in the “safe” options and look for ways to deal with the risks of the other options. And it’s always worth making sure that your perception of the downsides of a particular option are not distorted by talking to people who have made the transition and finding out what is really involved.
Many other decision making problems lead to immobility, which in turn can lead to desperate, impulsive decision making.
One trap that can lead to immobility is applying criteria inconsistently. “I like option A because it has the best opportunities for development but I like option B because your work has a more direct impact”. It’s not surprising that it’s hard to choose because you’re using different measures to evaluate different options. Evaluate all of your options against all of your criteria ranked by importance.
Another immobilisation trap is trying to find the perfect option. There is no perfect option – accept that from the start and decide what things you can afford to be fussy about and what things you are prepared to compromise on. Even if you could find the perfect option, there’s no guarantee it will stay perfect for long. On the flip side, a less than perfect option could be made more perfect over time if you work at it.
The final immobilisation trap is the fear of making the “wrong” decision. There are two ways to address this fear. The first is to be very clear about the point of no return. At what point in your pursuit of a particular career path does it become too costly to change your mind? The second way of dealing with this is to engage in a bit of constructive pessimism. Think about all the things that could possibly go wrong and work out what you would do if they did.
As we said in the first part of this podcast, career decision making is complex. You will probably increase your chances of making a good decision if you combine both systematic, analytical thinking and listening to your gut instinct. Economist Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow, discusses these two decision making processes and their pros and cons. The slow, analytical process works best if you give it time and structure, the fast, instinctive process works best if you give it experiences and stories. Hopefully, this podcast has given you some ideas on how to do both of those things.