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  • Tamar Balkin

How Should You Make Good Career Decisions?

"So wake me up when it's all over

When I'm wiser and I'm older

All this time I was finding myself, and I

Didn't know I was lost"

Wake Me Up by Avicii (click here for the music)

Photo by Dan Asaki on Unsplash

In Australia our unemployment rates are the lowest in a very long time, and there are skill shortages in many industries. As one employer explained to me “it’s a buyer’s market out there, if you are a half decent worker the world is your oyster”. Overseas it has been termed the great resignation, yet the Australian treasurer has encouraged people to take advantage of “great reshuffle”. Whichever way it is described research by LinkedIn shows three in five Australians are thinking about switching jobs this year.

What is the essence of good career planning?

“I want to ensure that I am making the right career choices now that will set me up for the next 10 years” current client

There is a common myth that career conversations should result in the identification of the perfect option, and that mistakes in career decisions have long term irreversible implications. Almost 20 years ago researchers recognised that common approaches to career development did not adequately relate to actual life. The researchers identified the multitude of unpredictable influences on our careers including: personal circumstances; organisational change; the economy; market trends; and illness. Traditional career planning implies that we can see the future, chaos theory implies that we need to plan for unpredictability.

“I can't tell where the journey will end But I know where to start”

Wake Me Up by Avicii (click here for the music)

How do you plan for unpredictability?

Organisational psychologists draw upon theories of job satisfaction, career planning and decision making to enable their clients to explore options and take into account both life and work.

1. Self-awareness:

The following theories and practices increase self awareness:

  • Ikigai is a Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being.” It provides an integrated approach to establishing a strong positive emotional connection. (click here for more information and a useful worksheet)

  • The Minnesota Theory Of Work Adjustment, (MTWA), provides a framework for deeper exploration into skills, needs, interest and values.

  • Psychological Assessments: Provide a unique insight into ability, emotional intelligence personality, motives and de-railers.

  • Feedback: regularly sourcing valid and reliable feedback is invaluable in improving self awareness. (Click here for my blog on feedback)

2. Option generation:

“In the heat of the moment small advances feel great, and the one’s that turn out to be crucial slip in quietly"


Regular readers would be aware that the more options that are generated and researched the more informed the decision. Researchers have found that the initial 20 ideas people generate are the most conventional, once these have been documented the real creativity begins.

Regular readers would be aware that creativity often involves cognitive flexibility, or the ability to take old information and adapt it to a new context. By simply increasing variety in your leisure time (click here for my blog), you can improve your creativity in other parts of life.

3. Research

Whilst a google search provides quick information about careers, it is not sufficient to gain a full picture of what a job actually entails. Meeting and talking to people who actually do the job you are considering enables a more detailed view. Asking questions about a typical day, their likes and dislikes, the purpose of the role, the rewards and frustrations, provides crucial insider information. For a deeper perspective look for opportunities to shadow a person in their workplace, or volunteer in a related role.

Whilst it seems to be fashionable to change jobs, don't forget to consider the status quo. (click here for my blog on the downside change)

“Christopher Walken, 78, works constantly and is seemingly incapable of being boring, our magazine columnist writes. The secret to his offbeat cadence and delivery? “I’ve always resented punctuation,” he said, noting that he removes or changes question marks and exclamation points when he reads a script”

New York Times morning briefing 9/2/22

Decision making

People often feel overwhelmed by the amount of information they need to absorb when considering the numerous career paths they could potentially follow. Regular readers would be aware that informed decision making is complex. Ensuring the generation of multiple options, detailed research, acknowledgement of biases and suspension of judgment, is critical. The identification of personal values helps to inform the evaluation the pros and cons of all alternatives (including the status quo). Often there is a tendency to use the pros and cons list as the final step in decision making, however research has demonstrated that this list enables a recognition of the compromises and consequences of a decision, not necessarily the formula for the correct choice. Interestingly a meta-analysis of decision-making research found that unconscious processes are valuable and thus prior to coming to a final conclusion it is recommended to allow your brain to make the decision while your attention is engaged elsewhere.

Whilst researchers have found that career decision-making is a rational process, it also involves emotions. The emotional information is critical to “shape the individuals’ judgments, decisions, priorities and actions”. Rational decision-making strategies are often insufficient unless individuals can emotionally manage the inevitable uncertainty, ambiguity, and unpredictability of real life.

“Thinking like a scientist doesn’t mean you have to own a microscope or buy a telescope. It means you don’t let your ideas become your identity. You have the humility to know what you don’t know, the curiosity to question your convictions, and the intellectual integrity to seek out evidence that contradicts your assumptions and people who challenge your thought process.”

Adam Grant

What is the role of the leader?

  • Encourage a long term view

  • Create a culture where career conversations are encouraged.

  • Recognise benefits of staff turnover. (Click here for my blog)

  • Utilise factors like organisational culture, job purpose to attract and retain employees rather than relying on money and perks.

  • Remember it is not easy to tell your boss you are considering a career change

  • Provide opportunities for employees to meet with internal and external colleagues, and peers.

  • Facilitate confidential career discussions with appropriately qualified external professionals.

  • Recognise that poor physical and psychological wellbeing can cause career despondency (click here for my blog on mental health at work)

Final thoughts

“Being passed up for an internal role was a blessing in disguise.. coaching reminded me that I am a valuable capable employee.. getting the chance to explore alternatives in a confidential space enabled me to successfully change departments and gain a promotion”.

Coaching client.

At it's peak, career indecision may may feel like you are shuffling uncomfortably on the spot, however it is a state that most people go through at some point in their lives. Take comfort that it will ultimately be resolved over time, most likely with the help of others.

For those who enjoy a good ‘shuffle’ you can’t go past Party Rock Anthem by LMFAO.



Farnia, F., Nafukho, F.M. and Petrides, K.V. (2018). Predicting Career Decision-Making Difficulties: The Role of Trait Emotional Intelligence, Positive and Negative Emotions. Frontiers in Psychology, 9.

Strauss, K, Griffin, M. A, & Parker, S.K (2012) Future work selves: How salient hoped-for identities motivate proactive career behaviors. The Journal of applied psychology,97, 580-598

Gati, I., and Levin, N. (2014). Counseling for career decision-making difficulties: measures and methods. Career Dev. Q. 62, 98–113. doi: 10.1002/j.2161-0045.2014.00073.x

Robert and Bright, J. (2007). The Chaos Theory of Careers: Theory, Practice and Process. [online] ResearchGate. Available at:

Pryor, R.G.L. and Bright, J. (2003). The Chaos Theory of Careers. Australian Journal of Career Development, 12(3), pp.12–20. (n.d.). How to research careers. [online] Available at:

‌Creative Work: On the Method of Howard Gruber (n.d.). These Two Questions Predict Your Ability to Predict the Future. [online] Available at:

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