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4 Ways to Help You Make a Tough Career Decision

Use these online tools before switching jobs or retiring

Imagine that you just received a call from a colleague asking if you’d consider leaving your longtime job to go work for her startup. The offer includes equity ownership, a VP title and the promise of a big payday down the road. You love your job, but this sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

What do you do?

While this scenario is fictitious, the need to make tough career decisions is anything but. Sometimes — by asking smart questions, doing research, weighing options and talking things over with trusted advisers — we can reach decisions quickly. But other times, no matter how much we analyze, ponder and ruminate, the right answer remains elusive.

In my work as a career coach, I’ve found that when coming up with that right answer is tough, an online decision-making tool can prove invaluable.

Decision-making tools add a layer of objectivity, structure and (sometimes) quantitative analysis that thinking alone can’t provide. And you can now easily download free templates for them online.

I’ve found that when coming up with that right answer is tough, an online decision-making tool can prove invaluable.

The fact of the matter is that whether you’re looking to shift careers, change jobs or make a decision to retire early, there often is no one “right” answer. But by using a tool that helps you methodically evaluate your options, you’ll feel more confident that your decision is sound.

So the next time you’re struggling to break through a mental logjam, here are four tools to consider:

1. Decision Matrix (also known as the Pugh Method)

A basic decision matrix uses a scoring template to systematically evaluate all the factors and criteria used when making a decision. You then arrive at a final score to reveal which option is best. The quantitative nature of this tool helps remove the subjectivity from the decision process.

You’ll need to create a chart with the alternative decisions listed as rows and the relevant factors affecting the decisions as columns. For example, if you want to choose between staying in your current role or accepting a higher-paying transfer, list those two decisions as rows. The factors impacting those choices, such as salary, work hours and growth potential, would be listed as columns.

Then, assign a rating value to each of the factors under consideration for each option. In this example, you might assign salary a “7” if you stay in your current job but an “8” for a transfer (since the transfer would involve a slight pay increase). After you give each factor a score, add up the total score for each option. The option with the highest score indicates the best decision.

Where to find templates online: MindTools.com

2. The Futures Wheel

This is a simple visual tool that helps you brainstorm possible negative and positive consequences involved with a decision. You write the change under consideration in a circle in the middle of the page, with the direct consequences of that decision positioned in a circle around it. Then, the circle grows outward for second-level, third-level and fourth-level consequences, and so on.

As an example, say you are considering early retirement (center circle). An implication of that decision might include a loss of health insurance (first-level consequence), which means you’ll need to research alternatives (second-level consequence) which could result in an extra monthly expense for coverage (third-level consequence). At the same time, taking early retirement will also mean you’ll have an extra 30 hours a week (first-level consequence) that you could fill with fun activities like travel, volunteering or hobbies (second-level consequences) that have both benefits and costs (third and fourth-level consequences).

Try building separate futures wheels for each option under consideration. So sticking with this example, you might build one wheel for early retirement, one for staying at your current job and one for a phased retirement option. Then, you can compare each of the wheels and see which option offers the most appealing outcomes.

Where to find templates online: Global Education.edu

3. Personal SWOT analysis

SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Originally developed in the 60s for business applications, a SWOT chart is an equally useful tool for individuals contemplating a career or job change.

By comparing your strengths and weaknesses to the requirements of the job, you will be able to better assess your viability as a candidate and work on areas that need attention.

Let’s say you’re considering making a shift into an encore career as a teacher from your current job as an accountant. Here are some of the questions you might ask for each of the four SWOT areas:


Which of your corporate skills would be most attractive in a teaching environment?

Will your volunteer experience as a literacy tutor give you a leg up over the competition?


How long will it take to get the needed credentials for this job?

Do you have the physical stamina to shift into a job where you need to be on your feet most of the day?


Which schools are receptive to older teachers?

Which subjects or grades appear to have the most openings?


Which new technologies do you need to learn to succeed at this position?

How much competition will you face for this job?

Where to find templates online: Businessballs.com

4. T-chart (aka pro and con chart)

A T-chart is a graphic organizer that lets you list and examine the pros and cons of any decision. I know this sounds ridiculously simplistic (and it is), but I’ve been amazed by the number of times I’ve seen my clients successfully use this basic tool to break a tie between two options.

It’s a quick, but surprisingly effective, fix — especially if you’re reluctant to try anything more complex.

Where to find templates online: You can just do a Google search for them. But it’s also easy to just grab a sheet of paper, write the decision topic at the top, put a line down the middle and list the pros in one column and the cons in the other.

One last tip: While I’m a big fan of these tools, keep in mind that little actions like taking a brisk walk, journaling or simply “giving it time” can work as well as anything to strengthen your decision-making muscle.

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