Decision-making skills

Which career should I choose? Which university should I go to? Which course should I study?

The key steps in decision-making are:

  1. What is the nature of the problem
  2. Gather the information you  need to make a decision
  3. Think creatively to find alternative solutions to the problem

See our creative job search brochure (PDF).

How to Mind Map

The purpose of Mind mapping is to produce as many possible options as possible without evaluating them. It can be done in a group, in which case no comments should be made about the decisions proposed or group members put down for proposing unusual ideas.

Step 1: Get a blank sheet of paper and write down any idea or possible solution which may help.

Step 2: Don't censor your ideas. Write down everything, no matter how silly or insignificant to keep the flow going as once idea might lead to another.

Step 3: Only once all the ideas have dried up, cross out or adapt all the weaker ideas: this should still leave you with a number of possible solutions.

Step 4: Make a short list of the options.

Step 5: Make a decision using a decision matrix

Which career would be most appropriate for me: teacher, youth worker or sales executive?

Factors important to me in my career choice Factor weighting Teacher Youth worker Sales Executive
Job security high (x3) 9 (x3=27) 7 (x3=21) 4 (x3=12)
Informal working environment medium (x2) 4 (x2=8) 9 (x2=18) 3 (x2=6)
9 to 5 work low (x1) 6 (x1=6) 1 (x1=1) 5 (x1=5)
Good salary low (x1) 6 (x1=4) 3 (x1=3) 8 (x1=8)
Job satisfaction low (x1) 6 (x1=6) 7 (x1=7) 5 (x1=5)
Total   51 50 36

Step 6: Implement your decision. 

See our pages on Action planning

Step 7: Evaluate how it went using a SWOT analysis

A SWOT analysis is a structured planning method used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a project or in a business venture.

  • Strengths: characteristics of the business or project that give it an advantage over others.
  • Weaknesses: characteristics that place the business or project at a disadvantage relative to others
  • Opportunities: elements that the project could exploit to its advantage
  • Threats: elements in the environment that could cause trouble for the business or project
  Helpful Harmful
Internal factors

STRENGTHS: attributes that help you to achieve your objective

What skills do you have that others don't have?

What skills have you gained in your degree?

Have you got any contacts who may be able to help you?

Is where you live an advantage or disadvantage?

“I have a good degree from a good university. I have good team-working and organising skills. I have good support from my family, friends & the Careers Service.”

WEAKNESSES: limitations that are harmful to achieving your objective

What skills could you improve?

What can you avoid?

“I have no significant employment experience. My computing skills are weak. Not much money to do things. Have to live at home with my parents: can't afford to move away because of lack of money.”

External factors

OPPORTUNITIES: favourable situations that help you achieve your objective

Where are opportunities available to you?

How can you exploit these?

What opportunities do your strengths give you?

What trends might help you?

“I have lots of free time to pursue things I haven't had time for before. I can do voluntary work & learn new skills to enhance my CV. It's a good chance to re-evaluate where I'm heading in life.”

THREATS: external conditions which could create problems

What obstacles do you face?

How can you lessen these?

Could any of your weaknesses create problems?

“If I stay unemployed for too long it could be difficult to get a job. Tough job market at present.”

The theory behind making decisions

There are big differences between the decisions we make by intuition, and those we make by logical analysis. The logical part of your mind (the part you are aware of) can analyse problems and come up with rational answers. It's excellent at solving problems, but it is slow and needs a lot of energy. If you have to solve a demanding problem while walking, you will probably stop because your analytical mind can't focus on both tasks simultaneously.

Your intuitive mind, on the other hand, is fast and automatic. It's very powerful, but hidden, and is responsible for most of the things that you do, think and believe but you have no idea this is happening. It is your hidden auto-pilot, and has a mind of its own. Your intuitive mind is normally in control, efficiently dealing with the myriads of decisions we have to make each day.

Mistakes occur when we allow our intuitive system to make decisions that we should allow our logical mind to deal with. These mistakes are called cognitive biases. They make us spend impulsively, be influenced too much by what others think and affect our beliefs, opinions, and decisions. Here are some common cognitive biases:

  • Present bias causes us to pay attention to what is happening now, but not to worry about the future
  • Confirmation bias is the tendency to look for information that confirms what we already know. It's why we tend to buy a newspaper that agrees with our views
  • Negativity bias means that we remember negative events much better than positive ones
  • Familiarity Bias - we tend to buy from a well-advertised company rather than a less well known company. This works partly because we like what we know
  • Loss aversion - we have a natural desire to avoid losses. We feel the pain of a loss much more than we feel the pleasure of a gain. People tend to sell shares when they go up in price, but hold on to them when they go down. This can be catastrophic.  
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