Chapter 5: Making Decisions

Decision Making

Decision making is a key component in choosing a career and it is often a difficult process for people. Most of us were not given much education or guidance on how to make a decision and therefore we often rely on habits we have built that may or may not support our best interests. The following are some reflection questions to get us started as we work to increase self awareness and increase decision making skills.

  • How do you typically make decisions?
  • Are they wise ones?
  • Are they well thought out and researched, or are they impulsive?
  • Are you often happy with the outcomes of your decisions?
  • Do you tend to do what your parents, your partner, or others want you to do?
  • Do you procrastinate because you have a hard time making decisions?
  • Have you chosen jobs or careers because they sounded good or because you just had to pay the bills?

People often don’t have a concrete decision making strategy  when it comes to important decisions. How about romance? Decisions to marry or have children? We can be very impulsive in these areas of our lives! However, buying a house is often a slow, deliberate process possibly because there is so much involved. You might spend even more time in the decision making process when you are buying a car (researching options, test driving, fine tuning what you want [like color], etc).

The decision you are faced with now (what to study and what career to pursue) is really a BIG one! You are investing time, money, and energy to get your degree. So, let’s talk about how to be thoughtful with this decision. Take your time. Don’t rush. Don’t choose a career out of frustration or because you feel rushed. If you haven’t made a decision at the end of this class, that’s ok. That just means that you need more time (or information) and that you are willing to spend additional time doing research and contemplating your choices. In short, we want your career/major decision process to look more like the car, as opposed to the romance, example above!

Decision making can be reliable, if you consider the following principles.

  • Big decisions should be supported by big research, thorough analysis, time well spent in consideration, and thoughtful planning.
  • After all that research, analysis and planning, however, we do need to consider our intuition and gut feelings as well!
  • They say that career decisions should be made with a combination of both: research, weighing pros and cons, and being rational PLUS feelings, intuition and for some folks, spiritual guidance as well!

In this class, you are being asked to use a slow, rational, research-based process to decide on a career. However, I don’t want you to feel obligated to pick a career by the end of this class! It’s a huge decision. Again, take your time!

Before we dive into the specifics of a step-by-step process and learn about other tools that could be helpful in this process, we are going to share a video on why it is hard to make hard choices.  The speaker, Ruth Chang, is a philosopher who was once a lawyer – she knows about making challenging decisions!  She discusses the reasons why it is hard to make difficult decisions such as, neither option is better than the other and that sometimes there is no best option, all are equal. She goes on to suggest that we have the power to create the reasons for choosing one thing over another. Thus, we become the ‘authors of our own lives’ since the reasons we choose thing one over thing two is because the reason came from within us, not from outside of us.  Click here to watch the video: Ruth Chang | How To Make Hard Choices

Now that you are fully aware that this decision is yours to make and that you get to create the reasons behind your decision, let’s take a look at a solid decision making process. The following article outlines a thorough 5 step process to consider when make decisions.  This could be a good model to follow as you are working on making your career decision.  Note that the author suggests that even though this is linear, step by step process, at any point along the way you may need to go back a step or two or even start over.

5 Steps to Good Decision Making

By Kescia D. Gray

Each day we are faced with situations in life that require us to make choices. Some of these choices are easy, and at times, some of them can be difficult. Easy decisions consist of things like what clothing you should wear; most people choose what to wear based on the season of the year, the weather of the day, and where they might be going. Other easy decisions consist of things like what to eat, what movie to see, and what television programs to watch.  

Decisions that seem to be the most difficult are those that require a deeper level of thought. Examples of difficult decisions consist of things like where to attend college, what career path would be best, and/or whether or not to marry and start a family. These types of decisions are difficult because they are life changing decisions; they shape who we are, and they shape our future.

Making good decisions is a method that must be learned. It is not something with which we are innately born, but merely a step by step process that is usually ascertained from life experience. Most adults know that experience can be a costly, ineffective teacher that teaches more bad habits than good; and because decisions can vary so obviously from one situation to the next, the experience gained from making one important decision is often times of little or no use when another decision-making problem arises.

When decision making, there are many steps that can be taken; but when making good decisions there are really only five steps that need to be considered. These steps are as follows:

Step 1: Identify Your Goal

One of the most effective decision making strategies is to keep an eye on your goal. This simply means identifying the purpose of your decision by asking yourself what exactly is the problem that needs to be solved? And why does this problem need to be solved?

Figuring out what’s most important to you will help you make good decisions. When you know the reason why you have making a particular decision; it will better serve you in staying with it, and defending it.

Step 2: Gather Information for Weighing Your Options

When making good decisions it is best to gather necessary information that is directly related to the problem. Doing this will help you to better understand what needs to be done in solving the problem, and will also help to generate ideas for a possible solution.

When gathering information it is best to make a list of every possible alternative; even ones that may initially sound silly or seem unrealistic. Always seek the opinions of people that you trust or speak to experts and professionals, because it will help you to come up with a variety of solutions when weighing all your options for a final decision. You will want to gather as many resources as possible in order to make the best decision.

Step 3: Consider the Consequences

This step can be just as important as step one because it will help you determine how your final decision will impact yourself, and/or others involved. In this step, you will be asking yourself what is likely to be the results of your decision. How will it affect you now? And how will it affect your future?

This is an essential step because it allows you to review the pros and cons of the different options that you listed in the previous step. It is also important because you want to feel comfortable with all your options and the possible outcome of whichever one you choose.

Step 4: Make Your Decision

Now that you have identified your goal, gathered all necessary information, and weighed the consequences, it is time to make a choice and actually execute your final decision.  Understanding that this step can cause some people a lot of anxiety is important because this is where you have to trust your instincts.

Although you may still be slightly indecisive about your final decision, you have to take into account how this makes you feel. Ask yourself, does it feel right? And does this decision work best for you now, and in the future? When you answer those questions back, you should feel good about the result.

Step 5: Evaluate Your Decision

Once you have made your final decision and put it into action, it is necessary to evaluate the decision and the steps you have taken to ensure that it works. This final step is probably just as important as step one, if not more important, because it will help you to further develop your decision making skills for future problems. This step is also fundamental because it may require you to seek out new information and make some changes along the way.

Remember, this step requires some patience and it can also encourage perseverance. Why? Because it may take some time to see the final outcome. Recognizing that if the first decision is not working, you may have to go back to step two and choose another option.

Always looking for and anticipating unexpected problems will help alleviate undue stress, if and when a problem occurs. Although these five steps can help assist in simplifying the decision-making process, there are some common drawbacks that you must also take into account. Consider these

Misidentifying The Problem

Many times the problem will be obvious; but there may come a time when identifying the main problem is not that easy. When this issue arises, figuring out exactly what it is, and where you need to focus your efforts will save you a lot of time and energy in the long run

Having a Single Source

When considering the consequences, you must be open to a broad choice of alternatives in order to find the best solution. This can become a problem if you rely solely on a single source of information because that one source may not b reliable, or may not be completely inline with the problem; thus altering your chances of making the best decision

Having Too Many Sources

Having a variety of sources is usually not a bad thing; but not in every situation. Collecting as much information as possible can be very helpful at arriving to a decision, but an overload of information can leave you confused and misguided, and prevents you from following your intuition. Remember, trusting your gut instincts is a major key to making good decisions

Overestimating the Outcome

When making a decision and putting your plan into action you should have taken care to weigh all your valid options. Making a decision based upon an outcome that may not be plausible will not help you solve the problem

Poor Timing

Time can be a futile friend. Sometimes it is good, and sometimes it is not. When making major decisions, it beneficial to take your time in order to make the best choice from your options. But understanding the timing process is crucial because sometimes it is best to delay a decision, and other times delaying a response can cause more problems. There are also times when making a quick decision is advantageous because it allows you more time to make necessary changes should problems arise.

In summary we all have to make many decisions throughout our daily lives. Some of these decisions require little effort, while others require more time and deeper thought before coming to a final solution. Remember, there are five basic steps to good decision making. Why is those five the ideal number? Because a significant part of decision making skills is understanding and knowing a simple technique; and also regularly practicing that technique.  

When there are more steps than we can count on one hand, most people tend to either forget a step, or misconstrue the order in which the steps must be taken. If you follow these five steps, and also remember the common pitfalls previously addressed, you will be well on your way to making good decisions for yourself.


Gray, K.D. (n.d.) 5 Steps to Good Decision Making. Corporate Wellness Magazine.

The piece below, from the UC Berkeley Career Center, adds the pros and cons model of decision making and includes a worksheet. It could be useful to create a pros and cons list for each of the careers you are considering.  There is also a link to a visualization exercise which is an excellent way to consider careers (not to be used on its own, of course). Finally, there is a worksheet you can use to list your values, or anything else that is important for you to have in a career, and then compare the three top careers you are considering.  You can create your own form and use it to compare 10 careers if you want!

Using all of these strategies in conjunction with the more linear, step by step process could be really helpful.

Career Decision-making

Career decision-making is a complex and personal process. Just as you decided which university to attend, what classes to take, and where to live, selecting your initial career direction involves researching and evaluating many factors of importance to you.

Decision Making Tools

Pros & Cons Model
Use the Career Center’s Pros & Cons Table (PDF) to help you evaluate both the positive and potentially negative outcomes of your impending decision.

Analytical Decision-Making Worksheet
Use the Career Center’s Decision-Making Worksheet (PDF) to help you evaluate which of up to three options may be the best for you based on your values.

Visualization Exercise
If you are more of an intuitive decision-maker, you may prefer this imaginative Visualization Exercise. You might have a friend or a Career Counselor lead you through the visualization, or you may just want to read it and imagine on your own.


UC Berkeley Career Center. (n.d.) Career Decision-Making.


Recognizing that making a career decision is a big, important and sometimes challenging prospect, consider meeting with a Career Counselor who can offer support and help you with your process.


  • Think about a past decision that you made that ended in a positive outcome.  What was your process?
  • Think a past decision that you made where the outcome was not positive.  What was your process in this case?
  • How confident are you when it comes to making decisions?
  • Have you ever used any negative decision making strategies such as delaying, complying with others, or being impulsive? What was the outcome of that decision?
  • What did you learn from the lesson that will help you make this career and/or college major decision more productive?
  • Can you identify the decision making steps that you think will work best for you in this process?


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Career & Life Planning by Dawn Forrester and Eden Isenstein is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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