By: Emily Lamia
Raise your hand if you’ve ever consulted a friend about a difficult decision and they told you to, ‘trust your gut?’ We’ve probably all gotten that advice before.
If you’ve got a job offer on the table, or if you’re contemplating any kind of career change, your gut intuition and fact-finding brain are both influencing how you feel about your choice and what you decide to do. Sometimes your head and that intuition are on the same page; sometimes they’re not.
[Related: How to Find a Job You Love]
But when is it a good idea to ‘trust your gut’ and when should you rely on other external evidence and information for your career decisions?
Authors and academics Chip and Dan Heath have written many books on organizational behavior and decision-making strategies that produce better outcomes. In Decisive, they write, “Intuition is only accurate in domains where it has been carefully trained. To train intuition requires a predictable environment where you get lots of repetition and quick feedback on your choices.”
In other words, if you’re making a decision related to something that you have a lot of experience with, your gut is going to be better at predicting how things might turn out because you’ve collected lots of past data and experiences in that area.
But if the type of decision you’re making is new to you, or one you haven’t made many times before, you probably shouldn’t trust your gut.
For example: think back to your first day at your current job. Before completing a specific task, you probably decided to run your plan by your boss to make sure you had all the important information. It was likely a natural instinct given your lack of experience at the company, and not knowing the unique personalities of the team members very well. But by now, you’ve completed those same tasks and more many times without checking in with your boss because you’ve had a lot of experiences working in your position that allows you to be more confident in how you do your work.
I frequently see people skip the deliberative processes that ensure they’re making the best decision with as much info as possible. Unfortunately, most of us don’t take the time to write down and map out the pros and cons and key questions we need to find answers to in order to make better decisions.
As human beings we also fall prey to confirmation bias — that unconscious urge to gather info that supports what we already believe. We all do it! We sift through Yelp reviews for restaurants, and put more weight on the favorable reviews if we’re pretty sure it’s a great restaurant.
This confirmation bias becomes a huge challenge when we make decisions about our careers. We might read Glassdoor reviews for a company we’re interviewing with and spend more time reading the positive reviews than the negative ones because we have a gut feeling it’s going to be a great place to work (and we want it to be!). We over value the positive elements we see during the interview process and ignore, minimize, or excuse away any red flags that pop up.
Likewise, if we’re faced with an option that seems similar to the miserable job we have now, we look for all the ways it’s similar to our current work without spending as much time thinking about the potential benefits it could offer us.
In order to make good decisions about your career it’s critical to consider the process by which you make them.
So how do you make decisions that allow you to keep your gut in check and allow your head to do the important evidence gathering work that leads to better decisions?
- What potential problems or challenges might there be with a specific kind of career pivot?
- What data or specific examples would support the existence of challenges or opportunities? How could you collect that data and those examples?
- What information would confirm to you that your hunch is right? Where could you get that information?
- Who else has gone through a transition like yours who could provide an inside view as to what it’s really like?
- What ways might there be to test out a career change without committing to the change?
This certainly doesn’t mean you should ignore your gut completely! Instead, try asking yourself:
- What emotions am I feeling right now?
- How do I think I might feel in 5 days about this decision? How about 5 months, or 5 years from now?
- Why do I feel like this is the right move? Is that a reason that’s going to serve me long term?
For better or for worse, most of us don’t get to make lots of big decisions with respect to our career paths. Even if we’re changing jobs every few years, that’s still not a big sample size of career transitions; sadly most of us probably aren’t experts on picking great jobs.
So, the next time you’re faced with a potential career opportunity that you don’t have much experience with, don’t forget to dig a little deeper. Check in with your gut but also expand your decision process to include fact-finding information that will be sure to lead to better decisions about where your career is headed.
And don’t forget to mind the confirmation bias gap!
Emily Lamia is the CEO of Pivot Journeys, which she founded to create experiences that help individuals navigate their next career move and find meaningful work. Pivot offers individual career coaching and group programs, and we work with organizations to help them build strengths-based cultures that increase engagement, collaboration, and productivity.