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Make a Decision

Decision-making is the process of identifying alternatives and making a selection based on your unique, individual preferences. Career decisions are among the most challenging you will ever make throughout your life, especially during college. Your choice of career is essentially the basis of your major choice, as well as your choice of internships and extracurricular activities, all leading to your first job!

Ideally, you want to be able to make a good decision right away, with a guarantee of success. Unfortunately, decisions involve uncertainty, which makes many people uncomfortable, hesitant, and stuck when trying to make a significant life decision. However, there is a way to make this process more manageable! Let’s first understand that there are many different, valid decision-making styles:

  • Planning: Using rational thought to weigh the facts, obtain the necessary information, and explore consequences.
  • Impulsive: This is the “leap before you look” approach, or giving little thought to the decision before taking action.
  • Intuitive: Making the decision based on a “gut feeling” and striving to preserve harmony.
  • Compliant: This is when a person is content to let someone else decide and typically doesn’t assert his or her own preferences.
  • Delaying: Avoiding thinking about it or taking action. In this approach, the decision maker procrastinates and hopes that something happens on its own to avoid making a decision.
  • Fatalistic: The belief that the decision is up to fate and it will happen how it is supposed to.
  • Agonizing: Worrying that any decision made will be the wrong one — being overwhelmed by the details.
  • Paralytic: Experiencing complete indecision and fear, resulting in the inability to act.
  • Defaulting:  “Playing it safe” by choosing the direction with the lowest level of risk.

Reflect on your experiences:

Write down three decisions that you have made recently:

  1. _______________________________________________________________________________
  2. _______________________________________________________________________________
  3. _______________________________________________________________________________

Reflection Questions: 

  1. Which of the above decision-making styles did you use to make each decision? 
  2. Think through each decision using another style.  Is there another approach that could have proven to be more useful?  Why?
  3. What is the approach that you typically use most often?  Least often?

Now that you have identified the styles that you typically use in making decisions, let us look at barriers that can interfere with the process. These factors can be external, internal, or both.  In the following exercise, look at the decisions that you made above and, using the chart below, check any of the factors that may have influenced you in making them.

Factors that Influence Decision Making:

External Factors: 

  • Family expectations 
  • Family responsibilities 
  • Cultural stereotypes 
  • Male/female stereotypes 
  • Survival needs 
  • Other (specify) __________________________________

Internal Factors: 

  • Lack of self-confidence 
  • Fear of change 
  • Fear of making the wrong decision
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of ridicule 
  • Other (specify) __________________________________

Reflection Questions: 

  1. Do you experience more internal or external obstacles when making decisions? 
  2. If two or more factors are present, which one(s) are most significant? 
  3. Do understanding your internal and external factors help you make a better decision?

Step-by-Step Decision Making Process:

Now that you have gained a better understanding of the types of decision-making and influences that can cause barriers, let’s look at a model that will help to enhance your career-related decision-making abilities. By following the six-step process below, you can improve your ability to make informed decisions.

  1. Clarify the decision. What needs to be decided?
  2. Identify your options. Narrow down your list of options to those you consider most viable.
  3. Consider pros and cons. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each option?
  4. Choose among the options. This is the point in the process where you must assume the most responsibility; a choice must be made and you are the only one who can make it.
  5. Take some action. How are you going to implement the decision?
  6. Review your decision. Continue to gather information after a decision is made and revise your decision as necessary.

Hopefully, you have now become more aware that making good decisions requires a well thought out process and a willingness to take a few risks.  The decision-making process also requires time and a willingness to gather a great deal of information

Adapted from Carnegie Mellon University