Career Decision Making

The idea of a clearly defined career path and job for life is outdated. Change is now the only certainty in life.  The challenge is to manage this constant change. The majority of graduates will be working on average 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for 40-50 years.

Imagine yourself 40 years from now.  Has your career been one which gave you personal satisfaction and played to your strengths and abilities?  Did you realise your potential? Did you forge a path that was rewarding and successful in terms as you personally defined them? 

Career is our journey through life; an expression of what is meaningful and important to us.  It is a series of paid and unpaid experiences and can include our roles as student, worker, citizen, parent, spouse and so on.  Career satisfaction usually comes from the interplay between ‘being’ (sense of self) and ‘doing’ (the expression of self).

The process of good career decision making includes - knowing yourself (what motivates you); knowing what’s out there (where the opportunities are) and making a choice to pursue a particular role. Making the right decisions can determine the direction of our lives and self-awareness is a fundamental part of this process. 

Being self-aware means understanding your skills, strengths, abilities, personality, values, motivations and external influences and how they impact on career decisions. Informed choices are usually based on an appreciation of what you can do and what you want to achieve

Know Yourself

The starting point is to know what motivates you and the factors which influence these motivations. This knowledge will enable you to define real meaning and happiness in both your life and work. It will also help you to understand the key information sought by employers and those with opportunities.

Motivation can be broken down into two key facets which mutually influence each other: Internal and External

Central to knowing yourself in relation to both career and personal life are understanding your unique VIPS:

Values:                   what’s important to you?

Interests:               what do you like doing?

Personality:            what suits you?

Skills:                      what you can do?

We are all Very Important People – with skills! It is likely that the source of much decision-making emanates from your unique combination of VIPS.  It is well worth spending some time reflecting on the internal motivating factors which may influenced your choice to pursue a particular career.  A good starting point in trying to discover your unique VIPS profile is throught trying number of self awareness profiling tools (see our resources).  The outcomes of these tools can not only assist with career direction but can also provide excellent material for inclusion in your CV and Cover Letter.  It is also worth noting that the majority of interview questions will emanate from an understanding of VIPS and how they may relate to particular roles.

It would be an ideal world if we would all act out of internal motivation.  There are, of course, external factors (some posited in the diagram below) which can influence our motivations and indeed decisions to pursue one course of action over another. 


Some of these factors can enable and empower us while others may inhibit and hold us back.  For example, sometimes we make choices based solely on external influences without reference to our own Values, Interests, Personality and Skills.  This could lead to less fulfilling decisions being made, possibly resulting in stress and unhappiness.  Do you know someone who might be experiencing this kind of stress in their career?

Take some time to reflect on the external factors which influenced your decision to pursue your chosen career.  In which ways did they influence you – help or hinder?  Looking ahead, what external factors do you see influencing you – what is your level of control over them? 

By reflecting on both the internal and external motivating factors and their impact on your decisions, you will begin to develop a deeper understanding of why and how you choose one particular path over another.

Becoming aware of the factors which influence your decisions is the first key step to taking control of your career and life journey.

The world is constantly changing and so are we – in undertaking a career journey the journey changes us and we change the journey.  Personality will remain relatively constant over time, but values, interests and skills will change and evolve throughout life. What interests you now may not be of interest to you later in your life; you might wish to develop and use new skills; what’s important to you may also change. Likewise the relative importance and influence of external factors on your decisions may also change e.g. the labour market is constantly changing; the impact and influence of personal relationships will also change.

The interplay of all these motivating factors drives your career and life journey. You need to work to balance them in a way that is meaningful for you. Remember, however, most career and life choices will have some element of compromise e.g. sometimes we are not compatible with certain people or work environment.  We often have to do things we’d rather not do.  If security of work and income are important to you – certain roles in the creative industries may be very challenging from this perspective.  The critical thing to reflect on is the point at which you won’t compromise any further. 

Know what's out there

There are approximately 10,000 occupational classifications, 1,000 post graduate courses in Ireland, 195 countries in the world to visit and countless business opportunities.  Making choices in such a landscape can be confusing. 

Taking time to understand yourunique VIPS profile helps narrow down the vast array of choices. The next step is to undertake research on occupational areas and opportunities to which you may be drawn.

Your search would ideally include:

This can be supplemented by:

  • arranging Information Interviews with people currently working in the careers which interest you
  • securing a period of Job Shadowing/work experience to get a clearer picture of what this career involves
  • researching the Labour Market to gauge employment trends

It is important to filter the information you gather at this stage by relating it to your own personal internal and external motivating factors.  You can then build a picture of where you are now compared to where you want to get to.  This is critical to helping you make a well thought out choice.

The following questions might help you in filtering the information you have gathered.

*For more information go to our Resources

How does it sit with my value system? Are opportunities very limited?
Am I genuinely inerested in the area/role? Would I have to travel or eve move county/country?
Does it suit my way of interacting with the world? Will the role or opportunity meet my needs financially?
Am I using the skills I have 
and like to use
How will it impact on my lifestyle and relationships








Make a choice

Armed with the information about what motivates you and the occupations and opportunities out there, you are now in a position to make one or a combination of four choices:

  • Seek employment or apply for opportunity
  • Seek and apply for further study
  • Start your own business
  • Take time out  

If you are faced with a choice between two options it can be useful to use a decision making technique e.g. pros/cons; force field analysis. 

Now it is very important to:

Set your goals – this/these should be clearly defined e.g. ‘to gain employment as a graphic designer’; ‘to undertake a post graduate course in journalism’; ‘to go for an audition for x programme on TV’; ‘to have a solo show of my work’.

Devise a realistic Action Plan to outline the steps you are going to take to achieve your goal. 

 Now that you have established your goals and produced your action plan, you are ready to actively pursue your choice(s).

Get There