Structuring Your Decision

Comparing options

At this point, you should have a good idea of your scope of options, whether they’re general career paths, fields of study, or more specific roles. Now that we’re left with a broad list of possibilities, what should we do with them?

There are several ways to go about comparing your options and quite a few mistakes people might make along the way. If you think about all the available possibilities, it can start to feel difficult to come to any conclusion. If you’re unsure whether or not a better option is out there, you may settle with the first choice available without looking into others. If you’re excited by your first idea, you might not carefully consider new information or feel open to alternatives.

These approaches are understandable, and it’s normal to feel a bit of decision fatigue. However, because your career will have an outsized impact on your life (and potentially the lives of others) it doesn’t seem optimal to settle on a path without much consideration. We think there’s a way to think strategically about your decision while avoiding some of the common pitfalls mentioned above. To do so, it helps to create some sort of structured process for assessing your options that makes the decision more manageable. 

This chapter will cover how to build a methodology to assess your options. There’s no single way to go about it, and different people could benefit from vastly different approaches. At the end of this chapter, you should feel equipped to structure your decision-making process in a way that alleviates uncertainty and fits your needs. To illustrate a possible approach, let’s return to our fictional literature graduate, Lucía.

Lucía’s methodology

During the scoping stage, Lucía established some idea of what she will and won’t consider in her career search. She decided there’s about five general career paths that fit well with her abilities, goals, and circumstances. Some of these options seem more plausible or appealing from the start. However, Lucía wants to investigate a bit further before ruling anything out. She starts by laying out her top options in no particular order:

  1. Academic career in literature
  2. Communications for a nonprofit
  3. Advanced studies in philosophy
  4. Advanced studies in public policy
  5. Journalism

Thinking about some initial pros and cons, she tries to focus on what’s actually important for her to have in her career, asking herself what sorts of things would make one option much better than another.

First, she thinks about some more job-specific considerations: how much does it pay, what do the day-to-day tasks look like, where would she have to live or how far would she have to commute, etc. Then she considers more general things she’d like in her career: how much she could help others in this path, how much it aligns with the problems she cares about, how much she would enjoy the work, how likely it is to actually work out for her, etc. 

Since Lucía is still early on in the exploration stage, she decides to put aside factors like salary and location. Later, when she actually applies to roles, she can update the methodology to compare more specific considerations. For now, she’ll focus on a couple of important parameters she’ll assess her options by:

  1. How much potential does this path have to improve the world?
  2. Would she be able to work independently in a quiet environment?
  3. Would she get to do the sort of writing she actually enjoys (in-depth, longform, and intellectually stimulating)?

These aren’t the only factors Lucía wants to consider in her job search, but a career path that ranks highly on all three seems likely to be a good choice. 

Next, Lucía thinks about how she’ll assess her options. She could give each parameter a number rating, but ultimately decides to go with a more general approach—rating them as low, medium, or high (and leaving some space for question marks). It’s not that these ratings will add up and lead to the best option. It’s too early to make a judgment call, and there’s still a lot that Lucía is unsure about. But hopefully they’ll help her gain a better intuition for her top options and see where she needs to investigate further.

Now that she knows what she’s looking for, Lucía  lays everything out in a table to jot down her initial thoughts.

After jotting down her first three options, Lucía gets a bit stuck. She wants to put “low” for some of the considerations in policy but realizes that she actually finds this type of writing dull and uninteresting—much more so than other things she marked as low. It seems a bit misleading to have a similar score for things that sound just okay to things that sound very unappealing… She decides to adapt her scoring system to reflect factors that are exceptionally high and extremely low, then continues to fill out the rest of the table:

Looking everything over, Lucía thinks that philosophy & journalism could be the most promising. They aren’t necessarily the highest rated, but they seem to have the most promise for impact and the best personal fit of the options. Still, she’s still unsure about a lot of her options. It seems likely that many of her ratings would change if she talked to more people or dived a bit deeper. She’s also not sure exactly how much she wants to weigh the different columns yet. In the next stage of the process, she’ll investigate the most important questions she needs to answer. Then, she can return to the table and update her assessment.

How to build our own methodology

As Lucía’s case illustrates, a methodology is meant to organize your thoughts in a way that feels useful and actionable. It should be robust enough to encapsulate all the factors you find important about your decision, but specific enough to be genuinely clarifying.

Identify your options

In the scoping stage, you identified a broad range of possibilities for your career. What are some concrete next steps—whether those are specific jobs, career paths, or fields of study—that you could decide between? Narrow down to about 3-7 options that you’ll look further into, even if you’re unsure about some of them.

Decide on important factors

Next, come up with the major factors you want to assess for every option. These should reflect whatever priorities you have for your career as well as considerations that would make you strongly prefer one option over another. A few general factors that we think are worth considering include:

  • How much could I help others or improve the world in this path?
  • Would I be an especially good fit for this?
  • How satisfied would I be with the day-to-day work?
  • How much career capital and skills could I gain in this?

These may not be useful factors for everyone, and they’re certainly not the only ones to think about. Above all, you should prioritize factors that are most important to you. Here’s a few examples of other specific factors that may be unique to your criteria:

  • Would it be intellectually stimulating or engaging enough for me?
  • How much of the job/career path would be spent doing X task?
  • To what extent am I actually interested in this work or the particular problems it tackles?
  • Does this allow me the kind of work life balance I’m looking for?
  • How much does this opportunity align with the cause areas and issues I find important?
  • How much would this path require me to change my life or current trajectory?
  • How much does it suit my ideal work environment?
  • Does this meet the salary range I need?

As you come up with the factors you want to assess, it’s helpful to get specific. Try asking yourself: Would it be hard for me to make a decision without knowing this information? Is this factor meaningfully different between the different options within my scope?

Something vague like “fits my lifestyle” may not give you too much information. Something like “pays at least $X a month” could help you spot a significant difference between your options (if that’s the amount you’d need to feel good about your salary).

Decide on a rating system

How you rate or assess each option depends on what would be the most useful for the stage you’re at. Your ratings are not meant to be added up to find the highest scoring option. Instead, they’re meant to help you gain a sense of how different options perform on different parameters.

If you have a lot of information about each option and want to get precise, it could make sense to rate your options with a numeric scale. If you don’t want to put too much time into it at this point, you could stick with general rankings—like low, medium, high or okay, good, great. It’s fine to put a question mark for now and return to it later after you’ve learned more about each option and resolved your uncertainties. In fact, we’d expect your assessment will change quite a bit along the way, which we’ll talk more about in the next chapter.

Review & Revise

Your methodology should make your decision-making process easier, not overly complicated and taxing. Above all, it should be structured in a way that’s convenient to use and update. 

As you review your methodology, try to make sure there’s some way of adding extra information you learn as you further investigate your options. That way, if something comes up that doesn’t naturally fit your original structure, you can adapt your table rather than start over.

Then, try a quick hypothetical check. Imagine what it would be like to have this table or structure in front of you. Does this seem confusing or helpful, sufficient or scary? How does this methodology compare to what you’ve done to make previous decisions? Did the process work for you before or would this new approach be more helpful? 

There’s no use in creating a complicated methodology that won’t actually help you understand or make your decision. If making a big table with a ton of small considerations would feel more burdensome than helpful, there’s no need to spend time on something that you won’t keep up with or utilize. In this case, it may make sense to keep it simple and stick with the three most important considerations you have in deciding on a career.

Do it yourself!

If you’re following along with the guide and currently have a decision to make, this would be a good point to reflect on your own methodology and start creating a structure that works for you.

  1. Identify the top options you want to consider and further investigate 
  2. Decide what considerations you’ll assess each option by
  3. Make some sort of rating system to assess these considerations for every option
  4. Review whatever system or structure you come up with