Choosing well: how to pick the right path for you
13th January 2016
Struggling to work out your next move? Here’s our guide to working out what’s best when it comes to those big decisions.
1. Do your research
Find out as much as you can about a particular option. If you’re looking at courses, what is the course content like? Are there any projects? Does it involve any practical work or does it focus more on theory? Can you speak to anyone who is doing the course? What do people who have taken the course do next?
2. Get a taster
You can’t always get a feel for what something’s really like before taking the plunge, but you may be able to try out an option first. If you’re thinking of starting a new subject at A-level, can you do some background reading or watch some lectures online? If you have a particular career path in mind, relevant work experience can help you decide if it really is right for you.
3. Consider the detail
Listing the pros and cons and considering consequences are a good starting point when making decisions. Work through our Tactics for making decisions to help focus your thinking.
4. Think about what you prefer
Put simply, which do you like best and enjoy? In some cases, motivation counts more than ability so choosing something you really like doing and are prepared to stick at can work out well.
5. Follow your nose
What makes sense on paper doesn’t always match real life. Sometimes a quality that you can’t quite put your finger on can be the deciding factor, even if it doesn’t match your original requirements. Try throwing a wild card into the mix – considering something which is not an obvious option can help question what you think you want.
6. Consider different points of view
Other people’s advice – however well meaning – is often influenced by their own experience which won’t always be the same as yours. When anyone gives you advice, it’s worth considering why they may suggest a certain approach. Are they thinking about their own regrets or do they want you to follow in their footsteps? How will your choice affect them?
7. Take a chance
Making a decision on the spur of the moment, flipping a coin or just being in the right place at the right time (or the wrong place at the wrong time) can account for a large amount of turning points in life. Even the most researched and thought-through decisions don’t always work out how you expect – at some point you have to step into the unknown.
8. Don’t just follow the herd
It can be easy to get swept along with what people around you are doing without considering if it’s really right for you. If everyone you know is going to university – or if all of your friends are taking GCSE history – it can be easy to do the same. Just take a step back – check it’s what you really want and make sure you haven’t overlooked something that’s a much better fit.
9. Reflect on your own situation
Most people have different priorities at different stages in life, and sometimes your personal situation can play a big part in decisions. Choosing an employer who supports training may be important at the start of your career, but less so once you’re established. Flexible hours can be a priority if you have children, or other interests outside work. Or you might choose an option that doesn’t seem very attractive now, but is likely to pay off in the future.
10. Use a mix of methods
When it comes to big decisions it can help to use a mix of methods. If you’re choosing a university you could start by considering the detail – where offers the course; distance from your home town; entry requirements. Then after attending open days, you may make your selection based on the one that just feels right.
Finally, remember you can usually go back, retrain, or take another route to get to where you want to be – but getting it right first-time round can make things much easier.
Questions to ask
- What feels right, even if you can’t explain why?
- What will you enjoy? How motivated are you? Can one balance the other?
- What are the pros and cons?
- What are the likely consequences or future opportunities? Does your choice open or close any doors?
- What do your friends and family think? Why might they have this opinion?
What is shortlisting?
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by options a shortlist can help you focus. Employers use the same process when faced with a big pile of job applications. First weed out any options that just aren’t right. Recruiters sometimes identify a point of difference – such as rejecting any forms with glaring spelling mistakes to reduce the candidate list. Next do a second sift and take a closer look at what you’ve got left. Which options have the least going for them? You should now have a much smaller list to research in more detail. In recruitment terms, these are the candidates who are invited to interview.
See more on making decisions