How to Frame Career Decisions
Tools to help you get out of the stress and into a better mental models
At least once per week I have a career discussion with a friend, acquaintance, or new contact who is going back into the job market. These are stressful, high-stakes decisions that most people only have to think about once every few years. But the process can be more manageable and successful if you’re able to step back and look at the situation in a different way.
In this post a few weeks ago I wrote about the overall concept of (re)framing and shared some suggestions on using various frames in your life. Simply put, framing is a method of forced perspective—a starting point for how to consider a situation and get unique inputs toward making a better decision. Not only can frames offer an easier way to analyze, but they pull you away from the emotional anguish of being so close to the situation—helping turn the stress into an interesting puzzle to solve.
Frames for Career Decisions
Usually when I am asked for advice I try to turn the conversation around and ask questions back in the form of frames. After all, since it’s not my life and I shouldn’t make suggestions or decisions based on my own experience, these nudges to encourage self-reflection tend to work better than, “If I were you…” Here’s some of my favorite career-decision frames:
Is this a resume-builder? A new job experience can signal to future employers, investors and partners that you’re someone special, opening up new doors for a long time. Resume-building jobs can be in big-name companies, innovative businesses, or novel roles.
Will this give me stories to tell? Here you’re not signaling like with a resume. Instead, you’re channeling your spirit of adventure and a little bit of Henry V. You’re getting experiences that are interesting in all meanings of the word. New and different opportunities force you to learn and make life a lot more interesting.
Is this a step toward my calling? This ladders up to the “meta-story” of who you are, and becomes more important as you go farther in your career and figure out what you want out of life. It also might force you to step back and consider the grand strategy for the rest of your life first.
Will I regret not taking this job or trying something new? The question that launched Jeff Bezos at Amazon and not into space. This one can haunt you for the rest of your life. And you’ll hate having to tell the story of how you said “no” to something that turned out amazing for others.
Will this grow my network? Few people think about this, and if anything, we tend favor jobs with people we already know and trust. This can be smart strategy, but should be tempered with growing our networks. In so many ways our lives are driven by our networks, and switching jobs means you still get to keep your previous co-workers as connections, while building many new relationships that can lead to novel opportunities. This is one of the most exciting things about remote work, as it can open many new network doors. For bonus points, go work for and with people that have stellar reputations. They will teach you a ton, bring you along for the ride, and challenge you to keep your skills up.
Am I selling myself short? Some of us worry that we’re not good enough to succeed in a certain job—it’s an imposter syndrome that limits too many people. Step back and realize that you’ve got amazing capabilities, and this company would be lucky to have you aboard. If you need extra help here, go to the most confident friend you have and ask them if they think you can do this job. The other day I got to serve in this role for a senior female leader and she ended up going for and landing a huge and exciting new position.
Am I settling for this? Frequently this is the question to ask when you hit the tipping point of being ready to quit your current job, and out-of-the-blue a recruiter comes with an opportunity in hand. Too many people jump at this first thing that pops up when they should look around a bit longer. Trust me, the opportunities are out there!
Note that these are not just for considering whether to take a new job, but also are useful to think through where you’re working today. For example, under “Is this a resume builder?”, you may realize that at some point being in the same job for another year starts to look worse. And it should go without saying that none of the above should be used on their own. Big decisions should be a product of several perspectives weighed together.
I hope the product of this analysis for many of you is a confidence to take more risks in your career. If you have marketable skills, strong relationships, and a little financial cushion (and/or low spending burn rate), the upside of taking a risk is near-infinite. Meanwhile, there is a near-zero chance that your current job is guaranteed to be there for the rest of your life.
If you try and succeed, new levels of success, financial security and happiness can be reached. If you try and fail, your odds of landing a new job remain strong—and you’ll have new skills and stories to bring into it. If you fail to try, you’ll eventually stop growing and start to look less interesting when you are forced to look for a job again.