1 easy way to efficiently make difficult career decisions

Roxanne Burbach
December 2, 2022

“It is super easy for me to make big decisions about my career.”

… said no one… ever!

And yet, we face these difficult career decisions all the time. 

  • Should I stay in my current company or accept that job offer?
  • Should I go for that promotion that requires me to move across the country?
  • Should I start my own business or keep my corporate job? 

When there’s no clear “right” answer, we agonize. We procrastinate. We ask every person we know for their opinion, hoping that someone (anyone!) will tell us what we should do. 

But it doesn’t have to be this way. When we think ahead of time about how we’ll make career decisions, we help ourselves make better, more efficient choices. That’s why we need career criteria.

What are career criteria?

Career criteria make career decisions easier by specifying what’s most important to you about your work. They make clear what you want and don’t want in your career, what really matters to you, and what you won't compromise on.

Career criteria should function like an online shopping filter. When you “turn on” your criteria, you should notice that certain jobs, companies, teams, and ways of working are filtered out, leaving you with opportunities that align with your values, needs, and desires.

How can you use your career criteria?

Career criteria can help you find more fulfillment in your career in a few ways.

Craft your current role

When you have clear career criteria, you start to see the gap between what your job is like now versus what you want it to be. Take a look at your current role and ask yourself how you might make it better match your career criteria: 

  • Are there different ways you might work? 
  • Are there ideas you might try with your current team? 
  • Are there new or different responsibilities you might add (or remove) from your role? 

You don’t need to find a new role or organization to start to have a job that matches your career criteria. Consider crafting an experiment to try something new.

Communicate who you are and what you’re about

Your career criteria can help other people get to know you. You can use your career criteria to tell people in your network what opportunities you’re looking for or who you’d like to connect with. You can also use them to update your resume and LinkedIn profile to share what you bring to the table. 

Find your next role

Your career criteria can help you at all stages of the job search process. They can point you to companies and roles that seem aligned with what’s important to you. They can help you identify questions to ask during interviews to assess whether you and the organization are aligned. And, if you’re considering multiple opportunities, your career criteria can provide a structured way to compare and decide which offer to accept (bye bye pros and cons list!).

What happens when we don’t have career criteria?

When we don't have career criteria, we risk moving farther away from the careers (and lives) we want. When we’re not being intentional about what’s most important, we’re more likely to make decisions rooted in fear, guilt, shame, and other people’s expectations.

For example, say you were offered a job at one of the big names in your industry. It would be an instant source of credibility and prestige. Your colleagues, friends, and family congratulate you on the opportunity. However, you learned during the interview process that their organizational culture doesn’t match your work style. If you accept this role, it may be great on paper, but you’ll likely wonder about other jobs and start job hunting again. 

On the other hand, you also receive a job offer from a smaller company. It’s not as known in the industry, but you really got along with everyone you talked to and their culture seems like a place where you could thrive. Accepting this role would have a better chance at more fulfillment and satisfaction.

5 steps to creating your career criteria

  1. Get to know yourself 

To know what’s important in your career, you have to know what’s important to you as a person. So take a step back and think about what you care about most in life and what lessons you’ve learned. We are whole people with complex wants and needs. The better we know ourselves, the easier it will be to know what’s “right” for us at work. 

When doing this work, ask:

  • What’s worked for you in the past and what hasn’t?
  • When have you thrived, and when have you struggled?
  • What do you find important? Desirable?
  • What are you known for? What are you great at?
  • What makes you happy and what makes you furious?

These questions can start to uncover values, strengths, and preferences. 

If you’re feeling stuck, or want to go deeper, we can help you approach this work at Crew in a fun and stress-free way.

Check out how we can help.

  1. Apply your learnings to your work life

Using what you learned about yourself, think about what’s most important to you at work. It’s important to make that connection from who we are to the many dimensions of our careers so that we can make our learning about ourselves actionable. Ask yourself what’s important about:

  • The industry you work in? 
  • The organization you work for? 
  • The kind of team you’re on?
  • The work you do? 
  • The impact you have? 
  • The money you make? 
  • The life you lead outside of work? 

Your answers will provide input for your career criteria.

  1. Craft your statements

Your answers to the previous questions reveal your work preferences, but they're not quite criteria yet. Notice which prompts and answers matter the most to you. Then, craft 5-7 statements explaining what’s important to you about where or how you work. Once you write a statement, see how you can make it even more descriptive and specific.

  1. Identify your must-haves

It may not be possible to find a role that meets all of your career criteria. So now decide which criteria are nice to have and which criteria you won’t compromise on. Order your list from most to least important and put a star next to any career criteria that are absolute must-haves.

  1. Try them out

Now that you’ve crafted your career criteria, it’s time to take them for a test drive in the real world. Testing your career criteria might show you where they need to be adjusted. When you use your criteria to help you make a decision, you might notice that:

  • Your career criteria are not specific enough. You’ll know this is the case if you cannot confidently say that an opportunity meets (or doesn’t meet) your criteria. 
  • Your career criteria are too specific. You’ll know this is the case if no opportunity could ever meet them. 

Make adjustments based on what you learn and revisit your career criteria whenever you learn something new about what’s important to you.

Examples of career criteria

Let’s dive into career criteria examples, and what makes them OK, good, or great.

Ok: I want to work at a company where I can grow and learn

This statement isn’t specific enough. Most companies could meet this standard. To make it more specific, you might ask:

  • What does it mean for you to grow and learn?
  • What career areas do you want to grow and learn in?  

Good: I want to work at a company where I have the time, budget, and encouragement to improve my leadership skills.

This is better, but we could still get more specific and descriptive. Try asking:

  • What would it look like to be encouraged to develop your leadership skills?
  • What would a culture look like that encourages you to develop?
  • What specifically would help you improve your skills in the way you want?

Great: I want to work at a company that cares about, invests in, and rewards strong people leadership. It’s important to me that people-focused leadership starts at the top with senior leaders who ask for and listen to feedback and model the kind of leadership they want to see. It’s also important that I have the time, budget, and encouragement to attend internal and external trainings that interest me and that I get coaching and support from my manager.

This statement provides a lot of detail about the kind of culture and environment that the person is looking for. Fewer companies will meet this description than the previous ones. Also, this statement can lead to specific questions to ask during the interview process to figure out whether the company meets your criteria. 

Tips for creating effective career criteria

  1. Be specific. The more specific you can get, the easier it will be to filter out opportunities that aren’t meant for you.
  2. Write it out. Writing your career criteria is an important step in making them specific and real.
  3. Get collaborative. Receive feedback from trusted people who know and care about you. They can help you see inconsistencies or tensions in your criteria.

Making big career decisions can be tricky. That’s what makes career criteria so powerful. Having clear and specific career criteria can be your guide to making big decisions with more confidence and ease. But we know this work is easier said than done.

At Crew, we can provide structure and a visual way to take you through the  “think about yourself” process. We do that by helping you get clarity on who you are, the things that matter to you, and your strengths. With that clarity, you’ll have more ease creating your career criteria and difficult career decisions won’t be so daunting anymore.

Check out how we can help here.