“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.
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.
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.
Career criteria can help you find more fulfillment in your career in a few ways.
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:
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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:
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.
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:
Your answers will provide input for your career criteria.
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.
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.
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:
Make adjustments based on what you learn and revisit your career criteria whenever you learn something new about what’s important to you.
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:
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:
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.
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.