Module Career Decision Making


The decision making process

Effective decision making involves a number of steps:

1. Self Assessment - understand yourself and what alternatives are open to you
2. Opportunity Awareness - seek information about prospective careers from a variety of sources
3. Decision Making - assess information in relation to your needs and wants and make a decision
4. Implementation - develop an action plan to reach the goal and act upon it

This module will guide you through each of these steps.

Some of these issues will have been covered in preceding modules:

If you have not completed the earlier modules, it would be a good idea to do so before commencing this one. That way you will get the full benefit of this career decision making module.

Once you have explored yourself, the world of work and influences, you are able to begin the process of decision making. When making a career decision, it is important to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What would I like in my future career?
  • What is career success for me?
  • Which career am I best suited to? 
  • What are my first steps towards getting this career?

Topic 1 Self Assessment

Understanding yourself is the most important step in career exploration. If you don't know what is important to you and who you are then how can you make good decisions?

Gaining an understanding of yourself is the first step in considering which careers and roles would suit you. Some of the things you should consider are your;

These factors are covered in the Finding My Direction modules. If you have not already completed the Finding My Direction module, you may like to do so now.

You can also improve your self-understanding through self reflection, asking others how they perceive you, or undertaking some psychometric tests.

In addition to completing the Finding My Direction modules, a useful Australian website that offers activities and tests is MyGuide.

Self Assessment tools

There is a range of tools available to assist you to work out who you are and what is important to you in relation to work and careers. While they can be helpful they are best used with the support of a Careers Counsellor who can assist you to determine the most appropriate tool/s for your circumstances.

See Richard Bolles' author of What Color is your Parachute article - “The Seven Rules about taking Careers Tests” - for more information on self assessment tools.

It is very important that when completing any of these questionnaires that you do as Richard Bolles suggests...

  • Always let your intuition be your guide. 
  • Don't let tests make you forget that you are absolutely unique on the face of the earth - as your fingerprints attest. 
  • You are never finished with a test until you've done some good hard thinking about yourself.

Activity One: Interests, values and skills influencing my career choices

List your top three interests, values and skills and then describe how you can use these in your career choice.

View activity

Other Influences

There are also many external influences that may impact on your career decisions. These can include family expectations, friends and the media. In order to effectively make decisions regarding your career you need to have an awareness of how these influences affect you.

Identify Alternatives

Generally, there are a number of alternative career options available rather than one simple answer. To improve your chances of making the best decision consider as many alternatives as possible. For instance, if you want to work in the law - do you want to be a police officer, a prison warden, a family lawyer, a psychologist, criminal barrister?

Refer back to the Defining Opportunities module and Degrees to Careers  for an idea of what opportunities are available to you.

There may be many pathways to get you to your desired career. You might decide to continue studying or to start working to develop a speciality in a particular field or to get skills for future career advancement.

Rather than deciding on the first idea that comes to mind, identifying and looking at alternatives allows you to assess options you may not have previously considered.

Take the Job Outlook Career Quiz:

Topic 2 Opportunity Awareness

Once you have identified a range of possibilities, the next step is to gather as much information as you can. There is no right or wrong way to gather information and your approach will depend on your preferred decision making style. However, try to gather information from many different sources by:

  • Speaking to people 
  • Reading job advertisements 
  • Using the internet 
  • Asking, asking, asking questions.

Make sure you keep a record of all the information you have gathered by writing down key points.

This section of the module will cover seeking information through speaking to people, reading job advertisements and using the internet. Start with 'Speaking to People' and follow the prompts to each section.

Speaking to people

Speaking to people is one of the best ways to find information that will help you make a good career decision.

  • Who do you know?

The first thing you need to do is identify WHO you can talk to about the career path/s you are considering. Talk to people who are either actively involved in the field, such as a parent pursuing the same career, a career mentor, someone who has information they can give you about your chosen profession such as a university professor with industry experience, or a friend who works in a related field. Even people with a loose connection to your industry may give you new insights into your considered field or inform you of different opportunities you may not have considered.

Once you have identified some people you may be able to speak with, it's time to approach them. Although it can be daunting, most people are quite happy to be asked about their career and are willing to provide information. Treat it like an interview where you are asking for advice and guidance rather than asking for a job!

Think about what you do and don't know and then ask questions such as:

  • What does the occupation entail? (role, tasks & responsibilities)
  • What qualifications are needed?
  • What other skills are valuable?
  • What is the demand?
  • What is the income?
  • What are the implications on lifestyle?

REMEMBER: You are NOT asking for a job but for information about potential careers!

Activity Two: Identify people who can give you information

Write a list of any people you know who might work in the fields you are interested in. For instance, do any of your parents' friends or friends of friends work in any of the fields you are considering? You may be surprised at the links within your network.

View activity

You may have identified a lot more people than you thought. Imagine how much information you can gather about the career you are interested in just by talking to these people. Each person will give you fresh insights, opinions and valuable information about the careers you are considering, whether they are currently working in that field or are only remotely related to or associated with it.

Reading Job Advertisements

By reading a variety of job advertisements, you will gain an understanding of the type of jobs available in your chosen career area and what the conditions are. Gather as much of this information as you can.

When you become a student with the University of Newcastle, you can register with CareerHub – The University of Newcastle’s Careers and Employment online job site. In CareerHub you can browse jobs and register to be sent a weekly Job Alert email. The jobs listed here are specifically targeted at University of Newcastle students and may not be advertised elsewhere.

Other online job listings include Seek, MyCareer and Career One as well as specialist job sites for different industries. Whilst the majority of jobs are not advertised in the open market, reading about widely advertised jobs will also increase your knowledge of opportunities within your field.

Check out MyCareer in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald and Career One in The Australian on Wednesdays and Saturdays or look in your local newspapers. Save these in a jobs file so that you can start to get an understanding of the key skills, experiences and competencies sought by particular employers and sectors If you find the perfect job, place a copy on your fridge as a goal and work towards it.

Using the Internet

Useful websites for job information include:

 My Future - Links in the "further information" section (if there is one) often provide very useful industry specific information. The "related jobs" section can offer alternative careers in the same industry.

Graduate Opportunities - Select your industry of interest for a list of relevant companies. Read the company profile and any job information to get an idea of where you might end up working.

Australian Professional Organisations, Associations and Societies
Do a search for any organisations and associations that might have information about careers in a particular field.
Some examples are:

  • Commerce - Institute of Chartered Accountants Australia 
  • Law - Law Society of New South Wales 
  • Psychology - Australian Psychological Society

More associations and societies from a range of fields can be found within the Degrees to Careers pages.
Australian Government graduate positions - Visit this site to check out opportunities for graduates with the Australian Government.
GradsOnline - GradsOnline can help answer questions about graduates' activities salaries and jobs. To view the latest results select your degree and field of study.
Graduate Careers Australia - Check out the Career Profiles to learn what you can do in your field of study; find out how university career service can help you; discover important job hunting, application and interview tips; see what further study options may be available; view industry-related associations that may provide further resources during your search
Job Outlook - Job Outlook is a careers and labour market research information site to help you decide on your future career. Use the search options for information on around 350 individual occupations.

Activity Three: My preferred opportunities

List your top five career opportunities in your chosen profession, and then describe why each one interests you.

View activity

Now that you have gathered information about a variety of options, you are ready to begin making decisions

Topic 3 Decision Making


The best way to make a decision is to follow a structured process and objectively consider all options.

Look at the immediate circumstances and focus on those. Future considerations are unpredictable!

Using intuition is fine - it gives a good guide of your initial impressions and shows an understanding of yourself.

Decision Making Style

Another important consideration is your decision making style. Are you someone who makes decisions quickly or do you procrastinate – unable to make a firm decision? Whilst there is no right or wrong way to make a decision, there are advantages and disadvantages to each style.

Once you understand your decision making style, you will be able to adopt strategies to enhance your decision making abilities.

So, how do you find out what your decision making style is? Activity Four (below) will assist you to:

  • determine your decision making style
  • what that style means
  • what influences your preferred style
  • the pros and cons
  • understand how this affects your choices in life.

The table below gives a brief overview of the Decision-Making Styles based on Preferences for Structure, and Human versus Task Orientation. Notice how your decision style relates to or differs from the other styles, the pros and cons of your preferred Decision Making Style and how this can help or hinder your choices.

High Tolerance for Ambiguity
(low need for structure)

Low Tolerance for Ambiguity
(high need for structure)

Oriented to Task and Technical concerns

Solves problems by analysis, planning, and forecasting

Pros – gathers a wide range of information and makes rational decisions after weighing all the perspective.

Cons – can spend too long obtaining information leading to confusion and an inability to decide.

Strategies – set a time limit on the information gathering process and use a structured decision-making process.

Directive Decision Maker
Solves problems by applying operational objectives in a systematic and efficient way

– uses objective information to make decision. Generally integrates information and makes decisions quickly and in a logical

Cons – can be focused on the short rather than long term. Can be too task focussed and not consider other people’s opinions which can make them seem too authoritative, inflexible and difficult to work with.

Strategies – take time to listen to other people and consider the human cost of the decision.

Oriented to Human and Social Concerns

Conceptual Decision Maker
Solves problems by exploring new options, forming new strategies, being creative, and taking risks

Pros – has broad outlook and often focuses on the long term big picture. Creative thinking identifies alternative options.

Cons – often overlooks short-term solutions and can be impractical.

Strategies – identify key current concerns and incorporate these aspects into the decision to make sure it is achievable.

Behavioural Decision Maker
Solves problems through people

Pros – shows concern for others and is interested in their opinion.

Cons – can overlook facts and make decisions which are based on feelings rather than being rational. Can take too long to make decision.

Strategies – carefully evaluate the utility of others decisions and adopt a rational process.

Decision making tools

Activity Four: My decision making style

Using the information you have gathered, write your personal Decision Making Style Summary.

View activity

Keep these points in mind when making a decision to ensure you make the best choice.

Topic 4 Implementation

Now that you have identified the best choice for you (for now), it is time to start making plans.

Making a decision is only useful if you then act upon it by setting a goal and developing an action plan to achieve it. For instance, if you have decided that you want to be an environmental lawyer - what are the steps you need to take to achieve this goal? It might be changing courses, finding a mentor or obtaining work experience in the field. Action planning works best when smaller, specific steps are identified. Each time you complete one of the steps, you have achieved a part of your goal.

A commonly used model for planning is the SMART model described below. 

S = Specific

  • Who is involved?
  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • Where? (Identify a location).
  • When? (Establish a time frame).
  • Why? (Specific reason, purpose, or benefits of achieving a goal).

M = Measurable

You should be able to monitor your progress to help you stay on track, reach your target dates, and feel that you are achieving something. So, how will you measure your success towards your goal/plan?

A = Attainable

The effort required to attain the goal should be manageable. Break it down into steps - each step should move you closer to that goal.

R = Realistic

Personal and situational factors may influence your ability to reach your goal. For instance, if your goal is to become a pilot, but you are scared of heights, then the goal is not realistic. Make sure that your goal suits you and your lifestyle.

T = Timebound

Time limits should be identified for each of the steps to achieving the goal. If goals are open-ended, we are less likely to achieve them. Define start points and end points to steps along the way and maintain commitment to these deadlines. Celebrate each time you have achieved part of the process.

Activity 5 - Writing an effective goal statement

The next step is to write a goal statement. To be most effective, goal statements should:

  • Use clear, specific language.
  • Start with TO + a VERB
  • Be written according to SMART Goal Criteria
  • Have positive, action focused language

View actviity

"Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage."

Ralph Waldo Emerson (American Poet, Lecturer and Essayist, 1803-1882)

Creative Commons Licence

Prepare for Uni is adapted from the Career Development Program of the Queensland University of Technology. Licensed under Creative Commons License.