How to Make the Best Decisions for Your Career

Hone in on the key factors to analyze when judging job opportunities

A career path is a series of jobs that move you forward towards both short-term and long-term goals. Your path may follow a straight line neatly contained within one field. Or, your path may include jobs that change fields from time to time. This is fine as long as you are still progressing towards your end goals.

This article will help you learn how to analyze potential new jobs in the context of moving forward in your career. We will cover the key factors that can help you make the best decisions for your career path.

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How does this job fit into your career path?

Figuring out whether or not a potential new job and/or position fits within your career path is not always simple. First, you must ask yourself if the job aligns with your short-term or long-term goals. If you don’t know what those goals are, you should focus on creating a professional development plan as soon as possible.

In some cases, this is an easy question. For instance, if you’re considering a higher position or moving to a more prominent company. Where it gets more complicated is if the new job will progress your career in less obvious ways.

Consider networking opportunities, mentorship, and the ability to learn new skills on the job. Without a doubt, a new job with these benefits can contribute to your career in meaningful ways. Specifically by helping you gather valuable tools to move forward to a higher position down the line.

Where to start with a starting salary

Starting salary seems like an obvious and easy benefit to analyze. “Is it the same or more than I make now?” However, depending on where you are in your career it’s not that simple. Many new hires at the start of their career path simply do not know what to ask for as a starting salary.

That’s not to say those further down the line have it all figured out either. It can still be difficult for Americans (even quite far along their career path) to puzzle out what they should be making. Specifically because of the one-two punch of pay inequity and American social taboos around talking about money.

Fortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has a report on wage data by both area and occupation. That is always a great place to start. More free online resources for determining what salary to ask for include PayScale, salary.com, and AngelList.

Salary progression, compensation details, and benefits

Using the free resources above, you can not only figure out what your starting salary should be but also how it should progress. Once you’ve passed initial interviews and are seriously comparing job offers, here are the key questions to ask yourself:

  • Are there opportunities for growth?
  • Are there salary caps or overtime caps if the wages are hourly?
  • What benefits are covered and will they work for you and/or your family’s needs?
  • Are there additional benefits such as bonuses, commissions, or gain share programs?

Be thorough and take the time to really crunch the numbers. In other words, do the math to determine if your needs are met. Sometimes good benefits may offset a lower starting salary and vice versa.

Organize your career path goals and condense information for decision-making in your planner. Shop versatile planner supplies that work for home, school, and the office.

What will you learn from this job or position?

Without growth there’s stagnation, so sometimes the best decision you can make to reach your end goals is to invest time in honing your skills. A job that presents opportunities for learning often reaps big rewards further down your career path.

First, consider hard skills. Does the company offer on-the-job training or employee development programs? Second, consider soft skills. Are projects managed in a way that you can practice effective time management? Are there opportunities to collaborate with cross-functional teams? And so on.

Next, consider if the job will help you gain industry and product knowledge. Are there opportunities for conferences and trade shows? Will you have access to industry-specific market research or case studies?

Lastly, consider leadership opportunities. Sooner or later most career paths lead to managing in some capacity. Leadership practice early in your career makes you better prepared for leading bigger projects and teams down the line.

Carefully consider your work-life balance needs

Work-life balance is not just a buzzword and it’s not something you can ignore. Not long-term anyway. Above all, work-life balance is important for your mental health and well-being. However, it’s also important to help you prevent burnout, which can be devastating. Burnout is not only a productivity killer but can also be a big roadblock on your career path.

Beyond doing what’s best for your body and mind, finding a healthier work balance is simply better for your career. Good managers know that work-life balance increases employee retention, creativity, and productivity. Jobs that allow for balance set you up for success so that you can bring the best “you” to your work. At the end of the day, that’s always better for your career.

The importance of company culture along your career path

Company culture is more than just a “nice-to-have” perk. Great company culture can help you progress on your career path. Toxic company culture can stop you in your tracks.

Just how important is company culture? Well, toxic work environments can be detrimental to your mental health, damage your reputation, and even teach you bad habits. Not to mention the lack of professional development opportunities you will need to reach the next step in your career.

On the other hand, a great company culture benefits everyone. The company benefits by decreasing turnover and increasing productivity. You benefit by having the support and tools you need to thrive and do your best work.

Checking out employee review sites like Glassdoor is a great start. There’s also a great article by nationally recognized author, speaker, and job strategist Hannah Morgan that offers 10 ways to research company culture.

The best decisions are ones that move you forward on your career path

In short, asking yourself “Will this get me closer to reaching my goals?” is the best approach to making decisions for your career. A better title, higher starting salary, or moving to a more prominent company are the most obvious ways that a new job can move you forward.

Salary progression, compensation details, and benefits are less obvious but fairly easy to calculate. As long as you take the time to crunch the numbers. In contrast, abstract benefits may be less obvious stepping stones on your career path, yet they are extremely valuable nonetheless.

Indeed, the value of learning new skills, gaining work-life balance, and experiencing good company culture can be difficult to quantify. However, these benefits allow you to focus on putting your best work forward. Which in turn leaves you better prepared for future (and often unexpected) opportunities.

Of course, most of us have also been there having to take a job out of necessity. What’s one thing wish you could go back and tell yourself? Comment below to join the conversation.

Or, follow us on LinkedIn for more workplace discussions and networking with like-minded professionals.

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