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On the Job: Don't let a shiny new position blind you to its realities

Published June 1, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Before buying a product, we often check what other people are saying about it online.

But in making one of the most important decisions of our lives — about a job — we often rely on little feedback and jump into a position that may turn out to be a big mistake.

That's why Dan Heath says more people need to learn better strategies in making employment decisions.

In his book with brother Chip Heath, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, Dan Heath says one way to make a tough decision is to think about how we would advise a friend.

"It's often clearer for us to see the big picture when we're thinking about what to tell a friend," he says. "When we're just thinking about ourselves, we can get distracted by a signing bonus or a prestigious job."

Thinking about what to advise a friend "is as close as we've found to a decision-making magic trick," he says. "The answer usually pops out in 10 seconds because it's just such a quick shift in perspective."

Francesca Gino, a Harvard Business School professor and author of Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan, says job seekers often make poor decisions about a job because they're not able to predict the emotions they may have when negotiating.

Job seekers need to better prepare themselves before an offer is made, she says, so they know if the offer meets their goals and what the "walk-away point" will be.

"Too often, we make important career decisions, such as looking for another job, when we are in a heightened emotional state, when we are too focused on the small things at work that disappointed us, or when we learn that our friends or peers have jobs that make them happy," she says.

When job seekers need to make a decision, Dan Heath recommends they should:

Do the 10/10/10 analysis • Think about how you would feel about your job choice 10 minutes from now, 10 months from now and 10 years from now.

"This is the best advice, especially if you're young. This will free you from the sense you need to pick the right job right now. No one will do that," he says. "Rather than agonize over it, why not just try it?"

Use the vanishing options test • If you take away your current job offer, what would you do?

"When people imagine they cannot have the option, they move their mental spotlight," Dan Heath says. This exercise helps job seekers consider other options that might not otherwise have crossed their minds and come up with a more practical solution.

Dip your toe in • If you're considering a big career or job shift, don't think that you have to jump in completely.

Maybe volunteering or moonlighting would give you a chance to try out a particular type of work, or you could shadow someone on the job for a few weeks, he suggests.

"Sometimes when you're dissatisfied with a job, every path looks like the yellow brick road," he says.

Use multitracking • If you're house hunting and you only view one house, you may begin to rationalize away its faults.

But if you weigh several houses at one time, you will be more honest with yourself about the pros and cons, Dan Heath says. Job hunters should use the same strategy and look at multiple jobs at one time.

Conduct a premortem • Envision what the job you're considering would be like six months from now and the worst-case scenario.

Is that something you're willing to risk? If not, you might want to move on.

Finally, Dan Heath advises you to beware that you may have blinders on regarding other options.

"People are more likely to select information that supports their pre-existing attitudes, beliefs and actions," he says.

Anita Bruzzese can be reached c/o Gannett ContentOne, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, Va. 22107.