Five-Step Career Decision Making Process

The career decision-making process is ongoing throughout your professional life and as your career progresses, you may find yourself using this process again. There are times you may feel frustrated as if you are no closer to finding direction than when you started. If you’re going through the process, you are making progress. Each area you explore takes you closer to the options that are a good fit.


  • First assess your interests, values, and personality to develop an understanding of your technical and transferable skills. Consider factors that may affect your searches, such as geographic preferences, an organization’s culture, or work-life balance.
  • Be aware that assessments cannot define you or tell you what you should do. Instead, they suggest areas for further exploration and give you a place to begin your research.

Four Components of Self-Assessment: 

  • Skills: Many skills are transferable – meaning they can be used across a wide range of industries and functional areas. For example, communication skills are valued in all roles, making them highly transferable. It’s important to take the time to identify your skills and how those may connect with career options.
  • Interests: Your interests may change as you are introduced to new areas of study and new experiences. Reflecting on your interests, in conjunction with your skills, personality, and values is an important step in the self-assessment process. Use the questions below to begin your reflection.
    • What activities do you gravitate towards? What appeals to you about those activities?
    • What issues or causes are important to you?
    • When have you been happiest in life? What were you doing?
    • What classes have been your favorites and what appealed to you about those classes?
    • Who do you admire most and why?
  • Personality: Your unique characteristics influence your thoughts, behaviors, decisions, and how you engage with the world. A perfect job for one person may be totally wrong for another.
    • How much interaction with others do you need in your work?
    • Do you prefer imagining possibilities and being inventive, or do you enjoy handling practical matters, details, and work that is measurable?
  • Values: Making choices consistent with your values is a key component of career satisfaction. Take time to define what your values mean to you. For example, the desire to make a difference is often cited as a career-related value, but that may look different to each person.


Doctors and teachers are among the jobs we know, but there are thousands of other jobs, and more created as industries evolve. Explore the range of career options and don’t limit yourself to careers with which you are familiar.

Learn as much as you can about employers within your fields of interest and trends in the industry. Immerse yourself in publications, websites, and resources used by professionals in that field. This will help you develop a list of target employers and prepare you for networking and interviewing.


The next step is to reflect. It is important to undergo a reality check for each career area you’re exploring, weigh the pros and cons, and evaluate how it matches up with who you are and what you want. Use the following questions to guide your reflection.

  • What is your initial reaction to the career field after your research?
  • What appealed to you about the field? What didn’t appeal to you? List the pros and cons.
  • What skills, knowledge, or experience will you need to be competitive for entry in this field? Are you interested enough in the field to develop these skills or knowledge?
  • How much adapting will be necessary for you to be satisfied in this career area? No career is a perfect match, but are the less desirable components minimal?

If after your research you find that a career field is not for you, that’s fine. After all, the point of this is to help you clarify a good fit.

Keep in mind entry-level positions tend to have less desirable components but serve as a stepping stone for the future. You need to think beyond just the first job and look toward the more senior positions.


Now it’s time to try out these career options and gain some experience, through internships, part-time jobs at Yale, and experience with student organizations. For example, campus publications need writers as well as staff to manage finances, develop multimedia, create illustrations and take pictures, oversee design and layout, manage printing and distribution, maintain websites, solicit sponsorship, and generate ad revenue.


During and after an experience, take time to evaluate and reflect.

  • What was enjoyable? What was not?
  • Were there aspects of the experience that were challenging and aspects in which you excelled?
  • Was it the work itself, or maybe something to do with the people that made it enjoyable?

If you’re taking time to reflect, you’re also learning more about the type of work and environment you will find most satisfying.

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By Yale Office of Career Strategy
Yale Office of Career Strategy