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The making of strong job or career decisions

Updated: Aug 6, 2023

We all go into job decisions with the best intentions. New employees are excited and anticipate a positive experience. Hiring managers feel good about their hiring decision and look forward to a positive relationship with the new employee. The honeymoon phase of a new job is great!

But we all know life is dynamic. Both employees' and employers' needs change. The key is updating. To make good job evaluations, the employee needs a process to dynamically update their job perspective. This evaluation needs to be completed in a way that makes decision-making fast, confidence-inspiring, and transparent. The evaluation needs to be both objective and appropriately include emotion.

job decision process

This article is part of our article series:

Building a premortem

The proactive job evaluation approach starts with a “premortem." [xxxiv]

The premortem approach begins by recalling the criteria for why the job or other decisions was accepted in the first place. If new to the job market, the current state is the anticipated criteria for the new job.

In the following resource section, the link to a smartphone app is provided. This app is perfect for this exercise. For employers, this app may be provided to employees and is backed by workflow integrated into your HR processes.

First, complete an exercise of weighting the criteria and applying them to the current job.

The app also enables "inviting a friend" for discreet criteria feedback from a trusted advisor.

This is the "current state" job alternative. For the current job, 50% is the minimum benefit threshold where the current job's pros outweigh the job's cons.

A premortem building block: A 50% goal benefit is the minimum benefit threshold indicating a needed change. Once the goal benefit drops below 50%, the cons outweigh the pros. The change threshold could be higher. It is possible, for example, the current job is at 51% but an alternative position is a credibly higher 75% goal benefit. When there is a large difference between job alternative benefits, an employee should consider changing to the higher benefit job. Please see Premortem example - developing Mr. or Ms. Right.

In our article, Changing Our Mind, we use a bucket and rock analogy for the work criteria and weighting. As long as there are more green rocks than red rocks, it suggests the current job's pros outweigh the cons. The challenge is anticipating a job change! More on this follows.

After the job criteria have been defined and weighted, the next step is to write the premortem. A premortem is a credible story about the future where the goal benefits drop significantly. This could be where 1) the cons outweigh the pros or 2) the pros drop so much that it causes a desire to change jobs. Focus the story on a criterion or several criteria that may cause a benefit-reducing change. What plausible set of events would cause the change?

For extra credit, please write multiple premortem stories! The premortem story is anticipatory -- it has not happened. This is the preparation step in the event it does. The premortem helps proactively manage employee-employer relationships. The premortem enables employee self-advocacy. The idea is to head off a benefit-reducing situation. The idea is to avoid quiet quitting.

Also, the premortem story may come from internalized fears. A premortem enables the proper evaluation of typical fears. The behavioral sciences teach us that emotions like fear render little explanatory nuance. Fear is more of a binary signal - it generally does not evaluate the severity of the risk. Often, things are not as bad as they seemed through the fear lens. This things-are-worse-than-they-seem perception may create decision bias and inaccurate decisions.

Please note: A good premortem story is short. It could be a paragraph or two. It could be a series of dot points. The smartphone app we mention in the resource section has a notes screen to easily drop in premortem thoughts.

When using the app, the current state job alternatives should have already been created. The current step is to create a separate premortem alternative and score it using the results of the premortem narrative. This step is essential. This is the step to transform the premortem story into actionable, consistent, and comparable information. The app transforms messy emotions containing intertwined signals and noise into appropriately weighted judgments. In the appendix at the bottom of this article, provided are potential job evaluation criteria and resources. [xxxv]

The criteria are only the starting point. The essential step is weighing and scoring the criteria in the current job context and premortem alternatives. This is where the decision magic happens!

Perform this current state and premortem exercise periodically. Be aware that the criteria categories are reasonably stable. However, the criteria weights are likely not as stable. Most companies, jobs, or important life situations regularly evolve.

Work evolution example questions:

  • Is the recent work change positive or negative to your criteria weight?

  • Does that new boss have a positive or negative impact on your overall criteria weight?

  • Do your anticipated projects meet your expectations?

  • Are you growing your skills and abilities as anticipated?

  • Has anything changed in your life to change criteria weights?

Often, the meaning of a work or other life change takes time to impact the overall criteria weighting. Sometimes, weighting evolves so slowly as to be almost imperceptible. Like in the case of the apologue "Boiling the frog." A change that may have seemed like a big deal at the time may prove to be insignificant to the overall criteria weighting. That is why periodic premortem updating is critical!

The next performance review

Use the current state and premortem alternatives as a preparation tool for the next performance review. This is a great way to prepare for a productive conversation! The employee should share their criteria and criteria weights with their company. This is tricky, at first, some employees may feel reluctant to share. Over time, most people appreciate the power of clarity when discussing their job perspective with their employers. It is essential that the employee owns how they share their decision perspective.

The app mentioned in the resource section provides preconfigured reports.

Helping superiors understand employee preferences - "what is important to them" - will help future assignment planning. Bosses generally have choices for whom to assign to particular projects. The better they understand employee benefits, the better they will be able to assign appropriate projects.

Also, if there is a particular criterion that has performed worse recently, the employee should consider sharing that as well. For an employee example, let us say that "Work life balance" and "Advancement opportunity" are the highest weighted criteria. Also, let us say they have been on a particularly grueling, long-hour project for the last couple of months. While they do not mind "taking one for the team," they are questioning whether the project will help with advancement. The employee should share this if this project materially impacts their weighted job benefit. The boss may be able to move them to a different project or make some other arrangement. If not, the employee has signaled if the work environment does not change soon, they will consider a job change.

This is shared in a professional, thoughtful, evidence-based way that leads to a confident and productive discussion with the boss.

Performance reviews are a two-way street. The boss or company deserves to know what the employee thinks of them as much as the employee deserves to know what they think of the company and boss. A two-way dialogue is a sign of a healthy relationship. A consistent, repeatable decision process helps the employee earn the respect of their senior colleagues by providing a fair and honest appraisal.

The app mentioned in the resource section provides credibility and confidence to the company evaluation perspective.

In my experience with being on the "boss" side of the performance review, most supervisors will return specific and thoughtful candor with a frank discussion about what the company may or may not be able to do to address the premortem concerns. This information will be very valuable to help the employee evaluate the job and/or plan a potential change.

Now that the two-way performance review discussion has occurred and there is anticipatory information clarity about how the company may or may not adapt, the employee is ready to update their current job's alternative model. There are two possible outcomes:

  • I am still happy enough. My pros outweigh my cons. This means my anticipatory score for my current job's benefits is AT LEAST above 50% benefit. As such, I will stay in "committed-to-the-current-job" mode.

  • I am not happy. My cons outweigh my pros. This means my anticipatory score for my current job's benefits has dropped significantly or is below 50% benefit. As such, I will change to "pursue-a-new-job" mode.

Please notice: Quiet Quitting is NOT one of the outcomes!

If the anticipatory cons out weight the pros, it is time to go into job search mode. The good news is, the employee can use the same smartphone app for the job search. The criteria model is already done! Only the new job alternatives need to be added and scored. Both external and internal job opportunities should be considered. Most larger companies have open positions in many different areas. The criteria and app decision process will help identify the best job option.

It is a best practice to network internally for alternative positions. In fact, most progressive companies encourage internal job changes.

Boil Your Own Frog!

Think of a premortem as "Boiling your own frog." That is, taking ownership of an employee's honest and accurate evaluation, so they can make changes before the water gets too hot! This premortem scenario planning exercise will prepare them to 1) identify and evaluate an evolving environment and 2) emotionally prepare themselves to change when their job benefits drop below 50% - that is when their belief bucket is more than half full of red rocks. When it comes to change, inertia is a powerful force. Tools such as the app mentioned in the resource section are very helpful to overcome inertia and make the best decisions.

Resources - Definitive Choice

Definitive Choice is a smartphone app. It provides a straightforward user experience and is backed by time-tested decision science algorithms. It uses a proprietary "Decision 6™" approach that organizes the criteria (what is important to you?) and alternatives (what are the choices?) in a series of bite-size ranking decisions. Since it is on the smartphone, it can be used while doing research. It is like having a decision expert in your pocket. The results dashboard provides a rank-ordered list of "best choices," tailored to your preferences. Apps like this enable decision-makers to configure their own choice architecture.

Also, Definitive Choice comes pre-loaded with many templates. These templates can be customized, but the preloaded templates provide a nice starting point. For the current state or premortem alternatives, Definitive Choice will help determine, track, and weigh job criteria. It will also help apply the criteria to different job alternatives. This will help negotiate the best outcome. It provides confidence and accuracy when it is time for a change.

Other job evaluation resources:

Hulett, Negotiating success and building your BATNA, The Curiosity Vine, 2021

Appendix - Premortem starter criteria

Criteria benefit categories

For the smartphone app, next is the “starter” criteria categories to consider. Criteria may be added or subtracted. It is important to clearly define these categories in advance of the pairwise weighting evaluation. When going through the pairwise evaluation process, remember to isolate the comparison of only two categories at a time. In each pairwise comparison, all one needs to do is answer the question by moving the slider: “How much more or less is criterion A important to me than criterion B.” Do not overthink it! The ability to compare two criteria has been proven to be very accurate.

  1. Company history – this relates more to risk. Does the company have staying power?

  2. Company values – this is a measure of employee-employer alignment. Does the employee feel the company’s core values align with theirs? We explore the importance of values alignment in our article: They kept asking about what I wanted to do with my life!

  3. Job Location – This has changed with “Work From Anywhere” expectations generated during the pandemic. Is the work location flexibility aligned with the employees needs? We explore "Work From Anywhere" questions in our article: Our pandemic-impacted work environment and the surprising effect of the default work setting

  4. Working hours – This is code for “Work-life balance.” Does the employee have a need for time outside of work?

  5. Opportunities for growth – Does the employee expect to learn and expand their skill and abilities toolbox? Is there a promotion upside?

  6. Colleagues – Does the employee like those with whom they will be working? They will be spending significant time with them, so this is important.

*Employees will sometimes cite their boss as the primary reason for leaving a company. For the criteria, boss-related challenges are generally found in either:

  • "Opportunity for growth" if the boss's issues relate to a lack of development.

  • "Company values" if the boss's issues relate to a lack of concern or sensitivity to other employees' needs.


In the smartphone app, pay is an independent variable. Think of compensation as an opportunity cost. Total compensation value should be added, both salary and benefits:

  • Salary – this is regular take-home pay plus expected bonuses

  • Benefits – Health insurance, retirement, PTO, education reimbursement, etc. Benefits can be tricky to value. This is the best estimate.

For additional criteria suggestions, please see:

Additional citations may be found in the following article:

Hulett, Changing Our Mind, The Curiosity Vine, 2021


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