Why job choices end in a pond of regret and how to avoid it

With so much of our time spent at work, many of us understand that our career choices and job environment can impact all facets of our daily lives, including our physical, mental and emotional health. Personal branding expert Sue Parker analyses why some job choices end in regret and how we can take control to change our career outcomes. 

The well-worn clichés that ‘the only guarantees in life are taxes and death’ and ‘experiences are all part of the learning journey’, don’t quite cut it when it comes to job and career choices.  It’s just too risky to be so fatalistic and laissez-faire around our livelihoods.

LinkedIn surveys reveal that 1 in 3 Australians will be actively seeking a new role in 2021 and the ABS reports unemployment has decreased to 6.4 percent. 

Further, in February AMP Capital senior economist Diana Mousina reported that  93 percent of the jobs lost at the peak of the COVID-19 first wave in April and May, had now been recovered.

Whilst there is no denying that 2021 will remain a challenging year for many, there are many opportunities in general and certainly, the marketing sector is well placed in many regards. But discernment and critical thinking is key.

As ever, job and career choices have immense consequences professionally and personally. Wellbeing, mental health, family life, career goals and finances are all at stake.  Marketing professionals can be just as vulnerable if not more so at times than other sectors.

Choices made will ultimately be deemed as wise or unwise leading to a pond of regret or a lake of joy.  And it particularly impacts the marketing sector where status and grandeur are highly revered.

I have seen it time and time again over the decades as an ex-recruiter, in my current business. In fact, I estimate that circa 50 percent of new job choices end up in that murky pond of regret. And hey I too have swum in the regret pool. Regret starts to gnaw away within the first two to six months of starting a new role.  It can often jump on the table at the end of the first or second week. But like a doomed relationship, people pretend it’s ok and or will improve. It won’t!

Justify, rationalise and reassure

The warning alert that a new job, promotion or career shift will be unwise are proclamations to justify, reassure and rationalise the decision.  Tuning into those loud attempts to convince and qualify (to self and others) is a strong indicator of misalignment and unease. 

There are many moving parts, conflictual and emotional elements when searching for a job. Making wise choices for the right reasons lays a platform of self-confidence and a career trajectory that supports authenticity. But unwise choices will erode on many levels both consciously or unconsciously. 

When a choice is a wise one, there is a collective sense of harmony and excitement. Harmony is instinctive without any need to rationalise, justify and reassure yourself or others of the decision.

Wheel of risk  

The three key elements contributing to making unwise job and career decisions are the wrong motivations, sunk cost bias fallacies and fear which forms a wheel of risk.

These stymie critical thinking and keep competent professionals on a treadmill of misery and unrealised potential.

Let’s dive into each element:

Wrong motivations

There are many motivators when choosing a new role or career pivot.  Some can be so bright and shiny and blind-side realities.  

Money, prestige, fame, security, high profile brand or organisation to add to the CV are seductive motivators.  This is a real trap as many ignore revolving door and poor management reputations. Further, salaries and supportive management are not always aligned to an organisation’s high consumer profile

Unhappiness is also a strong motivator when desperate to leave a culture or role that is causing grief.  You can go from the fat to the fire thinking the grass with be automatically greener.

Critical thinking is key to minimise deluded decisions that once the gloss has worn off may put you behind the eight ball.   

If motivators are purely monetary, desperate or illusions of grandeur, they will lead to unwise decisions and dissatisfaction. A deeper analysis of your career and who, what and why is essential.

Sunk cost bias fallacy

The impact of sunk cost bias fallacy is as frequent as it is unsound and damaging. It refers to the hard wired tendency stick to the plan and proceed with a course of action at all costs after considerable effort, time and money has been invested.    

It can bring a sense of failure or shame (fallacy) if changing course and choosing something different. Cognitive dissonance impacts further when continuing down a path that isn’t serving well. It takes strength to admit a course of action is no longer an appropriate one and retracting is nothing to be ashamed of doing. 

We have all fallen into this pit at some point and it raises the question of if the current costs outweigh future benefits. After long and laborious hiring processes the ego to succeed can override sage decisions. And this is particularly risky for the marketing and media world.

Further, some men, in particular, can feel stuck in a path or job that no longer benefits fearing change after years of input, investment and other pressures.  In 2020 I undertook a small survey asking if men were happy and fulfilled in their work. 45 percent of men were not.

Fear

Fear raises its head in various and malicious ways. Knowledge is power and without all the facts, decisions are compromised. 

Professional hiring and job search is a two-way street. Far too many people, irrespective of being at the $100k or $1 million + level can fall into the hiring ecosystem game which disempowers and renders them acquiescent. 

Recruitment agencies, panels and hiring managers are equally complicit in the pit discouraging an equality framework and attitude of unchallenged compliance.

Strong leaders with stewardship over hundreds become submissive in the hiring process. Negotiation skills, empowerment and fearlessness are hidden for fear of reprisals and loss of opportunity 

Hence they don’t dig enough, ask really important questions and challenge for mutual value.  And it is of mutual value for all parties to learn as much as possible about each other.

Like an ostrich head in the sand, many choose not to ask the hard questions for fear the answers will nullify their interest. This impacts across motivations and the reality of management styles and culture the role pertains to.  

Women are particularly fearful of putting themselves out there as indicated in the 2019 LinkedIn Gender Insights Report, which found women will only apply for roles if they meet 100 percent of the criteria. This compared to men who confidently apply if they meet just 60 percent of the criteria. 

Due diligence is a critical part of wise and risk prevention decision making. Reference checking is a two-way street so dig solidly.  

Given the attrition of staff due to toxic management it is essential that as a candidate you dig deep without fear.  

Take control 

There are no guarantees in job choices but you can substantially minimise unwise choices. Don’t ignore warning bells and evidence of any issues and toxic management at the front end as rarely will a situation improve.    

Embrace an equality hiring mindset and ask curious and bold questions. Be brave and hold your nerve as the lake of joy is a much nicer place to swim.

Sue Parker is the founder of Dare Group Australia, a unique communications, LinkedIn and personal branding consultancy.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash.