On a subconscious level, we know that we should learn to block out extraneous influences and trust our gut more with decisions.
From everyday predicaments like whether you should go to the gym or go out for dinner with your friends; forego precious sleep and watch just one more episode of Mindhunter; to bigger life decisions like whether you are on track with your career or if it might be time to change course this year.
We are bombarded from all angles with social media noise about how to fix our biggest career problems ‘in 10 simple steps’ – and with so much conflicting information about how to be successful, it’s not surprising that many of us have come to doubt our natural instincts and decision-making strategies. Instead of pausing to listen to our inner voice we label it as an untrustworthy saboteur and quickly tune it out. How many times have you chided yourself for not making a decision you ‘knew’ at the time you should, but didn’t?
What value can your gut really offer in developing better decision-making skills and how can you use it to improve your career prospects this year?
How do we make everyday decisions?
When it comes to decision-making, our brains use two main systems:
- Deliberative (conscious): researching, analysing, weighing benefits and deciding on the most logical approach based on facts.
- Intuitive (subconscious): trusting your gut, following a ‘hunch’ or choosing an option that just ‘feels right’ based on past knowledge and experience.
In his book Thinking Fast And Slow, Daniel Kahneman refers to these two different but complementary systems as ‘slow thinking’ and ‘fast thinking’.
In our examples above, difficult decisions that take time and conscious thought, such as applying for a new job or making an important career move, generally fall under the cognitive end of the decision-making spectrum. Emotional decisions to do with relationships, on the other hand, correspond to the intuitive side of the decision-making spectrum.
For many years researchers believed that the conscious, pragmatic and objective mind was best able to make logical decisions; however, most experts now agree that a combination of analytical and intuitive decision-making yields the best results.
According to research published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes by researchers from Boston College, George Mason University and Rice University:
Intuition has long been viewed as a less effective approach to critical reasoning when compared to the merits of analytical thinking. Yet as society and businesses place a greater emphasis on the speed and effectiveness of decision-making, the intuitive approach has been identified as an increasingly important tool.”
How lawyers make decisions
Traditionally, lawyers are trained to ‘think slow’ and make decisions based on hard evidence and facts. It’s a form of industry-championed analytical thinking that begins in law school and carries through to legal practice with the primary goal of mitigating unnecessary risks. So when it comes to making career decisions it should come as no surprise that most law graduates and young lawyers fall into the trap of using a similar formulaic approach, based on measurable facts and metrics.
If I thoroughly research a potential employer, have excellent grades, gain as much relevant experience as possible before applying, nail the interview, have all my social profiles up-to-date and project a professional image, then I will be in the best position to secure an offer.”
Unfortunately, real-world recruitment practices almost never adhere to a clear and predictable formula. Having perfect grades and relevant experience is no longer enough. This is because the hiring process is largely intuitive. While your qualifications and experience are objective markers of your suitability for an interview your personality and likeability are an equally important (but often overlooked) subjective factor that plays an important role in your overall employability.
A hiring manager may be excited by your application on paper, for example, but choose not to hire you at the interview because of a ‘gut feeling’ that you will not fit their company culture. This could be because you did not show a demonstrated passion or interest in the type of work they offer.
In this situation, you might need an extra edge to push yourself over the employment line – one that blends a deliberative and intuitive decision-making approach to your legal career.
Getting the edge: Conscious analytical thinking and raw gut instinct
Employers favourably regard applicants who demonstrate high emotional intelligence, well-developed self-awareness and the capacity to make sound decisions. Spending time developing your interpersonal skills, learning how to communicate effectively, and honing your ability to formulate an opinion on raw data and your intuition is one way to achieve this.
Employers also want staff who are actively engaged in both self-development and professional development. If you apply for a role with a corporate firm, for example, a simple way to position yourself ahead of your competitors is to make a calculated career move by pursuing an online Master of Laws (Business Law) .
Expanding your career arsenal through further study shows a potential employer that you have a thirst for knowledge, are committed to developing your professional skillset, are actively engaged with the latest trends in your industry, are eager to refresh your existing skills and to build a solid career with their company.
These are qualities that all employers seek in a new hire. This is especially so as they are making an investment in you and will see your potential long-term value to their company.
Developing intuitive thinking in your career
In an interview with Fast Company, Angela Jia Kim, co-founder of women entrepreneurs’ network Savor The Success, outlines some questions to ask yourself to understand your gut feelings:
- “Do I feel good around this person or choice?”
- “Does this person or situation give me or take my energy?”
- “Do I feel empowered or disempowered?”
- “Am I going toward an adventure or running from fear?”
- “Am I listening to my lessons learned from the past?”
- “Would I make the same choice if I had a million dollars in my pocket now?”
- “Do I feel respected and valued?”
- “Am I trying to control the situation or am I leaving room for expansion?”
Intuitive thinking can boost your career by helping you to:
- Make faster and more accurate decisions
Your ability to follow a hunch and quickly assess a work situation develops with time. In many cases, sound professional decision-making skills are tied to your level of knowledge or experience in a given area. This is referred to as domain expertise, meaning that the higher your level of knowledge in a subject area, for example, where you have climbed the ranks in your industry the more effectively you will be able to make intuitive decisions.
Invest time in further study related to your speciality, read online journals and industry news, listen to podcasts and inform yourself about new developments that impact your current or future roles. A strong baseline understanding of such issues flows on to helping you make faster and more informed choices, which are attractive qualities in any employee.
- Be in a position of power at interview
If you are offered an exciting job, it does not always mean that you should take it. Our gut is often our best tool to navigate personal and professional relationships. Consider a situation where something seems ‘off’ about your selection panel at interview. Maybe the company values do not align with your own, or perhaps you have an off-putting sense that you may be discriminated against because of your gender or cultural background. You may dislike your new employer or feel that taking the job is not the most strategic career move.
Trust your instincts – if something makes you feel uneasy about a job you are under no obligation to accept it. Remember that simply because a job is highly competitive does not mean that you should blindly take it, especially when everything in you screams that it is the wrong decision.
- Know the right time to make a big career move
If you are in an unsatisfactory work situation, and things are not improving, your gut is often the first indicator. Pay attention to warning signs such as a constant heavy or nagging sensation, experiencing discomfort or anxiety, feeling ill-at-ease throughout the day, sensing a continuous sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach.
In this situation, going with your gut involves coming to terms with the fact that your work situation is unlikely to improve and using your analytical brain to decide on a change.
Bear in mind that listening to your gut takes time and practice, so be kind to yourself and don’t expect immediate results. Your intuition is not a voice that comes over a loudspeaker, but something much more subtle. It’s an inkling that reveals itself only when you quiet your mind. It makes you want to go in one direction over another for reasons that you may not be able to fully articulate.
While legal reasoning and analytical thinking focus on breaking down complex problems into small digestible parts, intuition is about looking at the bigger picture. Making career decisions based on intuitive reasoning looks to patterns and your long-term career goals.
Your career is more than the sum of its parts, which is why it is important to consider and trust your instincts. Every day your intuition makes millions of rapid assessments that tell you whether something is right or wrong – it will let you know which direction your career should be taking you.
Relying on your inner voice is a skill you can learn. It’s a habit you can cultivate in your personal and professional life. Cultivating your gut instinct can not only help you get, and keep, a job in today’s competitive market but also help you make healthier and more confident decisions about your life.
This post is proudly sponsored by Southern Cross University. For more information on jump starting your legal career in 2017, click here.