Apples to oranges

Kathryn Crawford Saxer Career Management

Deciding between two job offers, each with lots of pros and cons, can be like comparing apples to oranges.

Try plotting the different factors on a grid to help simplify the decision. Here’s an example that illustrates how to do this.

A coaching client had a tough choice: two very, very different job offers and no gut sense of which one she wanted.

One of the opportunities was at a large, renowned company. “It’d be a feather in my cap to land there,” said my client, a senior-level executive.

The other opportunity was an early-stage startup in a tangential field. “They couldn’t really pay me much, but it’d be such fun,” she said.

An orthogonal choice, a different client once taught me. Lots of variables and competing priorities. “I’m going crazy trying to figure this out,” she said.

1. List your values. I listened to my client as she described what she was looking for in her next role. I listened for what was important to her — what she values.

I wrote down phrases like “intellectual satisfaction” and “peeps” (i.e., like-minded people who are fun to work with). Money, manageable stress, prestige, support, cool factor, reputable professionals and career development all joined the list.

2. Plot your values. “OK, now we start plotting these against each other,” I told her. I drew a horizontal line in my notes and labeled it “prestige.” I drew an intersecting vertical line and labeled it “peeps.”

“We’re interested in the upper right quadrant,” I explained. “Let’s see how this plays out.”

I asked her what number from 1 to 10 she would give the large company in terms of prestige. She thought maybe a 9.

“And what number would you give that opportunity in terms of peeps?” I asked.

“Oh, maybe a 2,” she said ruefully.

I plotted the point in the lower right quadrant and labeled it. We did the same for the startup. She gave it a 7 for prestige and a 10 for peeps, square in the upper right quadrant.

I drew a new grid, labeling the x axis “reputable colleagues” and the y axis “career development.” We plotted both opportunities: they landed close together in the upper right quadrant.

3. Identify an upper-right-quadrant winner. We paired up values and plotted them over and over, in different combinations, and a pattern started to emerge: The startup opportunity consistently landed in the upper right quadrant, with the vital exception of compensation. The big company opportunity wandered between quadrants.

It’s still not an easy decision for her, but at least she’s now primarily considering a single variable: money.

“I’m going to sleep on this,” my client said. “Maybe the startup can sweeten the offer. At least I’m not going crazy trying to weigh and balance all these factors anymore.”

First published in The Seattle Times. Read my archive of Seattle Times Explore columns.