By Emma Sadowski (’14), Analyst at the Association of International Certified Personal Accountants (AICPA) in Raleigh, NC

Ever make a pro/con list and end up just staring at the page, not any closer to a decision than before you started? It happens to me all the time.  Sometimes a visual illustration can make a world of difference. You need a heat map.

Heat map chart. Horizontal row categories are: benefits, location, work/life balance, culture fit, skills fit, impact on career progression, and compensation. Vertical row are job offer 1, job offer 2, job offer 3.

How to use it

Let’s say, for example, you have 3 job offers because you’re a smart, well-qualified Wake Forest graduate, and they all sound like pretty good options.

  • Step 1: Identify the criteria important to making your decision. In this example, they might be things like office location, compensation, culture fit, impact on career progression etc.
  • Step 2: Write your criteria on the left and your job possibilities on the bottom
  • Step 3: Color code your options against each criterion. Use a darker color to indicate a more favorable evaluation and lighter colors for less favorable. You’ll likely have to use your gut for this. Trust it.
    • In the example, Job 1 has been coded very light red for Culture Fit because it is a telecommuting role which is not your ideal work environment. Job 2 is dark red because the culture seems to value openness, diversity and continuous learning which align very well with your values. Job 3 is medium red because the people in the office seem nice enough, but it doesn’t seem to be a very collaborative, active workplace.
  • Step 4: Evaluate the output of the heat map. Is there one choice that’s “hotter” that the others overall? Against your most important criteria? Do you need to add additional criteria to flesh out the options more? Ideally, one option will standout over the others.
    • Job Offer 2 stands out in the example. Overall, there is more dark red in this column. It is not a standout in work/life balance, but perhaps you are willing to give that up for A+ compensation, a great culture fit and perfect location.

Adulting is hard. We are faced with making important decisions every day. It’s not easy and can often feel risky. Eliminate some of the risk by using tools like this to make the most informed choice and trust yourself.