A few years ago, a protégé who I had worked with for several years while at my first company became a milewalk candidate. He had been with his current employer (my former employer) for approximately ten years or so. He had approached me because he felt it might be time for a change. I was happy to help.

A Lesson on Deciding Whether to Accept the Job OfferWe started discussing his current situation, opportunities for improvement, needs, and so on. I knew him well and had worked with him for several years, so we were able to build quite an accurate list of his requirements. There were several of them—which is important, because the more criteria you can define, the more certain you can be whether something fits for you. Matching nineteen of your twenty criteria often proves a better match than three for three.

One of my clients had a fabulous opportunity that matched his entire list of needs and wants—a smaller, more entrepreneurial company, chance to make a great impact, professional growth into a more senior position, chance to build a team, global experience, more pay, less travel, and so forth. Since it matched his interests and he was well qualified from a skills perspective, it was an easy decision to engage him in their recruiting process.

He managed to complete the process, and they extended him an offer, which he formally accepted. He resigned from his current employer. Everything looked normal for the transition to the new company. Then he started to get cold feet. His employer prepared a counteroffer, which from an economical and professional standpoint did not approach my client’s opportunity. You can imagine where this is going. A few weeks later, my client sent him a formal letter rescinding the offer because we couldn’t reach him for a live discussion.

What’s the moral of the story? From an outsider’s point of view, the logical choice was to accept the new position. Logic, however, plays almost no part in changing jobs. No matter what form of logical reasoning you use, changing jobs is as emotional as getting married or buying your first house. People simply cannot reason themselves into a new job. They need to “feel” themselves into a new job. As I mentioned earlier, people would rather live with unhappiness than uncertainty. Apparently, for some reason, the right feel helps trump uncertainty.

Before we discuss how to channel the emotional aspect to work in your favor, let’s discuss what is actually at issue here. First, there is nothing wrong with having emotions. Emotions are what often make us act, drive us, and lift us to new heights. The problem arises only when your emotions become uncontrollable, misguided, or unfounded and create fear or other manufactured falsities. Instead of letting your emotions run amuck, focus on your intuition. In my opinion, along with your self-awareness, intuition is your greatest asset to succeed throughout your career. This also reminds me of one of the many great quotes by Albert Einstein: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

Let’s toss “luck” in there while we’re at it. I have read a number of articles and books related to luck. I always have wondered what makes lucky people lucky. Most of the material highlights common characteristics of lucky people. Of course, let’s remove the underlying theme that if you think you’re lucky, you are, and much of this has to do with your outlook on life. Positive-oriented people simply look on the bright side (e.g., I was in a car crash and walked out without scratch—whew, that was lucky). Beyond that, these people often share three common traits. First, they never give up. Second, they mix it up to maximize chance opportunities. Third, and in my opinion, most importantly, they listen to their intuition and act quickly (not rashly). The simple fact is that your intuition has been formed through your life experience. It also serves as your “brain mechanism” to synthesize your decisions. Synthesizing allows you to look at the issue or decision as a whole. Analyzing, by contrast, causes you to look at the parts and break up the problem (not in a good way) and often causes a much more delayed response. There are certainly times when prudent analysis is called for. Changing jobs, however, requires careful synthesis, an intuition check, and a decisive response.

Before and during your interviewing process, you can improve your self-awareness and shape your intuition by reviewing your needs assessment. If you prepared those guidelines for yourself in advance, you are now better positioned to make a sound choice when the employer extends the job offer. If you did not, you risk rationalizing the most critical pieces of information required to make a good decision. If you have not done so yet, I would encourage you to perform the following activities when you receive your employment offer:

  • Evaluate your current situation according to the guidelines highlighted earlier.
  • Reflect on your key decision points throughout your career (job transitions, etc.).
  • Reexamine and update your needs, which confirms your requirements.
  • Match the job’s offerings to your needs.
  • Review your timing considerations.
  • Weigh the offered compensation against your current actual (not your perceived) market value.
  • Talk with your spouse (if applicable).

Notice, I did not include: speak with mentors, confidants, or other trusted advisors. I’m sure most of you will ignore that advice, but I classify seeking counsel of this nature as analyzing as opposed to synthesizing your decision. Here’s why. You have just spent several days, weeks, or months interviewing with an organization. You have supplemented that dialogue with research you’ve performed. While I’m not exactly sure how much of your time this consumed, I’m fairly certain it will be substantially more than the few minutes you’ll spend relaying the situation to a friend or coworker. Your storytelling to them will likely be somewhat tainted (unintentionally) by your biases toward the confirmation you seek. Throwing in the fact that they likely do not know the employer or your complete list of needs leaves you with additional insight you can do without. Trust yourself more than you trust anyone else. It’ll serve you better. If nothing else, it’s easier to live with your own “mistakes” than someone else’s. Chances are, if you did your homework, you’ll make the right choice either way.