Research and Make a Decision

Time to Complete

5 minutes


After discoverers save careers and/or programs to their Profile, it’s time to research and learn about each one. Starting with comparing “alternatives,” Career Key Discovery (CKD) guides them through the four-step ACIP decision-making process. It helps them make a choice they won’t regret that leads to greater well-being over time.


  • Become familiar with CKD’s four-step ACIP decision-making process
  • Get tips for learning more about oneself, careers, and programs of study
  • Learn how to identify and consider positive and negative consequences for each option
  • Download a Decision Balance Sheet

Four-Step Decision-Making Process

According to a recent survey, 47% of people weren’t happy with their jobs, feeling like they don’t fit in with their work environment. Making a good, well thought-out decision about a career and the education program that leads to it is critical.

ACIP Decision-Making Process

Thanks to the brilliant work of Drs. Irving L. Janis, Leon Mann and others we know an effective, proven way to make decisions.  Corporate executives, medical professionals and many others use this four-step approach. We abbreviate it as ACIP:

  1. A for alternatives: Consider all one’s choices,
  2. C for consequences: Weigh the pros and cons of each choice,
  3. I for information: Search for new information about each choice, and
  4. P for plans: Make detailed plans for carrying out the decision; and plan what to do if any negative consequences occur.

Career Key Discovery (CKD) links discoverers to this process in their Career/Program Profile. It includes access to a Decision Balance Sheet that guides them through evaluating each alternative.

Let’s take a look at each step in more detail except Plans, which we cover in the next, final Discovery step.

Gather Alternatives

When making an important decision, one should look at all the choices. Discoverers can ask, “Are there any other ways I can solve this problem? Ways that I haven’t thought of?” We recommend several ways to get ideas:

Freely explore all the options

Discoverers want to consider related and unfamiliar options.  CKD makes this easy. Groups of careers and programs help open up discoverers’ eyes to new options alongside the familiar ones that match their personality.  We encourage discoverers to return again and again to these lists of matching options to continue their discovery.

There is also link for each option to learn more about it.

Seek advice from others

While friends and family are definitely resources, discoverers should seek out others who are knowledgeable about a career field, like teachers, professors, and people working in it.

When conducting an informational interview, it’s smart to ask, “what other jobs are similar to yours?” or “what other kinds of jobs can you do with a program in _____.”

Learn more about oneself through self-reflection and activities

Knowing one’s unique qualities is not easy.  But the clearer picture a discoverer has, the more likely they will choose a satisfying career and program.  Discoverers can do this in several ways,

  • Identify motivated skills, ones they most enjoy using and feel they are good at. Learn more
  • Examine how they use their leisure time like hobbies and community activities. How do they express their abilities, interests and values in those activities?
  • Try new activities when they feel like they haven’t found the right fit yet, taking a few risks by meeting new people and trying out a new skill.
  • Learn about introversion and extroversion and how that relates to their personality.

Explore Consequences

Once discoverers have narrowed alternatives down to those that seem best, they weigh the pros and cons of each.  With the help of a Decision Balance Sheet, there are four types of consequences they consider:

  1. Gains and losses to themselves.
  2. Gains and losses to significant others, like parents, spouse, family members, close friends, or groups they value that are social, political or religious.
  3. Whether they would approve or disapprove of themselves if they made that choice.
  4. Whether important people (see #2 above) in their lives would approve or disapprove of their choice.

Thinking of all the possible negative and positive consequences helps discoverers reflect on their choices in a comprehensive, effective way. The following are just a few examples of potential consequences in a career choice.

Career choice consequences

Potential gains and losses for oneself or significant others

  • Flexible schedule for family, personal life
  • Income
  • Job stress
  • Work hazards
  • Benefits (medical, dental, disability)
  • Do things one values
  • Social status and prestige
  • Job security
  • Geographic location

Potential sources of approval or disapproval from oneself or significant others

  • Contribution to society of good causes
  • How well one can meet the job’s demands
  • Compromising one’s principles
  • Work is “more than just a job”
  • Ability to meet financial goals
  • Ability to rise to a certain level of social status or material wealth
  • Opportunity to express one’s creativity
  • Accomplishing what one values
  • Education choice consequences

Career choice consequences greatly impact how a discoverer evaluates an education program choice.  Even for programs not tracked to a specific career, like English Literature or Liberal Arts, people view the consequences of choosing one through the lens of careers. The common question is, “what can I (or you) do with a program in ____?”

Program Choice Consequences

Potential gains and losses for oneself or significant others

  • Leads to a career with certain gains or losses (see career choice consequences above)
  • Academic rigor, impacting extracurricular opportunities and work
  • Class schedule, including length of time to complete
  • Cost to complete
  • Geographic location of where the program is offered
  • Availability of online learning
  • Classroom environment, including teaching methods

Potential sources of approval or disapproval from oneself or significant others

  • How well one can meet the program’s demands
  • Contribution to society and good causes
  • Learning what you value
  • What that program choice tells others about your social status and financial goals
  • What attitudes and behaviors are rewarded in the classroom
  • Opportunity to express one’s creativity
  • Decision Balance Sheet

Here is an example of Career Key author Dr. Jones’s Decision Balance Sheet for when he graduated from college in the 1960s and was deciding whether to take a teaching job in Turkey.  Download a blank one now. If you’d like to learn more about how Dr. Jones’s job in Turkey worked out, you might be interested in reading his personal story.

Choice: Teach in Turkey after graduation

Potential gains to self

  • Live another country and culture, Exciting! Eat different foods, learn another language
  • Be able to travel
  • Get experience teaching, to help me decide whether this is the career for me
  • Meet beautiful Turkish girls

Potential gains to significant others

  • My students will learn skills and knowledge
  • Maybe they will better themselves and their country

Potential losses to self

  • Be away from friends, have trouble adjusting, may be lonely
  • Not make much money, cannot pay off my student loans

Potential losses to significant others

  • Family and friends will miss me

Potential approval by self

  • Helping others, help raise standard of living in a developing country
  • I will help make this a better world
  • I can share with others the advantages I’ve had as an American citizen

Potential approval by significant others

  • Parents will be proud of me
  • My minister will be pleased
  • My Turkish friends will be pleased

Potential disapproval by self

  • Will not be able to pay off student loans as soon as I said I would

Potential disapproval by significant others

  • I won’t meet the Turkish school’s expectations, or share people’s religious views
  • Friends may think I’m stupid, just a naïve do-gooder, that I should think about my financial future.

Seek Out Information

In the third step of the ACIP decision-making process, discoverers actively seek out more information about their top choices.  Just when people feel like they’ve got all the information they need to decide, it’s important to take a step back and do some critical thinking.

  • Have I considered all the viable options?
  • Have I looked for information that contradicts my beliefs and existing research about my choices?

So much information is available online that it’s easy to avoid talking with people in person and doing informational interviews. Some people are so accustomed to online interactions that in-person communication with someone they don’t know is especially uncomfortable. But this kind of research is critical to obtain the most accurate, diverse information possible.

Online career information is by its nature out of date (by at least two years if it’s government data), constantly changing and generalized.  So if you live in the Toronto, Ontario area and considering nursing as a profession, it is impossible to rely solely on online information to learn about what it is really like to work as a nurse there. Informational interviews help shed light on more hidden, important information such as how nursing jobs differ by medical specialty and working conditions like physical/mental hazards. And almost as important, those contacts made with informational interviews can turn into future resources for finding a job.

Decisions are only as good as the information one relies upon, and with so much at stake it’s worth a second, last look at it.

Once discoverers have decided on the best of their choices, it’s time to plan how to put it into action.

Next Step: Prepare and Plan