Decision Making Skills

Decision making is a core skill that every employee will need to use at some stage in their career.

To prove you are good at decision making, you will need to make the best possible choice in the shortest time possible, as well as being able to show reasons that support your decisions. Generally the more senior the role, the more difficult these decisions become.

Many employees are forced to make complex decisions routinely as part of their job description; sometimes these decisions have to be made under intense pressure.

Therefore employers need to know that the people they recruit can take the initiative when required and make good decisions in important situations.

In certain positions (eg management), decision making is a fundamental aspect of the role. Consequently employers need to measure the capability of an individual to make informed decisions.

Skills tests and activities through an interview or assessment centre are a great way to achieve this. Of course, decision making is not just confined to a managerial role; it relates to almost every job at every level. Good decisions are a crucial element of day-to-day business.

Making complex decisions, under pressure, is a key skill in many jobs.

Why do Employers Value Decision Making Skills?

Employers tend to value decision making because it is a skill that is required in many different situations across many business areas – from everyday tasks through to more complex projects or unforeseen situations.

The more important decision making is as a skill for the job you have applied for, the more emphasis it will be given by the employer during the application process.

The technique that employers use to assess decision making skills will vary depending on the activities and tests that they provide, but the majority of them will be time-based, and candidates will be expected to explain the reasoning they used to reach their decision.

The Decision Making Process

When decisions have to be made, there are several stages that you should go through to reach a practical solution:

Step 1: Identifying the problem, opportunity or challenge.

Step 2: Developing a set of potential responses or viable solutions.

Step 3: Evaluating the benefits and any associated costs with the implementation of each solution.

Step 4: Selecting the most suitable solution or response to address the issue.

Step 5: The implementation stage.

Step 6: Reviewing the impact of the decision and amending the course of action as required.

The above steps don’t work for every decision, but this is nevertheless a useful framework when it comes to making tough operational decisions. If a decision has to be made quickly, you probably won’t have the luxury of running through each of these steps.

Typical Decision-Making Questions

During the selection process, employers will want to assess a candidate’s decision-making skill by asking a number of specific questions to determine their level of expertise. Typical decision making questions could include:

  • Describe the most difficult decision that you had to make and why was it so difficult.
  • Provide a situation when a decision you made affected others.
  • How do you come to conclusions?
  • Provide an example of a bad decision that you made and explain what made it a poor decision.
  • Do you find making decisions difficult?

Candidates should answer these and similar questions using the STAR technique, examining the situation, task, action and result.

Make sure that the situation that you provide is both relevant and professional for the role that you are applying for. Ensure that your answers are short, succinct and to the point. It may seem tempting to drag on with your answers, but it will only bore an interviewer and potentially cost you the position.

The leadership style and the organisational culture will determine the specific process required for decision making in a particular business.

Some organisations may adopt a consensus approach, while others will rely on management decisions. The majority of businesses will combine centralised and census-based styles, and the way in which an employee participates will be based on the organisational structure.

As you go through the usual preparatory work for your interview, it is important that you carefully review the job description and thoroughly research the business so you understand how your decision making skills will fit in with the wider business. That way you can emphasise your skills more effectively both on your CV and during the interview.

Types of Decision Making

Generally speaking, there are three ways in which you can make a decision:

Intuition

This is used to describe when you have a ‘gut feeling’ about something.

This type of decision making is handy when you have to make a decision quickly, or you have a considerable amount of experience that enables you to make a snap judgment of the situation.

Logic

In comparison to intuition, logic requires the person to come to an informed choice based on all the facts presented to them.

Before making a decision, that person will have been presented with large amounts of information surrounding it, and it will be their job to decide which is the most suitable decision based on all of the disadvantages and advantages of the options that they have available to them.

The ability to use logical reasoning is especially useful within certain types of employment, such as the legal sector and consulting.

Cognitive Bias

Inherent bias can both disrupt and distort the decision-making process. The most common cognitive biases include confirmation, anchoring, the halo effect and over-confidence:

  • Confirmation is when a decision maker will seek out evidence that confirms their previously held belief, while discounting any evidence in support of other conclusions.
  • Anchoring is over-reliance on a single piece of evidence or experience to reach certain judgements.
  • The halo effect is an overall impression of a company, individual, brand or product which has a direct impact on an individual’s feelings and thoughts.
  • Over-confidence occurs when someone overestimates how reliable their judgements are.

Which Factors Can Lead to Poor Decision Making?

There are a number of factors that can negatively impact decision making, including:

  • Inadequate information. If you do not have sufficient information, decisions can be made without considering all of the facts. Take time to collect the necessary data even if you have a particularly short timescale.
  • Information overload. Too much information than you know how to handle can also prove detrimental to the decision-making process. This can be overcome by a department or team coming together and deciding what information is the most important and the reasons for this.
  • Too many people. Reaching a decision by committee can be difficult, as everyone has their own views and values. Although it is important to take these into consideration, it’s usually best to designate someone to make a decision.
  • Vested interest. If any of the decision makers has an incentive to reach one particular result, a fair decision-making process could be compromised.
  • Resistance to change. People are often attached to a business - particularly those in the management team – and for some the prospect of change can be difficult.
  • No attachment. On the other hand, some decisions cannot be made because the decision maker doesn’t mind one way or the other. In this instance, a structured decision-making process can be beneficial.

This framework for the decision-making process can help:

  • Break up more complex decisions into easier-to-manage steps;
  • Identify how decisions are made;
  • Effectively plan decision making.

Decision Making Tests at an Assessment Centre

As well as within an interview, you will often be required to make tough decisions during an assessment centre if you are invited to take part in one. This will range from deciding what information to put within a presentation to deciding what role to play within a group exercie.

One difference with interviews is that decision-making within an assessment centre will typically be more leadership focused. As long as you can make such decisions within a short time-span and give reasons why you made them, you should do well.

Apart from within group exercises, you will also be tested indirectly on your decision-making skills within any aptitude tests that you may be required to take as part of an assessment centre.

Tests such as verbal reasoning will require you to make informed choices based on extracts of information, and so you will need to have a good sense of logic to be successful in them.

Finally, while you can use certain techniques to improve your decision-making as a general competency, the best way to demonstrate it within a professional environment is by either attending mock interviews and assessment centres at your university, or asking family and friends to help you practice.

Examples of Workplace Scenarios That Require Decision Making

Within the workplace there are many instances where decision-making skills will need to be applied. Even if you do not occupy a management or supervisory role, decisions will need to be made as a matter of course by any professional.

The scenarios below are examples that may arise:

  • Recognising that there is a problem with the production process and identifying a faulty machine which is causing the issue
  • Creating concepts during a brainstorming session for the launch of a new product
  • Understanding the impact of increasing store opening hours following a staff survey
  • Selecting the best firm to lead a marketing campaign through the completion of a detailed analysis of competing proposals
  • Identifying ways to save costs reviewing multiple business areas

Further Reading

You may also want to check out these other articles on WikiJob: