How to Use a Decision-Making Matrix

A decision-making matrix is a great tool to compare alternative paths using criteria that are most important to you. This decision-making method is credited to Benjamin Franklin, who called it “Moral or Prudential Algebra” in personal letters in 1772. I adapted his method to decision-making about career paths or job options.

Benjamin Franklin Decision-Making

For this tool to be useful, the following conditions must be true:

– You have already engaged in sufficient career exploration that you know what factors are important to you in a career or job.

– You have narrowed your options to a small number of possible choices.

If you are at an earlier stage of career development so that you do not yet know what you want, it would be better to postpone using this tool until you have gained more clarity. This tool is better designed for late stage decision-making.

For example, here is a blank copy of a decision-making matrix.

Here are instructions to use this method:

1. First, decide what you want in your next career path. For illustration, I’ll use the example, of Mary, an elementary school science teacher who is considering going back to school to pursue a health care career.

Mary knows that she wants these factors in her career:

– She wants to work in the health care field.

– She desires to earn $75K/year if she works full-time.

– She would like a high status job. She compares all health care jobs against what she perceives as the most prestigious role in a hospital: physician. (Note how subjective this factor is…that happens sometimes with decision-making but since Mary is trying to optimize her happiness, it is OK that we are using Mary’s subjective rating about how much status a profession has.)

– Because she has limited savings and she is concerned about student loans, she does not want to be training for more than five years.

– She wants to be fairly confident that when she completes training, she will be able to land a job, so she wants there to be high demand for the career she chooses.

– She wants the flexibility of working part-time if she decides to do so.

(For examples of the types of things that people value in their careers, here is a checklist of work values.)

Mary lists what she wants in a career as FACTORS in Column 1, starting with Row 3.

Decision-Making Matrix 1

2. Next, Mary must decide how important each of these factors are to her. For the tool to work well, she should choose a range of importance ranging from 1 to 10.

Mary decides that working in health care is the most important thing to her, so she assigns that Factor a 10 in importance. She enters 10 in Row 3, Column 2.

Decision-Making Matrix 2

Mary completes Column 2 with different ratings of importance for each Factor, all the way down to 5 for “Could work part-time.” Notice that Mary assigns the highest level of importance, 10, to more than one factor, as she realizes that if she is going to invest in training, she wants to ensure that she will be able to get a job afterward, so “Easy to get a job” is assigned a 10.

Decision-Making Matrix 3

3. Mary then chooses several careers to compare. From her prior career exploration, Mary is considering these careers: Physician Assistant (PA), Registered Nurse (RN), and Physician (MD). She enters these career options in Row 1 with the labels, OPTION #1, OPTION #2, AND OPTION #3. 

Decision-Making Matrix 4

4. Next, Mary evaluates how well each career option scores on the factors that matter to her. Each option will be rated on each factor from a low of -5 to neutral of 0 to a high of 5. 

The first career she is considering, Physician Assistant, is in the health care field, so she scores it a 5 (the highest score possible). Mary then multiples the rating 5 by the importance 10 to get a weighted score of 50 for Physician Assistant for being in the health care field (Row 3, Columns 3 and 4).

Decision-Making Matrix 5

Mary then uses the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to learn that the median pay for Physician Assistants is $90,930 per year, well over her $75,000 target, so she scores the career a 5 on “Income $75K+/year.”

Whether a career is high status or not is very subjective, but Mary thinks that being a Physician Assistant is less prestigious than being a Physician but still good, so she scores it a 2.

Mary researches to find out that Physician Assistant training requires a master’s degree. Since this can be completed in fewer than five years, Mary assigns “Training shorter than 5 years” a 5.

The OOH says that demand for Physician Assistants is “Much faster than average” so she scores Physician Assistant a 5 “Easy to get a job.”

Finally, Mary finds that most Physician Assistants work full-time, so she scores the profession a -2 on “Could work part-time.”

Next Mary multiples each Option #1 rating by the importance assigned to it, and then she sums all the Option #1 scores to get a total score of 186 for Physician Assistant.

50 + 45 + 16 + 35 + 50 – 10 = 186.

Decision-Making Matrix 6

5. Mary does research online and/or talks to people who work in nursing to assign ratings to Registered Nurse.

Decision-Making Matrix 7

Mary calculates a Total Score of 90 for the Registered Nurse option.

6. Completing the matrix, Mary calculates a Total Score of 95 for the Physician option.

Decision-Making Matrix 8

7. Based on the results of the matrix, Mary decides to prioritize exploring what it would take for her to become a Physician Assistant.

8. As a reality check, Mary should also calculate the score for her current career to ensure that leaving it would result in a net gain.

If you try out the matrix, notice if you start playing with the numbers trying to make a specific career path “win.” That’s a clue that your heart wants to follow that path.

Have you ever used a decision-making matrix? Was it helpful to you? Please share this page with your friends and/or comment below.

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