Define Your Values To Get A Better Job

1 Dec 2008

Define Your Values To Get A Better Job

When is your birthday?

Do you value and celebrate it? For many, birthdays are a family time. For others it’s a time to share with friends. For some folks it’s just another day. Other people refuse to acknowledge birthdays at all!

What drives the way you think about birthdays will depend on your values.

What do birthdays have to do with getting a better job?

Well it’s not just how you celebrate birthdays that is dependent on values. Values are encompassed in every aspect of your life and influence every major – and sometimes minor – decision. Birthdays are often a time to reflect and to consider plans for the forthcoming year, including the possibility of changing your work role. If you’re thinking of changing, you’ll want to make sure that any future role will fit you like a glove and that you’ll be happy doing it.

This article, including a simple exercise, will help you do just that.

So what are values?

Your values act as a filter of your experience. For the most part, they’re unconscious. But unconscious doesn’t mean insignificant. Far from it. Values determine how you ‘e-valu-ate’ your experience. So if ‘teamwork’ is a value, for example, you’re likely to evaluate any positive team activity as being ‘good’. Similarly, if you prefer to work independently, the same team activity might be evaluated as ‘not good.’

Why are values important?

Values motivate you. If you’re working in a role where your values are being met, you’ll leap out of bed in the morning feeling inspired and ready to trip the light fantastic. (Well most days anyway!) If your main values are not being met, you’ll want to turn over and get some more sleep. Probably the only thing you’ll feel motivated about will be looking for a new job or career.

Values drive your behaviour

You behave in accordance with your values. Again, if you work well with other people and enjoy supporting them to achieve team goals, it would be fairly easy to ascertain, from your behaviour, that teamwork was one of your values.

Values influence your decisions

Your values influence the decisions you make. Let’s use the ‘teamwork’ example again. If you’re a team player and see a job advertised where teamwork is one of the key ingredients, you will be attracted to it. Provided the work encompasses your other values, you’ll probably apply for the role. If teamwork isn’t a value, and you prefer to work independently, then you won’t apply.

How many values do you have?

Most people tend to have six to eight core work values in a hierarchy.

If you’re not happy at work, does that mean that values are the issue?

Your values are mainly unconscious so they might not be the first thing you think about if you’re unhappy in your work. A key that values might be an issue is not quite being able to put your finger on what’s wrong:

This client is typical of someone with a values conflict

He’d had three jobs in the space of about 12 months. The problem wasn’t with the work itself because he’d enjoyed the work in all three jobs. He was using the skills he had, and he liked all the physical environments he’d worked in. Yet he hadn’t enjoyed any of the jobs and was miserable and unmotivated, thinking that there was something wrong with him.

There was a values conflict

After a few minutes of careful listening, I suspected a values conflict between him and the senior executives at his company. Together we determined his core work values and what they meant to him. Then came the all important question. Pointing at the list I’d elicited I asked,

“How many of these values do you have in your current work?” Out of the values listed he had only the bottom two in a hierarchy of eight. No wonder he was miserable and unmotivated.

If they’re unconscious how do I identify them?

It’s useful if you have someone to take you through a values identification process to reach the core of your work values and what they actually mean to you. But here are some things you can do to clarify values for yourself. You need time (up to 2 hours) – and space to think.

Label them as the first step

Having a list of labels for your values is the first step. Simple one word labels such as flexibility, teamwork, challenge etc are a good start. To identify the labels simply think about times and jobs in the past when you’ve felt motivated. What was particularly important about those experiences? Make a note of the key words that come to mind. These will be the labels for your values.

Put them in order

Put what you consider to be the most important value at the top of your list. Then organise the others into a hierarchy. Generally, the lower values will contribute towards and support the higher values.

Value words have different meanings

The key words you’ve written down will have different meanings to different people. For instance, ‘flexibility’ for an employer might mean starting a half an hour later or earlier than normal. But ‘flexibility’ to you might mean being able to come and go as you please provided the works get done in the agreed timeframe. That’s a significant difference! Yet you’ve both used the same word. (You might be starting to get an inkling of how value conflicts can occur!) So the next step is to identify what your key value words mean to you.

Identify what’s underneath all of the value labels

Here’s how:
Look at each of the value labels and write down your answers to these questions:
1. What does this value mean to me?
2. What kind of experiences let me know me I have this value?
3. Why is this value important to me?

Do one value at a time.

Remember, they’re largely unconscious so it’s usually a very thought provoking process. Be prepared to put aside a few hours for the entire process. Do it on your own. Remember other people will have different meanings for each value label.

Here’s an illustration of the process using the previous ‘flexibility’ value:
  1. It means: I can do things on my own schedule as long as I meet time frames.
  2. Experiences that let me know I’ve got it: when I can go into work late or leave early for an appointment without being questioned. When I’m trusted to manage my time and to achieve mutually agreed deadlines. I see other people having the same flexibility and I feel comfortable.
  3. It’s important because: I like to feel in control of my own life. I don’t want anyone else to rule my life. It gives me freedom.
When to check your values
  • Check your values if you’re thinking of changing your job or career. Consciously knowing what’s important to you means you’ll have more control over change and can determine what work will suit you best. It avoids the hit and miss factor often associated with changing jobs.
  • As values can change over time it’s useful to check them every 18 months – 2 years.
  • Revisit them if you’re unhappy in your work and don’t really understand why.
  • When preparing your CV, incorporate your values into your personal statement so future employers know how to help you stay motivated.
  • If you’re coaching someone who is unhappy or is trying to figure out what to do, you can take them through a values elicitation process.
  • If you’re an employer, knowing someone’s values before they start will give you insights into:

* How to motivate him/her.
* Whether his/her values fit with yours and with those of the organisation.
* The kind of behaviour to expect from him/her.

Do take some time out around the month of your birthday to reflect on what’s important in your working life. Because when you get a match between your values and your job, every day will feel like your birthday.

  • Values act as a filter of your experience.
  • They’re largely unconscious but with time and thought you can bring them to conscious awareness.
  • They motivate you and drive your behaviour.
  • They influence your decision making.
  • The words you use to label your values may have different meanings to others.
  • Check your values before changing jobs.
Want to Learn more about values?