How To Define Your Values To Get A Better Job


How do you celebrate your birthday?

Yeah, I know it’s a strange question. For many, birthday festivities are a family time. For others, birthdays are made for partying with friends. Some treat the date as just another day. And you probably know people who simply refuse to acknowledge birthdays at all!

What drives the way you celebrate birthdays (or not) will depend on your values.

Depending on your age, you may have put more emphasis on birthday celebrations at differing periods of your life. Birthdays might be extremely important for a five-year-old, but not so relevant as a fifty-five year old. And just as your birthday values change over time, so do your other values.

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

Values are encompassed in every aspect of your life and influence every major — and often minor — decision. Birthdays are a good time to reflect and consider plans for the forthcoming year, including the possibility of changing your work role. If you’re contemplating a new job or career, you’ll want to make sure that any future role will fit you like a glove, and that you’ll be happy in it.

This post, including a simple values exercise, will help you:

1. Understand the impact of values

2. Determine your work values

Simply put, you’ll invest time and energy to pursue whatever you value. They act as a filter of your experience.

1. Understand the impact of values

Most people are unaware of their values —they’re usually below the level of consciousness. But unconscious doesn’t mean insignificant. Far from it, because they guide your behaviour, and thus, how you’re perceived in the world. You might only become aware of a value when someone violates it! (For example, I hadn’t realised how vital a clean environment was to me until, many years ago, the driver of the car in front of me threw rubbish out of the window onto the road. I was incensed!)

Values determine how you ‘e-valu-ate’ your experiences

So if ‘teamwork’ is important to you at work, you’re likely to evaluate any positive team activity as being ‘positive’. Similarly, if you prefer to work independently, the same team activity might be evaluated as ‘negative.’

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 pull the blankets over your head. Probably the only thing you’ll be motivated about is 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 easy to discern, from your behaviour, that teamwork was one of your values. Whereas, if you sit in a corner and sulk every time there’s a team meeting, no matter how loudly you scream that team work is important, no one is going to believe you!

values drive behaviour

If you behave contrary to your values, you’ll feel guilty because you’ve compromised your integrity.

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 spot a job advertised where teamwork is one of the key ingredients, you will be attracted to it. Provided the work encompasses your other values, and you have the required skill set, chances are you’ll apply for the role. If teamwork isn’t a value, and you prefer to work independently, or autonomously, then you won’t apply.

How many values should you have?

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

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

Remember, your values are mostly unconscious, so they might not be the first thing that crosses your mind if you’re unhappy in your work. You’re more likely to examine other aspects of work which are more obvious, for example:

  • Your work environment (the physical place you work and the people you work with. This might also include travel times, levels of comfort such as adequate lighting and heating).
  • How well you’re able to perform your role (for example, whether you’re struggling or can do it so easily it’s lost all its challenge).
  • Your skill set or competency. (Are you continuing to learn and grow or have you stagnated?).

If your work environment, job performance and competencies all seem OK, and you seem unable
to put your finger on what’s wrong, then it’s time to consider if your values are being met.

Here’s an example you might relate to:

My client had had three jobs in the space of about 14 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, believing something was wrong with him. After a few minutes of careful listening, I suspected a values conflict between him and the senior executives at his company. Together we determined the key words for his core work values and what they meant to him. He had eight in total.

Then — the all important values question

Pointing at his values list I’d elicited, I asked,

“How many of these values do you have in your current work?”

Out of eight values listed in order of importance, he had only the bottom two.

No wonder he was miserable and unmotivated!

If they’re unconscious, how do I identify them?

Great question! So this brings us to the second part of this post:

2. How to determine your work values

The information below will give you the process of how to draw out someone’s values. I’d suggest working with a trusted friend or colleague who also wants to define their values. It takes deep thought (and time) so having someone who will ask you the questions and write down your answers, while you do the thinking is very beneficial. Go through the whole values elicitation process outlined below. Once you’ve finished the whole thing, swap roles. Even though you’re likely to be sitting still, it can be a mentally tiring exercise. So you might want to schedule another session to get your partners’ values done.

Important Note: When you’re the one drawing out your partners’ values, your role is to:

  1. Ask the questions.
  2. Repeat the questions when appropriate.
  3. Write down their answers (neatly — they have to be able to read it when you’re not there!) Write down what they say — not what you think they said — or some abbreviation. Words are so important that if you change the words, you could change the meaning. You can ask your partner to slow down, or repeat what they said, if you’re struggling to keep up.
  4. Reflect back what your partner said. This enables you both to check for accuracy, and will often stimulate the flow of more information.
  5. Keep your mouth shut and let your partner think! Sorry to be so blunt, but it’s crucial that you allow the other person time to reflect and voice their answers, without being tempted to ‘contribute’ by putting words in their mouth. Remember, values are generally unconscious so…
  6. Be patient. Keep still and be present to your partner. Fidgeting while you’re waiting for them to answer the questions will interrupt the flow, and the sense of trust that is so important for this process to be successful.

No partner to work with?

You can try the process on your own by recording your answers on your smart phone, and then transcribe them afterwards.

Girl recording values on smart phone


Okay, whether you decide to involve a friend or colleague or do the process on your own, here’s the procedure for clarifying values.I’m going to assume you’ll do this with a partner, to make the method clearer.

You need:

  • Time: generally 1.5 – 3 hours per person.
  • A distraction-free environment so you can think.
  • Sticky notes.
  • Paper.
  • A writing implement (or you could use your computer once you’ve completed the sticky note phase).

2a. Start with a few labels

Having a list of labels for values is the first step. To achieve this initial list, ask your partner, “What’s important about your work/job/career?” (Use whichever word seems right for them).

Initially, you’re just looking for keywords to label their values. Words such as flexibility, teamwork, challenge, honesty, growth, responsibility etc. To identify the labels, ask them to remember times and jobs in the past when they’ve been highly motivated. What was particularly important about those experiences? Make a note of the keywords (values) that come to mind from this questioning, and write each one on a sticky note.

Repeat the question a few times until you have listed the labels for all their values.

2b. Create a hierarchy

Give the paper with the sticky notes to your partner and ask them to put them in order with their most important value at the top of the list. Then they’ll organise the others into a hierarchy underneath. If you’ve used sticky notes for this, the process is a piece of cake.

Generally, the lower values will contribute towards and support the higher values. Ask them to check that they look and feel as if they’re all in the right place.

2c. Identify and clarify the meaning

The keywords on the sticky notes will have different meanings to different people. For instance, ‘flexibility’ for an employer might mean starting 30 minutes 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 word flexibility. (You might be starting to get an inkling of how value conflicts can occur!)

What does flexibility mean- 2 images of flexibility

Here’s how to dig deeper and identify what those labels mean

Remind your partner of the top value word and then write down their answers to these questions:
1. What does this value mean to you?
2. What kind of experiences let you know you have this value? What do you see, hear and feel that lets you know you have this value?
3. Why is this value important to you? Repeat this question three times based on each previous answer. (See the example below).

Remember, values are mostly outside of awareness, so defining them will be a thought provoking process.

Here’s an illustration of the clarification process using the previous ‘flexibility’ value:

  1. It means I can do things on my own schedule as long as I meet time frames or deadlines.
  2. Experiences that let me know I’ve got it: I can go into work late or leave early for an appointment without being questioned. Sometimes I might work late at night when I’m in the flow, or when I want to have a long lunch with a friend. When I’m trusted to manage my time and to achieve mutually agreed deadlines. I see other people having the same flexibility. I hear people chatting with each other as we come and go at different times. I feel safe and secure, which means I do my best work.
  3. It’s important because:
    1. I like to feel in control of my own life.
    2. I don’t want anyone else to rule my life.
    3. It gives me freedom.

Uncover one value at a time. When you’ve finished with that value, move on to the next.

Something to look out for

The person you’re working with might have 20 label words on sticky notes! Don’t freak out!. Sometimes when your partner is putting their sticky notes into some semblance or order, they’ll realise they’ve used more than one label word to describe the same value. Or, once you start to dig deeper you’ll often find the same thing, so you can combine them and maybe give them a new label.

When to check your values and how to use them

  • Check your values if you’re considering changing your job or career. Being fully aware of what’s important to you means you’ll have more control over change, and can determine what work will suit you best. You’ll avoid 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 to 2 years.
  • Revisit them if you’re unhappy in your work and can’t put your finger on why.
  • When preparing your CV, incorporate an overview of your values into your personal statement so future employers know what you stand for and can help you stay motivated in your work.
  • 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 them.
    • Whether their values fit with your team and with those of the organisation.
    • The kind of behaviour to expect from them.

Your birthday month is a great reminder

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 seem like your birthday — or at least a celebration of life!

Do what you love. Love what you do, text image

Important points relating to your values

  • Values act as a filter of your experience.
  • They’re generally outside of awareness, but with time and thought you can bring them to consciousness.
  • They motivate you and drive your behaviour.Real People Skills - eBook
  • They influence your decision making.
  • The words you used to label your values may have different meanings to others.
  • Check your values before changing jobs.

Learn more about values and how to use them intentionally to live a better life

Listen to this important podcast about values that I did with Aaron Mooar at Raglan Radio.

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Tags: Beliefs and values, Motivation and taking action, Podcasts and audio tips, Self-awareness, work and career


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