How To Define Your Values To Get A Better Job

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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 also know people who refuse to acknowledge birthdays at all!

What drives the way you celebrate birthdays (or not) will depend on your values. And your values change over time. Depending on your age, you may have put more emphasis on birthday celebrations at differing periods of your life.

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 often a time to reflect and to 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 exercise, will help you

1. Understand the impact of values

2. Determine your work values

Simply put, values are things that you’re prepared to invest time and energy in. They act as a filter of your experience.

1. Understand the impact of values

For the most part, they’re unconscious. But unconscious doesn’t mean insignificant. Far from it. You might only become aware of a value when someone violates it! (For example, I hadn’t realised how important a clean environment was, until the driver in 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 ‘good’. Similarly, if you prefer to work independently, the same team activity might be evaluated as ‘not good.’

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 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 shut-eye. 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.

values drive behaviour

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

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.

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?

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 your values not being met may be the issue.

A typical values conflict

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 his core work values and what they meant to him.

Then came the all important question. Pointing at the 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. Determine your work values

I’d suggest working with a trusted friend 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 would be beneficial. Do the whole values elicitation process outlined below, then swap roles (maybe even on another day).

However, you could also record your answers on your smart phone, if you prefer, and then transcribe them afterwards.

Girl recording values on smart phone

Either way, here’s how to clarify values for yourself. You need time (up to 1.5-3 hours)–and space to think.

2a. Start with a few labels

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

Initially, you’re just looking for keywords to label your values. Words such as flexibility, teamwork, challenge, honesty, growth. To identify the labels, remember times and jobs in the past when you’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. Repeat the question a few times until you believe you have listed the labels for all your values. I suggest putting each value on a sticky note — you’ll understand why shortly.

2b. Create a hierarchy

Place your most important value at the top of your list. Then 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. Check that they look and feel as if they’re all in the right place.

2c. Identify and clarify the meaning

The keywords you’ve written down will have different meanings to other 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 deep and identify what those labels mean to you.

Look at each of the value labels and for each one write down or record 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? What do I see, hear and feel that lets me know I have this value?
3. Why is this value important to me? Repeat this question three times based on each previous answer. (See the example below).

Uncover one value at a time

Remember, values are mostly unconscious, so defining them will be a thought provoking process. Be prepared to put aside a few hours for the entire process. Remember, other people may have different meanings for each value label.

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 on a roll, 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.

When to check your values

  • Check your values if you’re considering changing your job or career. Knowing 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-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 can 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 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 unconscious but with time and thought you can bring them to conscious awareness.
  • 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 Raglan Radio.

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

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