In my previous article, I talked about the importance of knowing how to find a career fit and the basic ingredients of VIPS. Here, I’ll be explaining the first Values component, and how to apply this to career planning and job search.

Why are values important?

Some of you might think that work and personal life are separate. You don’t believe in bringing your value systems to the workplace, nor allowing the work environment to influence you. At work, you do what your boss asks and don’t think about it when you get back to your life.

Results of a survey by PayScale

Although this is possible, it is unrealistic and difficult for most. One survey on why people leave their jobs shows that more than 50% of primary reasons have to do with values. How do I mean? If you think about it, good remuneration, full-time work (stability), advancement and flexibility are what these people valued. It’s not just ideals like “social justice”, “integrity”, “meaningful work” etc. In fact, if you probed those who were unhappy, I’m certain the reasons they give would be about values mismatch.

On the flip side, people are most productive and engaged when they find what they value in their job. This old Harvard Business Review article tells us that job satisfaction and work environment are 2 key factors why people stay. Both factors are rooted in and dependent on personal values. This is why it’s critically important to find a job that can provide what you value.

How to find my values?

This brings us to the next question: how do I find out what I value? There is no universally recognised list of work values, but most self-assessments will have roughly the same sets of values. Here are some tests to get you started:

  1. 123test – A series of statements describing the value, which you will rank in order of their importance to you.
  2. Barrett Values Centre – An online assessment where you select words/phrases of values and behaviours that describe who you are. The report is sent to your email.
  3. O*Net Work Value Cards – Print this sheet of paper and cut out the cards. Next, sort the cards into 3 piles: Essential, Important and Not important.
  4. MySkillsFuture – If you’re a Singaporean, the national MySkillsFuture portal offers a free career values assessment from Kuder. After logging into your account, click Assessments > Kuder and scroll to the bottom right for the assessment.
  5. Knowdell’s Career Values – This is my personal favourite but is not free. It is a deck of 54 physical cards that you sort into 5 piles of: Always, Often, Sometimes, Seldom and Never Valued.
Using MySkillsFuture to access the Work Values assessment

When you take these assessments, you’ll notice that there’s always some trade-off. If everything is equally important, then nothing is truly important to you at all. Prioritising values helps you to know what really matters to you. This helps you make better decisions when faced with jobs/careers that do not match your values exactly.

What’s next?

With a list of values, many people are quick to jump straight to recommending careers and jobs that fit your values. Although this might be useful for career exploration, I think this is jumping too many steps ahead. If you are interested to make a career switch, Values alone is insufficient. Ideally, you should know your Interests, Personality and Skills for a fuller picture before making a decision.

Typically, I find a values assessment most useful to help diagnose what’s wrong with your current job. If you’re feeling disengaged and unhappy at work, a values assessment will often surface the reasons why. Usually, a significant mismatch between your values and your work contributes to feeling burnout and disengagement.

After discovering these mismatches, you don’t necessarily have to leave your job. Depending on what is the nature of these mismatches, there are a few options to consider:

  1. Change your role or department. If the mismatch is about the nature of work or culture, consider asking for a transfer before quitting. Most employers have policies supporting rotations and would prefer moving you for exposure or growth rather than lose you.
  2. Ask for it. If it’s about better compensation, flexible work etc, do not be afraid to ask your boss for it. If you can put up good justification with evidence, a reasonable/fair manager will try to help make it happen.

If these options cannot resolve the issues, then it is necessary to consider leaving. For most, this means finding a similar role in a different organisation that can provide a better values match. Again, one should not be too inflexible and dogmatic about getting a 100% match. There is no perfect employer, just as you are not a perfect candidate. The question is: what can you live without?

Knowdell’s Career Values card sort

This is where prioritisation comes in. Using the Knowdell classification, if a job matches almost all your Always Valued, you don’t need to think twice. However, jobs may match your Often and Sometimes Valued, but miss out on your Always Valued. In these cases, you need to decide whether you can accept not having a lot of your Always Valued. Everyone has a different tolerance threshold so you need to figure out your own.

Finally, remember that your values are not static and will change with time and circumstances. For example, getting married and having children will typically cause the “work-life balance” value to increase in importance for you. It is important to reassess your values as part of lifelong career planning to anticipate when changes might be required.

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