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Your values

Your values are those elements of your life which you find personally important.

They are core beliefs which guide you on how to conduct your life in a way that is meaningful and satisfying for you.

Values can be related to:

  • your personality (eg a desire to work with or manage others)
  • your needs (eg hunger, shelter, security)
  • your own understanding of your social context (eg environmentalism or political values).

Values are ideals. But the real world is full of compromise and contingency, and we constantly prioritise our values accordingly. We may change them through reflection, experience, or pressure to align ourselves with dominant values in our social context or the workplace.

We use values to assign positive and negative properties to different careers, companies, corporate cultures and lifestyles, and make decisions on that basis. You may share some of the values of the people around you (your friends or family, or your social, ethnic or national group, for example) and you may have other values which are particular to you.

Values at work

Your work-related values concern how you would like to see some of your values expressed in your career. Ideally, your values will be in line with each other and with the corporate values of the organisation you work for.

In relation to careers and the workplace, your values may include things which make you feel good (or bad) about your work, and things that encourage you to stay in a job (or leave) – for example, tangible and intangible work conditions, such as:

  • working in a team or working alone
  • having your own office or sharing an office
  • autonomy or supervision and direction
  • being an expert or a generalist
  • office-based or outdoor work
  • goals and bonuses or deadlines and challenges
  • competition or collaboration
  • variety or routine
  • risk or stability
  • helping people or making a profit
  • working for a large, well-known organisation or a small, up-and-coming company.

They may also include tangible and intangible rewards that your work may bring, such as:

  • salary and related benefits
  • bonuses
  • pensions
  • social status
  • professional status
  • power and influence
  • sense of achievement
  • personal challenge
  • opportunity to travel.

Same skills, different purpose

Your values can determine how and where you apply your skills. People with similar skills may, because of differing values, wish to use them for varying purposes. You could put good social skills to use in selling, social work, industrial relations, advertising or teaching. Or you may be good with people, but your values are likely to determine whether you use that skill in sales or in counselling.

Conversely, people with similar values but differing abilities may contribute in different ways to an objective, yet all feel fulfilled. In furthering the aims of a particular organisation (be it Oxfam or The Investment Company Institute), one person may utilise communication skills while another perhaps may contribute IT expertise.

The employer perspective

Employers focus on values as much as on interests and intellectual abilities in the recruitment process, so it’s important to identify what your values are.

They are usually interested in candidates who have researched their values and can show that they identify with them. This is a good way for employers to differentiate between applicants who have similar capabilities and to single out those who are likely to enjoy working for them.

Why values are important

Careers advisers, life coaches and researchers increasingly recognise that values help to motivate you in your work and to give you a feeling of satisfaction. Knowing what work factors are valuable to you will help you to find work you enjoy and continue to seek work that you find fulfilling.

A considered career choice involves a series of estimates, including:

  • your own skills and values
  • the skills required to be successful in the career
  • the work values it is likely to satisfy for you.

How you relate your values to work may be affected by such factors as socio-economic status, gender, ethnicity, and cultural context.

But for many people, the greater the congruence between the the series of estimates, the more likely you are to find your career choice satisfying. The ability to evaluate accurately your individual strengths and weaknesses, and personal preferences and traits, is critical.

Ideally, then, to make a good career choice, you need to be clear about and incorporate your values along with other factors – skills, qualifications, interests and personality.

Learn more

If you'd like to find out more about your work value preferences, take this quick online test to get an idea of what matters to you the most.

You can also contact us to discuss how your values can help with your career choice:

Careers and Employability