Define your values

Your values are your personal ideals, motives and beliefs. How your values align with your job can impact your motivation, performance and conduct.

Understanding your values, skills, and motivations can help you to identify a career or role that meets your needs and catalyses your development.

  • What drives you?
  • Why do you do the job you currently have?
  • Are all your drivers positive?

What are values and why are they important?

Your values are your personal ideals, motives and beliefs. How your values align with your job can impact your motivation, performance and conduct.

Understanding your values, skills, and motivations can help you to identify a career or role that meets your needs and catalyses your development.

What are role-based values?

Your role-based values help you to define your ideal working environment. They are the factors that are most important in fostering job satisfaction, career progression and your perception of career success.

Role-based values can be split into three broad categories:

Intrinsic: Factors of your role that provide personal meaning and value in their own right. An example could be your enjoyment of your research topic or knowing the impact your work has on the world.

Extrinsic: The external rewards you receive for doing your job, such as your salary or the recognition you receive for being a world expert in your subject.

Lifestyle: Factors that influence the quality of your life outside of work. Things like flexible working hours to support your work-life balance or the location of your workplace.

Examples

Jules finds the recognition and status she receives from being an academic rewarding. She enjoys using her creativity, being able to work autonomously and doesn’t mind that her role involves little time working with others.

Kaz works flexible hours helping disabled adults to find employment. Whilst he’d like to be paid more, he feels that it’s more important to have a job that allows him to help others and spend time with his family.

Why it's important to identify your values when considering career options

Everyone has a different selection and priority of values. Your values may change in the future and may be different from what mattered to you when you started down your current career path.

Ask yourself:

  • Why did you choose your current career?
  • Do those reasons still hold true?

Whether you are considering a new career or taking stock of your existing career, understanding your past and current drivers helps you to identify future paths.

Example

Japanese sprinter and hurdler Dai Tamesue found himself wondering what to do when he retired from athletics:

“When I thought about what I wanted to achieve by playing sports, I realised that athletics was not the goal but the means. For me, what I really wanted to achieve through athletics was to change people’s perceptions of the world.”


Dai used this understanding to found a company that supports sports-related businesses.

  • Recognising that values change can help you to make positive career decisions based on your current values and prevent you from holding onto ideals that you no longer feel to be true
  • Spending time identifying your values will also help you to reduce the impact of negative factors such as self-doubt, internal and external pressures
  • Learn to build the life you want now rather than the life your younger self wanted.

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How to identify your values

The first step to identifying your role-based values is to reflect on your career experiences:

  • Think about occasions when you've felt particularly fulfilled by your current or previous roles. What factors helped to create those feelings?
  • Think about occasions when you've felt frustrated or unhappy in current or previous roles. What factors created those feelings and what factors were lacking?

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Other methods of identifying your values

The above exercise is just one method of using self-assessment to identify your values. See below to discover different approaches to discovering your own values: 

Schein's Career Anchors

Online assessment of Career Anchors

More information about Career Anchors

Question to help you clarify your values

  • What’s ultimately the most important thing in your life?
  • What do you really want your life to stand for, or be about?
  • What would you most like your life to be remembered for?
  • What sort of thing do you most want to spend your life doing?
  • What sort of person do you most want to be in your relationships, at work, and in life generally?
  • If you didn’t have to struggle with problematic thoughts or unpleasant feelings, what would you choose to spend your time doing?
  • What would you choose to do if you were guaranteed to succeed and knew you couldn’t fail?
  • What qualities do you admire in others?
  • Which specific individuals (real or fictional) do you most admire?
  • What sort of people in general do you admire?
  • What do you admire most about them? How would you label their strengths?

Employer and organisation values

‘All work is a deal between what you want out of life and what an employer wants out of you.’

John Lees, How to get a job you love.

Your employer and organisation will have their own values. If your values don’t align with the values of your organisation you might experience reduced motivation and job satisfaction.

Recognising your own values will help you to identify whether there’s any mismatch between your values and that of your organisation or role.

Employers care about your values as your values drive your behaviour. Staff who are dissatisfied are less productive and engaged. Recruitment processes can be lengthy and costly - so employers want to ensure they recruit the right people.

Values-based recruitment allows employers to hire people whose values match with their organisations. By considering values during the recruitment process, organisations can create a healthy working environment and increase employee productivity.

“When recruiting for paid staff we have a values-led approach. There’s an online application form, where you would write a profile of yourself outlining your interest in, and suitability for, the role, in line with what’s on the job description. Then we also have a part of the application form where you write about our values. We ask candidates to pick one specific value and explain why that would be applicable to the role they’re applying for.”

Anna Wells, Head of People at The Reader

Workplace culture and values differ between organisations, as does how much importance is placed upon aligning organisational values with prospective employee values during recruitment.

Some organisations use a value-based recruitment process, whilst other employers might assess your values through indirect questions, skills and experience. Being aware of your own values and how they align with a prospective employer’s will mean you’re prepared regardless of the requirements of the recruitment process.

How your values show up in your life

Ifan is a social scientist working on a modern slavery research project. Ifan reflected on his current and previous research roles and identified that meaningful work, helping others, and having an impact were his top three role-based values.

He also identified that he enjoyed working as part of a team and disliked the independence that came with academic research. Ifan had previously identified that some of his skills included strategic thinking, designing information and coordinating between partner organisations.

Reflecting on his values, Ifan realised that he could have a greater impact improving the lives of others by working on policy or campaigning as part of a charity, rather than his impact being a step-removed within academia. Whilst Ifan enjoyed academic research, he began to feel that his skills could be just as useful in third sector work.

Ifan spent some time researching anti-slavery organisations and roles within them. He read their mission statements and tried to understand their goals and values, comparing them with his own.

Having identified types of organisations and roles that aligned with his values and interests, Ifan examined the skills they looked for and compared them against his own skill set. He identified three key gaps that he wanted to strengthen: project management, pitching information to different stakeholder groups and fundraising.

Ifan met with his PI to discuss these gaps and to see whether there were ways he could address them in his current role. Ifan also began to consider whether this additional experience would be enough, or whether there was other training or experience he could gain around his current role.

He also considered whether a further targeted postdoc position in a relevant subject might give him the experience he needed to get a career that more closely aligned with his true values.

Aligning values and career choices

“I think I was very keen when I was researching a career move – this was about 18 months ago – to find an organisation that had similar values to the one that I had worked in previously.”

Laura Lightfoot, Faculty Director of Operations (Faculty of Science and Engineering), University of Liverpool.

It's easy to forget to consider your values and how they align with your career but doing so can lead to low job satisfaction and unhappiness. Take the time to reflect on your values and priorities, how they might have changed, and whether your current role and career path are still aligned with those values.

If your values align with your current role within academia, what roles within academia are most likely to match your values?

Academic roles come in a variety of forms and being aware of your values may help you identify the type of role that is right for you.

If you feel that your values no longer match your role, identify where your priorities lie, explore other options that align more closely with your values, and act upon your new knowledge.

Being aware of your options like this is also advisable even if you do want an academic career, as more people want a career in academia than there are spaces for.

Further reading

If you’d like to explore your values, you may find having an interview with a friend, peer or mentor useful, as outlined in the article ‘Integrating Values Into Your Career’ by L N Schram.

P S Fiske (2001) Chapter 5 ‘Self-Assessment Making Your Neuroses Work for You!’ pp.37-45 from Put Your Science to Work – The Take-Charge Career Guide for Scientists.

H Tupper and S Ellis (2020) The Squiggly Career Chapter 2: Super Strengths and Chapter 3: Values. These two chapters cover how to identify your strengths and values using several different tasks to achieve this.

The same authors also host a podcast, the Squiggly Careers podcast. This episode is particularly relevant to understanding your values: Episode #42 How Knowing Your Values Unlocks Career Happiness.

N Lundsteen (2017) Chapter 8 ‘Taking a Personal Inventory: Assessing Your Skills, Strengths, Interests and Values’ from ReSearch: A Career Guide for Scientists.

Job sites often discuss the important of knowing your career values, for example Indeed (‘Career Values: How to Identify Yours and Cultivate Success as a Professional’) and Glassdoor (‘Career Values: How to Determine Them’).

Dai Tamesue’s interview discussing his reaction to retiring from athletics was discussed in a BBC Worklife article on the Japanese concept of ‘ikigai’.

Talent management business Retorio discuss the importance of values-based recruitment in their article ‘What is values-based recruitment and why it’s changing the talent game’.

Cornthwaite, C. (2020) ‘How to be successful no matter what: 4 rules’, Roostervane. Available at: https://roostervane.com/how-to-be-successful/ .

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