Values: The Compass to Guide Your Career


“Maturity is achieved when a person postpones immediate pleasures for long-term values.”

– Joshua L. Liebman


The ideal starting point for understanding your purpose is to identify values that guide your thoughts and actions. Values are the principles that serve as motivation for every decision you make. Like a compass, values give direction in making judgments about what is important (and unimportant), what is right (and wrong), and what brings you happiness (and unhappiness). Making decisions that align with personal values can affect the outcome of virtually all major life decisions whether it is the city you choose to live, the friends with whom you spend time, or a partner or spouse who you commit to be with long term. Many instances of dissatisfaction or unhappiness with any of these decisions can usually be traced to a choice that does not align with one’s values.

Values Inventory

Career choice is another life decision that should be made with careful consideration of values. After all, you are choosing how to invest your physical, mental, and creative energy to your work. You want to feel that you are committing your professional efforts to an organization that places similar emphasis on principles that are important to you. To assist in examining how your principles match up with career considerations, evaluate these four categories of career values:

  1. Intrinsic values – Motivators to engage in activities because you find them interesting or enjoyable; examples include feelings of independence or making a difference.
  2. Work content values – Specific tasks performed on the job that are enjoyable or play to your strengths; problem solving, serving others, and using creativity are among values in this category.
  3. Work environment values – Working conditions that create a positive work setting; opportunities to learn, generous benefits, and fair compensation are examples.
  4. Work relationship values – Characteristics of interactions that matter to you; open communication, teamwork, and diversity are examples of work relationship values that are weighed in determining the fit of a career or employer.

Notice that control over outcomes that relate to these four career values categories resides in different places. Intrinsic values are yours- no one else dictates what is important to you except you. Work content values are inherent in a particular job and can connect with your intrinsic values. For example, a career as a copywriter responsible for creating content for web pages and social media might be appealing because of the variety in assignments or the challenge of meeting tight deadlines to complete client projects. Work environment and work relationship values are influenced by an organization’s culture, which are shared values, beliefs, and behavioral expectations among the organization’s members. Organization culture can mesh with or oppose an employee’s intrinsic and work content values. The copywriter who places importance of using her creativity to solve a client’s marketing needs (a work content value) might feel that value is not being fulfilled if her ideas are frequently rejected because “that’s not how we do things here.”

Strike a Values Match

Because work environment and work relationship values are influenced heavily by organization culture, it can be difficult for you to determine how well your values match with the company. However, there are ways you can look into an organization’s culture when researching prospective employers. Indicators of a company’s values include:

  • Mission statement – Does it contain a statement about values? Also, many organizations go beyond a mission statement by identifying the organization’s values. How closely do the organization’s mission and values match with values important to you?
  • Philanthropy – What social causes or nonprofit organizations does a company support? Corporate philanthropy can be interpreted as a statement of a company’s values and priorities.
  • Physical environment – If you have an opportunity to visit an organization’s facilities or offices, are there visible cues about culture and values? One indicator is the layout of work spaces- Is it a maze of cubicles that isolates workers from one another, or is it a more open layout that promotes interaction and community among employees?
  • Employee Impressions – To learn about an organization’s values, go to an information source that is embedded there: Employees. Ask employees about their experiences through questions as “What attracted you this company?” and “What do you like most about working for this company?” Their stories might resonate with what you seek when you make a commitment to an employer or raise concerns about whether the organization shares the same values as you.

Values represent what is important to you; your challenge is to find happiness in the mix of intrinsic, work content, work environment, and work relationship values.