The value of knowing your key Values

Related news article quoting Dr Moy in the New Zealand Herald

What are “values”

Personal values are the sense of worth that we place on things in our world; they are the convictions we hold about what we believe is important to have and uphold in life; and so, they are what we give priority to when we focus our attention or make decisions. Values are a core of our identity, in that, “Our values guide our choices; our choices define who we are”, as summed up by Peter Buffett in his book, ‘Life is what you make it’, a person who could have easily ridden on the coat-tails of his Billionaire father’s status and wealth but instead rejected the vagaries of materialism to pursue the steady currency of fulfilling values with greater intrinsic worth.

We all have an intuitive awareness of our personal values, but developing explicit awareness allows us to recognise ways in which we can and could change – an important ability in the modern career.
How to pinpoint your key values
Because we all have a sense of value about most things, identifying values is about establishing the priority of your values relative to one another. Here a couple of questions and exercises you could use to help create a list of personal values:

1. “What would I miss the most if I couldn’t have it?” – Think about the things you do day-to-day, things you do occasionally but greatly enjoy, the people you interact with, and what you do with other people. By thinking about what it would be like if you can’t have something helps you to identify the things you value the most. If the things you identify are very specific identify what it is in general you value, ie if you like stationary, it might be that at deeper level it is organisation and order that is the important value.

2. “What are qualities you value in others?” Are they values you hold as important for yourself?

3. “What are some things from the past that I am most proud of?” What is important to you about what you achieved, how you achieved it and what the achievement says about you?

4. “What do I want to be remembered for at the end of my career?”

5. The Great Big List – This is the most structured method, but often what people find the easiest way to clarify their values. Find a list of personal values (eg., then go through each value and write it under one of four headings, “Important to me”, “Somewhat important to me”, “A little bit important”, and “Not important to me”. After that, take all the “Important to me” values and prioritise them by putting them in order with the most important listed at the top and then in descending order of importance. Some people find it useful to put each value onto separate pieces of paper or card, and then shuffling them around; shuffle them around on a spread-sheet etc, or just write them in an order.

6. Life timeline diagram – Draw a long line showing your life and plot important events and there dates (‘transition points’) in your life that led to changes. Write down what were important values that guided your choices at each point. For example, identify common themes to why you repeatedly change jobs, look for patterns to why you might start jobs and then later get dissatisfied, what leads you to keep moving cities, are their associations between what happens in your social life and what happens at work, what upsets you enough to cause big changes.

7. Use your values to identify areas for potential growth – After you have prioritised your values, consider how well each value is fulfilled in your life and career at the moment and ask yourself what changes could I make to fulfil this value more?

Why are values important when choosing a career/workplace?
Research shows that person-environment fit is important when making a career decision such as choosing an occupation or workplace. Values are one part of this equation along with interests, skills and personality. Identifying the values associated with and rewarded by certain occupations have been researched for us and there are comprehensive databases, such as,that can help us find out what values (and other career factors) go with what occupations. When it comes to specific workplaces though, it pays to do some personal research into the organisational culture of the workplace, to make sure what you’re getting into is matches your values.

Organisational Psychology research reveals that having a good fit between your values and that of the workplace is associated with greater job satisfaction, feelings of loyalty to the organisation and improved stress levels.

Do values change?
Values certainly do change throughout our lifetime in response to changing responsibilities such as with parenthood, relationships, personal maturation and new interests. I recommend that people regularly reflect consciously on their values, how fulfilled they are and whether they have changed -especially whenever major life decisions are being considered. Over our lifetimes often there is a delicate balance between our values of Challenge, Balance (work-life), and Authenticity (being true to yourself) – The Kaleidoscope career model – an increase of priority in one of those three areas affects the others leading to correcting and over-correcting of job-fit over our lifetimes.

What happens when you don’t have a good values fit with your workplace/ career?
If a workplace is flexible and values-oriented it is possible for some adjustment for an initial poor fit, however, in most cases workers are expected to comply and adjust their values to the organisational culture. Depending on the level of ‘mis-fit’ this can lead to rapid job dissatisfaction, high job turnover and even mental health issues at the extreme.

Action points:
Take some time to identify your key values and think about how much they are being satisfied in your current work-life situation. If you identify some areas lacking in your career look at ways you could reach greater fulfilment within your current work (eg taking on creative tasks, arranging a work social event, ask for a job task to be transferred to someone else, etc.). Ultimately, if there is a significant values mis-fit between you and your work you may need to consider a career change to make a difference.

Author: Dr Jonathan Moy is founder of Careerology Ltd (, where he is principal Careers consultant.

Comments are closed.