Assessing Your Personal Values

Too often, when people conduct a job search, they think only about their talents and skills—what they know and can do. An equally important factor is personal values: what you like to do and how you are personally fulfilled.

When you understand the importance of your personal values, you can draw a conclusion about whether your current or a prospective employer supports those values. When considering a new job, you need to understand whether it can meet your values, satisfy your drivers, and match your skills. If you are considering a career change, understanding your values is critical to identifying a new career path. By conducting an honest, thorough, personal assessment, you can proactively focus your search by seeking out what will make you happy instead of molding yourself to fit what is available.

Here are the career values that influence peoples’ sense of satisfaction in the workplace. Think carefully about which are most important to you, remembering that their relative importance to you will probably change over time:

  • Advancement: the opportunity for promotion, recognition, and more responsibility
  • Goal orientation:  the ability to be committed to and motivated by a personal objective
  • Autonomy: the chance to work on projects alone and at your own discretion
  • Challenge: work that is not routine, constantly changing and keeps you on your toes
  • Security: stability and predictability
  • Balance: finding an equilibrium between personal and professional activities
  • Discovery:  developing understanding for its own sake
  • Perfectionism:  doing things right, no matter how long it takes
  • Altruism: the opportunity to contribute to the welfare of others

Someone who puts a high value on advancement, for example, would typically be attracted to a management job, or a job with high potential visibility, accompanied by an equally high risk of failure. If someone desired to be an entrepreneur, the values of autonomy and advancement would likely rank high on their list.

This is not an exhaustive list of all possible values. For example, you may value creativity-- thinking about alternatives and implementing your own ideas-- which is a form of autonomy. If you highly value the flexibility to set your own schedule or the option to telecommute, that’s part of finding balance. Rarely is there one dominating value. Usually, a cluster of two or three compatible values dominate.

Knowing your desires and needs is essential to being happy and productive in your job. Use some honest introspection to answer the following questions. Don’t think about the jobs you may have pictured yourself doing; answer based on what you know about yourself and your needs.

  • Do you want to do research and development? Applied research? Sales? A job away from the bench? Something else?
  • Do you have a strong preference to work alone, as part of a team, or to lead teams?
  • Do you have the skills to be successful at what you want to do? If not, what training or skills do you need to develop?
  • Have you actually done that type of job, or something similar, so you know you will really enjoy it?
  • Are your credentials or country of citizenship or residency an issue?
  • Is the geographic location of the job a problem? (It could be, for example, if you’re a regular caregiver for other family members.)
  • Is travel or time away from home required?  Is that a problem?
  • Do you want to be able to publish? To attend scientific or other meetings?
  • Are the benefits appropriate for your needs (health and other insurance)?
  • Are special religious holidays a concern?
  • What specialized resources would you need for your job? (For example, large expensive equipment like NMRs or mass spectrometers, or highly specific library publications and journals.)

The better you know your values and the demands of the job you are considering, the better prepared you will be to find your ideal employer. There are a number of other, more detailed assessment tools that are available, many of them on-line. Searching the internet on “personal values assessment” will lead to a number of these.