Unlocking your career path: How identifying your values leads to fulfillment

Mar 05, 2024

5 mins

Unlocking your career path: How identifying your values leads to fulfillment

Have you ever found yourself at a crossroads in your career, wondering whether your work aligns with what you’re meant to be doing in this life? Even if you’ve been successful by societal measures, there may still be that tug towards doing work that feels more meaningful—whatever that meaning is for you.

While many of us seek jobs that resonate with our values, finding that alignment isn’t always straightforward. It starts with introspection and taking a moment to ask ourselves what truly matters. Through self-reflection and tools like personality assessments, we can begin to uncover the guiding principles that shape our career goals.

So, how do we ensure our next career move is in harmony with our values? We asked Kim Johnson, a career coach who helps people find, get, keep, and love their job. She shares how to start defining your values and using them to direct your path when changing careers, plus what to look for in potential employers, challenges you might experience, and strategies to set you up for success.

How do you discover your values, and what role do they play in making career decisions?

In the early stages of your career, you maybe didn’t give your values much consideration when deciding where to work, instead concerning yourself with salary, benefits, and growth opportunities. But as you think about making your next move, finding a company whose mission you believe in can begin to take the driver’s seat.

How do you define your values and determine how and where they fit into your professional life? According to Johnson, “Personal values are the principles and beliefs that guide your behavior and decisions. Your values stem from your upbringing, experiences, and goals.” She continues, “For example, if you value social impact highly, you might choose a career in a non-profit organization to benefit a cause you believe in over a more lucrative corporate job. This decision is driven by your desire to contribute positively to society, even if it means earning a lower salary.”

If you’re unsure what your values are, Johnson says it’s time to carve out some time for self-reflection, meditation, or journaling to understand what truly matters to you. “Ask yourself ‘Who do I want to help?’, ‘How do I want to contribute?’, or ‘What legacy do I want to leave behind?’”

Johnson notes that self-assessment tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), CliftonStrengths Assessment (formerly StrengthsFinder), or Values in Action (VIA) Survey can also be helpful tools in identifying what you value most. She adds, “While these tests are not grounded in science, the individual questions and the results may still resonate with you, or at least give you a place to start your exploration.”

Once you’ve identified your values, the next step is to prioritize them. Not all values hold equal weight, and understanding their hierarchy can help you make informed career choices. “Consider prioritization methods such as a decision matrix to help you compare each value and what it means to you,” Johnson says.

What challenges might individuals face when aligning values with their career choices, and how can they overcome them?

While matching your values to your career sounds harmonious, Johnson notes that there are potential roadblocks to consider, such as the state of the current job market, limited opportunities, or lacking the necessary skills to make the change. “Personal circumstances may also include financial needs that require you to prioritize salary over your values or personal obligations that make it more difficult to pursue some opportunities,” she adds.

To overcome these challenges, she suggests seeking roles or companies that align closely with your top values, even if they’re not a perfect match. “A stepping-stone role may not match your long-term goals, but it could help you land your target role in the future,” Johnson suggests. “Compromise will be necessary in almost all scenarios, but identifying your non-negotiable values is critical.”

How can individuals research and evaluate potential employers or industries to ensure alignment with their values?

You know what you want, now how do you find it? Many companies now understand the importance of clearly defining their vision, mission, and core values on their website. But if you want to dig deeper, Johnson believes the best way to understand the company culture and values is to speak with current employees.

“Seek out informational interviews and be prepared to ask about the company attributes that matter most to you. Websites like Glassdoor, Comparably, and Blind provide verified employee reviews, which can give insights into the company’s actual working environment,” says Johnson. She also points out that while some of the most negative-leaning comments may be removed from such sites, reading between the lines can help you understand what’s being left unsaid about the company culture.

Johnson adds that making a career move that aligns with your values doesn’t necessarily mean working for a non-profit or addressing a humanitarian crisis, sharing an example of how the change could look in practice “I recently worked with a software engineer in the entertainment industry who didn’t love the product she was creating,” she begins. “Instead, she found a role at a startup focusing on visual content creation, aligning with her passion for photography, and feeling happy to contribute to a product that she would want to use herself.”

How can you balance personal values with professional expectations?

When balancing personal values with professional expectations, some compromise will likely be inevitable. Johnson says to outline your non-negotiables, and then assess from there. “For instance, you may be unwilling to miss your child’s after-work ball games, so leaving on time on those days is a must,” she says, highlighting that having a flexible schedule would be a must in this situation.

On the other hand, Johnson shares an example of where some compromise comes into play: “Even though you prefer to avoid bringing work home, you might be happy to do so occasionally when it unblocks your teammates on their next task. This balance requires understanding what you can compromise on without feeling unfulfilled or resentful,” she says.

Key takeaways: What are my values and what to do with them when looking for my next job?

As time goes on, keep in mind that your professional and personal values will likely evolve. In the early stages of your career, your priorities may revolve around ambition, financial achievements, continuous learning, and connecting with your colleagues. However, as you mature professionally, you may find yourself prioritizing work-life balance, mentorship, social impact, and dedicating more time to fulfilling tasks. “These shifts are a natural part of personal growth and reflect how your priorities, experiences, and understanding of what brings meaning to your life can change,” Johnson affirms.

To recap, here’s what to remember when making a career shift centered around your values.

  • Clarify your personal values: Begin by understanding your values through introspection and tools like personality assessments. Prioritize these values and recognize that they may evolve, influencing your career decisions accordingly.
  • Consider the challenges: Acknowledge and navigate challenges that may arise when aligning personal values with career choices, such as limited opportunities or financial constraints. Identify non-negotiable values and consider compromises where necessary to progress towards fulfilling career paths.
  • Do your research: Thoroughly research potential employers or industries to ensure alignment with your values. Utilize online platforms to gain employee insights and prioritize informational interviews to gain a deeper understanding of company culture and values.
  • Balancing values and expectations: Recognize that balancing personal values with professional expectations often requires compromise. Define your non-negotiables and assess potential roles based on their compatibility with your values, while remaining open to adjustments as your career progresses.

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