Understanding Your Work Values Is Key

Calling all career counselors and advisors...   

As you launch your students into the search for internships or that critical first job after graduation,  are you confident they understand and can discuss work values?  The better candidate knows what they need from the world of work and how and how to articulate it. 


We’ve written posts on this blog about why PathwayU focuses so much on vocational interests and why we use the HEXACO model of personality. But PathwayU incorporates work values too. What are work values? Whereas interests refer to what you enjoy, and personality examines your characteristic traits, values refer to what you find important. We hear a lot about values these days—cultural values, political values, family values, and so on. All of these matter, but when it comes to the type of work that fits you best, it is critical to assess work values—the reinforcing conditions you want in your ideal career, without which you would likely feel frustrated and discontent. To experience joy, purpose and meaning in your career, what do you most need in a work environment? Your answer reveals your work values.

The best-supported work values framework[i] consists of six broad value dimensions:

Achievement. People with Achievement values want to do something that makes use of their abilities, and that gives them a sense of accomplishment.

Independence. Those with Independence values appreciate being able to plan their work with little supervision, try out their own ideas, and make decisions on their own.

Recognition. People who value Recognition want the opportunity to advance in a job, appreciate getting recognition for their work, like being viewed as “somebody” in the community, and seek out the authority to tell people what to do.

Relationships. Relationship values are characteristic of people who desire supportive friendships with their co-workers, want to do things in service of others, and want to avoid being asked to do work they feel is morally wrong.

Working Conditions. People who value Working Conditions want to keep busy while at work, like variety on the job, desire pay that compares well with that of other workers, and appreciate steady employment.

Support. Those with Support values want their organization to administer its policies fairly, and desire supervisors who back up employees with upper management and who train workers well.

There are both informal and formal means of assessing work values. Informal strategies include using a checklist approach, in which a person reads a list of values and simply chooses the top five they consider most important. A better assessment strategy is using a formal inventory to measure values, one that has been carefully vetted for its evidence of reliability and validity. Values are tricky to measure because it is common for people to “want it all” in an ideal job.

Re-read the above list of values again—wouldn’t all of those things be great? Sure they would. One problem, though: If a job that reinforces all of those values exists, we haven’t found it. No job has it all. This is why the best measures of values use a rank-ordering approach, forcing you to differentiate between values that are merely important and those that are absolutely a necessity—the non-negotiables. These are the values that, when satisfied, help you feel most like yourself. PathwayU’s values instrument uses this forced-choice strategy to generate scores. Give the values assessment included in PathwayU a try. What are your highest work values?

After identifying your values, the next step is to think about what career paths are most likely to satisfy them. Do you value Relationships more than anything? If so, a job in which you are holed up in a quiet office, unable to interact much with other people, is going to make you miserable. In contract, you will thrive in a role where you are working alongside people you enjoy being with, and from who you can derive support, while you collaborate together on shared goals. Is Independence one of your top values? If so, a highly structured job with strict rules for how the work should be done will feel suffocating. In contrast, having lots of latitude to make your own decisions and carry out your work in your own way (so long as you reach your work goals) will be crucial. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Information Network, or O*NET, provides information about which values (using the taxonomy presented above) are reinforced by the environments that define each of more than a thousand occupations. This is why we incorporate O*NET data within PathwayU’s Career Match tool. In my experience, however, values are most important not at the level of the broad occupation, but when evaluating a specific work opportunity. For example, if you are engaging in a job search right now, the hope is you will soon have a couple of job offers and need to figure out which one is the best fit. In this scenario, once you know your values, you can use them to figure out which of the opportunities is more likely to satisfy your non-negotiables. PathwayU will help you accomplish this.


[i] These constitute an updated version of the taxonomy that was developed by University of Minnesota counseling psychologist René Dawis and his longtime collaborator, the late Lloyd Lofquist: Rene V. Dawis and Lloyd H. Lofquist, A Psychological Theory of Work Adjustment (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1984)