Companies expend great time and energy to assess and codify their core values. These values will then determine the work environment, the way they conduct business and the kinds of people they hire. We too should take the time to consider our individual career values; things to do with the corporate culture, work-life balance, compensation and benefits. It becomes easier to gauge the potential fit of new opportunities when you are clear about what matters most.
Just as organizations take retreats or set aside time at year-end to review their values, it is a good idea to take some time to reflect on your own. Consider your work history and which roles have brought you the most joy. What was it about that job that made you happy? Was it a mission-driven organization that aligned with your personal passions? Was it a role that let you manage people? Did the job offer security or flexibility or autonomy? Take note of what has been important to you in the past and then consider where you’re at right now. What is important to us can change with our circumstances and in different seasons of life. That’s why it’s important to reflect on them regularly, and especially as you enter a job search.
It may help to make a list of your work values under three columns: “Essential”, “Nice to Have”, and “Not Important.” Some things to consider are location, salary requirements, work-life balance, travel, title, leadership, work environment, flexibility, and routine. Now, many of these things might fall into the “Nice to Have” category. Once you’ve taken a first pass at the list, go back and see if you can move things around to have some items in each column. You can (and should!) remain optimistic in your search, looking for a role that will satisfy many of your conditions. But be realistic too, recognizing that every opportunity will have advantages and disadvantages. You should know what two or three items are at the top of your essentials list and which things you might be willing to sacrifice for the right opportunity.
Now that you’ve identified what is most important to you, be straightforward about those things as you conduct your job search and speak with hiring parties. Don’t string people along. Our founder, Ted Chaloner, says, “If location is most important to you, don’t wait until an offer is made to tell the recruiter or hiring manager you have no interest in relocating.” Being upfront about your requirements will not make you seem difficult, but secure and self-aware. Of course you don’t want to come in with a laundry list of demands, but be clear about your priorities. Ask good questions to uncover more about how the role pertains to your values. For example, if you are seeking flexibility or being able to work from home, you might ask about the culture of that organization and what the work environment is like.
As noted, your extrinsic values change over time and for the right opportunity, you might find yourself willing to make a big move or compromise your salary requirements. But identifying what’s important to you provides a lens through which you can weigh these choices and make informed career decisions, true to who you are and what you care about most.
Chaloner, founded in 1979 as Chaloner Associates, is a national executive search firm that focuses on recruiting mid- to senior-level communications, public relations, marketing and investor relations professionals.