Have you ever been told how lucky you are to have your job—and felt a sense of utter confusion? Maybe you just can’t put your finger on what exactly you don’t like about your current role, and because of that you’re still there, especially since people keep telling you how happy you should be.
If this is you, fret not. This could be a case of unidentified career values.
What are Career Values?
Career values go beyond the actual work you do—they’re more about what you get out of that work. You might be super interested in what you do and exceptionally skilled at it, but if you need, say, a high level of independence in order to feel satisfied in your work, then the company and manager you work for matters just as much as figuring out what position you’d like to hold.
As you were first job searching, you were probably more focused on matching your skills and interests to a possible career than you were about values—which is understandable, since most people don’t talk much about them. Luckily, it’s never too late to start thinking about your values.
Clarify Your Career Values
So, how do you go about figuring out what they are? If you’re unhappy with your currently position, thinking about what issues bother you is a good place to start. Does your manager take credit for your work? Or maybe the bureaucracy of working for a large company is starting to get to you. Take those everyday annoyances and jot them down.
Then, consider work-like environments where you were happy. Did you often get to take the lead on projects? Maybe you worked collaboratively with a tight-knit group of co-workers. Or your commute could have been an hour shorter than what it is now. Nothing is off the table. It doesn’t have to be a “noble” value for it to matter to your happiness.
Aside from thinking holistically about your past experience, assessments to help you determine your career values can also be helpful. One free resource is the MyPlan Values Assessment. This card sort does require creating an account, but afterward, you get a ranked list of your most and least important career values out of a few of the most common: achievement, independence, recognition, relationships, support, and working conditions. Which can be incredibly insightful.
Incorporate Your Values Into Your Career
You’ll notice that getting a better sense of your career values helps you understand a lot more about your past experiences, and particularly how you felt about them. For example, maybe you left your last job despite your promotion. It could be because it led to managerial responsibilities that actually made you like your job less (in spite of the higher pay) because you simply did not value the role of managing others.
It’s essential to note that even unflattering career values are still important to recognize. For instance, I learned that I personally need recognition in order to be fulfilled in a job. It’s definitely not the most flattering career value for me to have—independence, for example, is generally considered a more positive career value, but it’s just not something that is important to me. Knowing this about myself, while not the most becoming trait, helped me find jobs, and ultimately a career, that I love.
So, if you know that support from your manager or relationships with your co-workers is important to you, make sure you do the research on the company culture and ask relevant questions during your interview process to ensure that the position will be a fit. And—don’t compromise! If the job looks great on paper but just doesn’t align with your values, you’ll likely find yourself not fully satisfied—and job searching again sooner than you’d like.
You’ll definitely know if there is just something not quite right about your job. Now, if you’re stuck, but not because of the work you’re doing, you know why. Refine those career values (again and again, since they can evolve over time) and make your next career move with them in mind.
Photo of paper courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab where she works with a range of students from AI experts to interaction designers. When she’s not indulging in a new book or video game, she’s thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author