At different points in your professional career it is helpful to identify your core values. These are personal values that guide you when making important decisions and doing work. Determining the values that are meaningful in your life can help you to develop personal and professional goals. It can also help you find jobs and companies that align with your ideals.
Related: SMART Goals: Definitions and Examples
Let’s take a look at what core values are, how to identify them and how you can use them to advance your career.
What are core values?
Core values are a set of beliefs, ideals or practices that inform how you conduct your life, both personally and professionally. Businesses can also have and maintain core values. These can help an organization determine how to allocate resources, make important decisions and grow.
People and companies follow a small number of core values, typically prioritizing under 10 specific ideals. These values can inform how people interact (humility, respect, honesty), the focus of a person or business’s work (ingenuity, creativity, data driven) or the individual responsibilities one will hold (consistency, quality, reliability).
Identifying core values for yourself or within a company can provide structure and instruction, especially when dealing with a certain decision or dispute. If one of your core values is honesty, for example, you would refer back to it when making a decision about whether or not a certain piece of information should be kept secret.
How do I identify my personal core values?
If you’re unsure about what your core values are, it might be helpful to take time to reflect about what’s important to you. It might take many moments of reflection over time to clearly identify your core values, so be patient and attentive to what motivates and drives your thoughts and decisions.
To get an idea of what your core values might be, consider your answers to the following questions:
- What kind of culture do you want to work in?
- What things, settings or resources are necessary for you to do your best work?
- What qualities do you feel make strong, healthy relationships?
- What qualities do you admire most in your role models?
- What motivates you?
- What qualities do you wish to develop in yourself professionally and personally?
- What are your future goals? What qualities will it take to achieve them?
Consider these and other questions that might inform what key values you want to prioritize in your job search, on the job and in your life. You can use them as a guideline to work toward your goals and advance your career.
Using your core values
Once you have defined a few values to prioritize, you can use them in a few different ways:
1. Include core values in your resume.
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If you are updating or creating a resume, it might be helpful to list your core values as relevant to the position you’re applying for. Especially if you are new to the job market or have little professional experiences, identifying how you like to conduct work might be helpful for employers. If you do have experience, you might weave core values into examples of specific accomplishments in your previously held jobs.
2. Align your core values with companies when searching for jobs.
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Search for jobs at companies that align with the type of work you want to do, culture you want to be in and mission you want to work toward. Carefully review the job description for ways your core values would be relevant and helpful in the role. You should also do company research to ensure the company’s mission and core values align with your own.
3. Discuss your core values during interviews.
Many employers will ask questions specifically about what qualities are most important to you during interviews. These might be questions like, “What motivates you?”, “What type of employee are you?” or “Why did you choose to apply here?” You can use your core values to answer these questions and to provide context to your most important accomplishments. For example, if you helped your previous company increase productivity by 15%, you can explain how you highly value responsibility with time and resources.
Related: Interview Question: “What Motivates You?”
4. Use core values in the workplace.
If you’ve gotten a job or have been in a career for several years, you can use your core values to continue advancing in your role. Clearly defining your goals can help you make important decisions about your career like which industry you want to be in or what short-term and long-term goals you should set.
Example list of core values
Here is a list of example core values that could work in personal or corporate situations. You can use this list as inspiration when deciding on your own core values, planning answers to interview questions or understanding what others might select as their core values.
- Hard work
- Open communication
- Time management
- Work/life balance