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Why You Should Know Your Core Values When Starting Your Career

There’s a famous quote from Elvis Presley that reads, “Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same, but you leave ‘em all over everything you do.” 

Now, we aren’t here to talk about Elvis or the new Austin Butler movie, but what he said is certainly true. Our values shape us as people and are the lenses through which we see and understand the world around us. Although having core values is important in all areas of life, they are especially beneficial when related to one’s career. I’m sure all of my fellow recent grads out there can relate, but as a newcomer to corporate life I’ve begun to realize just how consuming full-time work can really be. Instead of going to classes and having random breaks throughout my days, I now have a jam-packed work schedule and never-ending to-do lists.  

Being busy isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. When you find a job that aligns with your core values just as much as your values align with the company’s mission, you’ll be well on your way to a fulfilling and meaningful career. But what even are core values? And how can they help you find purpose in your career? 

What are core values and what are mine? 

At the most basic level, core values are traits or qualities that hold meaning. They are principles that represent a person's beliefs and highest priorities. In relation to organizations, core values are the heart of what a company and its employees stand for. Some common examples of company values that may be advertised in various mission statements include integrity, accountability, fairness, diversity and inclusion, teamwork, and passion

Of course, summing up the things you care about most in just a few words can be a daunting task. Madison, 23, a recent grad and newly hired marketing assistant at a tech startup, explains that she didn’t have her core values 100% figured out throughout her job search. “I just applied to the companies that felt the most like me,” Madison tells Her Campus. “Don’t be deterred if you don’t have a list of core values written down or tattooed on yourself, just be mindful of who you are and what you need as some company’s employee.” 

Madison’s  new job has even helped her learn more about herself and her core values just through working. “I’ve gotten to take several enneagram assessments and strengths-finder quizzes since starting that have helped me figure out how I can help develop my company as an employee, and how the company can help develop me.” 

So, don’t fret if you’re still figuring out your core values or how to locate them in prospective employers. Just take a moment to think about what makes you you. After all, we spend so much time anxiously scrolling for jobs on LinkedIn and trying to sell ourselves to dozens of hiring managers, so it can be easy to lose track of ourselves and what we truly want throughout the process. Think about your proudest moments, your weaknesses and your strengths, when you’re most productive, big life decisions you’ve had to make, etc. Everything that’s molded you into the person you are. 

Once you know your values, it's time to incorporate them into your career.

According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace Report, the U.S. loses $483 to $605 billion per year in productivity due to actively disengaged employees. On the flip side, productivity improves by 20% to 25% in organizations whose employees are actively connected. Finally, a third of employees across the globe strongly agree that “The mission and purpose of my organization makes me feel my job is important.” In moving that ratio to 8 in 10 employees, companies have seen a 51% reduction in absenteeism, a 64% reduction in safety-related incidents, and a 29% improvement in quality.

Chelsea Passamano, an undergraduate admissions counselor at Loyola Marymount University, shares, “It is beneficial when your personal core values align with your company's values, goals, and mission. When there is alignment, you may feel more job satisfaction knowing there is a shared goal, and you are working with like-minded individuals.” 

This past semester before my graduation, advice like Passamano’s is what motivated me to keep pursuing jobs that I felt matched up with me. Not just me as an employee, but me as a human being. It was definitely difficult at times, since, at the end of the day, us job seekers are often looking to find work fast and make good money. However, finding a position that brings fulfillment and provides a livable income…well, that’s when you know you’re truly setting yourself up for a successful and valuable career.  

We can transform our core values into a long and valuable career.

As someone who is just starting out on her career journey, I realize my goals may shift and change as I continue on my post-grad career path. I know I can always lean on and carry my core values with me, even as those grow and develop too! So I’ve certainly got my good intentions going for me, but I wanted to gain some knowledge from a professional who has had a long, fruitful career already. And who better to ask than Katherine Kirkinis, Ph.D.? Kirkinis is the CEO and founder of Wanderlust Careers, a career services firm that specializes in Ph.D.–level career assessment, coaching, and resume support.

“Values are one of the variables most often overlooked in terms of making a career decision,” Kirkinis tells Her Campus. “Some career coaches look at your interests and others look at your skills — these are obvious variables to consider. But your values are this huge, untapped resource in terms of making a meaningful career decision that is fulfilling long-term, and their impact is so often underestimated!”

Kirkinis then explained that values and interests don't always line up, which can often lead to career dissatisfaction — but it is possible for them to align!

“This is a real example of a client: Tom* (29) who was working in B2B software sales,” shares Kirkinis. “The role lined up with his skills and interests (e.g., he liked interacting with others and being persuasive, and he was tech savvy). Yet, he was still feeling unfulfilled and unmotivated at work. Why? He came to work with us at Wanderlust Careers and did a Career Assessment (where we do a values assessment as part of our testing battery). An examination of his values revealed that he very highly values the environment, and selling SalesForce licenses didn't hit on that value at all for him, leaving him feeling dissatisfied at work. He made a career pivot — he stayed in tech sales, but moved into a role at a social enterprise that utilizes technology and data works to eliminate food waste.”  

So, sometimes sticking to your values means not sticking with your current job situation, but making value-based career moves will only benefit you in the long-run. 

Remember what the King of Rock and Roll said; your core values really are as unique as your fingerprint… you’ll leave them all over everything you do. So make sure you know what you need in order to fill your cup and to feel connected to your company each day you show up to work. 

*Name has been changed.

Rylie Walsh is a recent graduate of Loyola Marymount University, where she earned her degree in Communication Studies and English! She was President of Her Campus LMU for the 2021-22 school year and is also a Her Campus National Writer. When she's not reading, writing, or working, you can find her hanging out with friends, SoulCycling, or enjoying her all time favorite dessert: a Pressed freeze.
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