Five tips for using online values assessment tools

Are you thinking about your career: what it could be or what it could now become? A key component of career development practice is to understand yourself. This includes finding out what interests you, what your skills and strengths are, and what you value. Such understanding helps to give direction to thinking about your career.

Values are an important part of this mix. As Hugh Mackay points out in his book Right & Wrong, how to decide for yourself [p. 18] ‘Values are ideals we aspire to, the beliefs to which we attach particular significance, the essence of our desire. They are like signposts pointing to the meaning we give our lives.’

There are many online tools to help with identifying values. They vary is several ways:

  • Values are categorised under different headings: core, work, life; intrinsic/extrinsic; lifestyle [spending time with friends and family; living in a big city]
  • Some tools provide lists to assemble in priority order. [e.g. Reflect on your selected life and career values and reduce each list from 10 to 6 items. Write your top 6 life and career values in the table below.]
  • Some tools are card sorts [drag and drop under headings]
  • A tool may ask you to select and rank a series of options [e.g. as Important, Not important, Very important].

These differences raise several points to consider when using these tools and judging their usefulness. Here are five to consider:

  1. While using tools alone can provide helpful information, that information is likely to be of greater value if complemented with in-person support from a qualified career practitioner. They can help you reflect on your values, and assess them in the broader context of your skills, interests, career concerns, relationships, among many other factors.
  2. Terms are not always clearly defined. What one person may deem to be a ‘core’ value, another may define it as a ‘work’ value or a ‘life’ value. Where these terms are used, think about how they are defined [if a definition is provided], and whether you agree with the definition.
  3. Understand the difference between values and what you value. Lists of values can provide a long list of options. Theorists have suggested that the number of values is limited. Lists of values can actually be a mixture of values, and conditions at work which we may value to some degree. For example, honesty might be considered a value, whereas thinking up new ideas – being creative – is something we might value as being part of our work environment.
  4. Understand that what you value and your values could change during your life. Identifying your values at age 21 may not give the same result as at age 41 or 61. Considering values and how they shape your life is an ongoing practice.
  5. Values can conflict, particularly if we have one set for work and one set for the rest of our life. How useful is it to establish separate sets of values for different parts of our life?

When exploring your values it may be wise to use several tools. Doing so may provide you with different information, as well as show patterns or consistencies.

Identifying values is only the first step. A list, by itself, is of limited value. Stephanie Dowrick, in her book Choosing Happiness Life & Soul Essentials writes: ‘The best way to discover what your values are is to look closely at your behaviour. Your behaviour is the only true measure of your values. Everything else is wishful thinking.’ [p. 96] She asks questions that invite serious reflection on values:

  •  ‘What do you stand for?
  • What would other people assume that you stand for, based on your actions, the decisions you make, what you talk about, how you organise your finances – and especially the way you spend your time?
  • What would you like to stand for?
  • Are the values you believe you hold the same values you live out in your everyday life?
  • What does your behaviour say about your values?’ [p. 101]

Examining the behavioural meanings attached to our values helps us to understand what they mean and how they might apply, particularly in a work context.

Take the value Respect, for example. What does it mean to respect another person? How do you know when someone is treating you with respect in specific behavioural terms? Try listing 20 behaviours.

Here’s some behaviours from my list of what respect means for me.

  • Extend everyday courtesies such saying please and thank you.
  • Spell my name correctly.
  • Engage in turn-taking when conversing with me.
  • Don’t interrupt me or talk over me.
  • Don’t play with your smart phone while talking to me.

Further questions about Respect include: Do you extend these behaviours to others? Is this what others’ mean by respect?

Values only start to mean something in relation to other people. As Dowrick writes in her book Choosing Happiness Life & Soul Essentials [p. 99]:

‘The question is never whether you are being driven by values. The only question is what are those values? Are they life-enhancing? Do they include other people’s interests and needs as well as your own? Are they taking you where you most want to go? Are you choosing for yourself? Are those values your own?’

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.