Evaluate your Values

Over the past several months, many friends and collegues have sent me their resumes, asking for a critical review. The majority had been laid off, and had not updated their resumes in a very long time. In recent weeks, the tide has shifted. I’m now getting more job descriptions with “here’s where I’m applying”, and have noticed an interesting trend in the sought-after positions. A significant number of them are government jobs, or a return to the classroom as a teacher.

This is a significant shift from what I usually see, which is almost all industrial positions. I wonder if this is related to the “current economic conditions” (which we’re all tired of hearing about, I’m sure). As people are forced to downsize, re-evaluate, and re-focus their lives, some are realizing that what they have been doing has not been what they really wanted to do. Many are realizing that they’d rather have a job with more security and less money than a high-paying job that might go away at any time. Government has traditionally been a very stable place to work, and education can also be fairly stable – there will always be a new generation of scientists needing to be taught. As the world in general becomes less secure, many people are looking for more stability in their professional lives.

Security is one of the six values ACS describes when talking to scientists about their careers in the “Planning Your Job Search” workshop. The others are Advancement, Altruism, Autonomy, Balance, and Challenge. Balance is the probably the easiest value to understand as it relates to work. Do you need flexible hours to care for children or elderly parents? Do you need to be able to take time off in the middle of the day and then work late in the evening, or to keep travel to a minimum? Are the family-friendly policies just written on the books, or can employees take advantage of them without being penalized in subtle (or perhaps not so subtle) ways?

The other values are just as important, though perhaps less obvious.

Do you derive great satisfaction from solving difficult, challenging problems but don’t get to do that in your current job? Result: You will be bored.

Do you enjoy working on your own – taking ownership of a project or team, and making decisions to move the project to a successful conclusion – but your current supervisor insists on micro-managing every detail? Result: You will be annoyed.

Many times when you are unhappy at work, it’s because your values and the company’s values (or your supervisor’s values) are not aligned.

Take some time to think about which values are most important to you. Are they being met by your current position? Have your values changed since you started the position? Personal values change over time, but may people fail to notice the gradual shift until a major event (such as a lay-off) forces them to re-evaluate everything.

You can prepare yourself periodically reflecting on your values and how they have changed, as well as how the world in which you live has changed. This will allow you to pro-actively evaluate where you are in your career and set a direction for your future.

This article was written by freelance technical writer Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2006).

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