In the second part of our series on interviews, our Talent Development Manager Erin talks about the importance of setting your personal work values.

In my last blog, I touched on the idea of taking the time to establish your personal work values before you go into an interview and using these to determine whether the role you are applying for is the right move for you.

It may be the case that the company you are interviewing with has a set of published values that you can read up on before you meet with them, and if so it could be a good idea to base some of your questions to them around the values they've laid out ("I saw that one of your central values is collaboration, how do you facilitate this across different teams and disciplines?"). But what about your own values? It's not an easy job to filter you own personal work needs into a few convenient soundbites and it may be unusual task for you to take stock of this regularly and ask yourself - is my current role really a match to my values? But if you are looking for new employment - chances are that there is a disconnect somewhere, so it's an ideal opportunity to establish or review your values.

Put a couple of hours aside, grab a notebook and sit down with a cup of tea. If you don't know where to start, jot down some questions to get your brain moving in the right direction:

  • What do I really enjoy about my current role? If this is too broad, narrow the scope of the question - what have I really enjoyed working on this month, this week?
  • What have I achieved in my current role in the last month / last 6 months / last 12 months that I'm proud of?
  • Who have I most enjoyed working with? Who have I learned the most from?
  • What parts of my job don't I enjoy as much? What do I find myself putting off?
  • What have I done over the last 12 months that has pushed me out of my comfort zone?
  • What frustrates me?

Once you've started writing you might find it's hard to stop! But take a moment to sit back and think about the exercise - was it easy to recall things that you are proud of achieving in the last 12 months? Did you have any examples of where you had pushed yourself do something that initially made you nervous? Was it super easy to write about what frustrated you? It's interesting just to consider where you stumbled in this task and had to force yourself to recall instances, and where you could go on and on.

It would be easy to leave it here and close your notebook, but the hard part of this exercise is understanding how what you have written can be translated into values. When I looked back on my answers - the things that have given me pleasure were around wellbeing and working with students, which suggests that helping people is a key value for me. I wrote about people being passionate and innovative, enthusiastic, pushing themselves. I like to learn things from others, and I appreciate people who are open to learning and new ideas - so these became key words for me.

My final list of personal work values were:

  • Supporting others to make a difference
  • Working with passion, curiosity and purpose
  • Continuous learning and innovation
  • Taking action and achieving goals as a result
  • Working fast and smart, having the influence to change things that aren't working quickly

If you've gotten this far and came up with a concise list that means something to you - brilliant! This isn't an easy task and there might be some surprises in there. You might realise that you haven't been honouring some of these values in recent months. That might be the reason you're looking for another job or it may be because you need to pull your socks up and get back on track … whatever the reason, completing this exercise will help you enormously to start living and working by a set of values that mean something to you.

If you are looking for another job, jot these values down in your notebook, pop a copy of them in your purse, type them into the notes section of your phone - anything to have them accessible and as visible as possible. When you are looking at potential companies and job roles ask yourself questions based on your values - will this give me the opportunity to support others? Will I have enough influence here to make changes? Is it a big corporate company that may have a lot of processes and red tape or will I have a good amount of freedom to take action? Is this something I can get passionate about?

If everything looks like a good fit, keep your values in the forefront of your mind (or at the top of your notes) when you go into the interview. Listen to how the interviewers talk about the company - are they enthusiastic? Can you sense their own passion for what they do? Finally devise a list of questions based around your values. For instance, I might ask:

  • "How do you think your team has made a difference to the company this year?"
  • "What gets you excited about coming to work every morning / what do you love about working here?"
  • "How does the company share knowledge and push to be more innovative?"
  • "What would be my first objectives in this role?"
  • "What is the turnaround time on projects? How fast are you able to implement changes?"

It might feel strange to turn the tables and ask such challenging questions as these and yes, there's a chance you might get a surprised reaction. But as an HR Manager who's interviewed loads of candidates over the past 9 years, I can assure you that receiving questions like this is much more preferable to the likes of "how many holidays will I get?". If you get a bad reaction, you'll need to ask yourself why. Maybe the interviewer doesn't love working there, doesn't promote knowledge sharing / innovation, can't implement changes … If so, you've probably got the answer you need to make a decision on whether this is the role for you. Whatever the case - asking questions like this will get you an honest response and will show you in a great light - you've placed a high value on yourself and you're really doing your research to determine what the next best step for your career is.