Core Values in Career Decision Making

February 19, 2012 | Jenni Proctor
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I would like to share with you the most recent Australian Career Practitioner journal in which I have an article published on Pages 13-14.  The article explores the importance of Core Values in career decision making. You can read the article in the pdf version of the journal, or to read the content of the article reprinted below. 

To be…or to do…that is the question

Article by Jenni Proctor in ACP Magazine

Australian Career Practitioner March 2012 editionWhen adults speak to small children about their future they usually ask “What do you want to be when you grow up?” not “What do you want to do?” 

Children’s responses to this question often provide rich insights into their future.  They are in the process of learning to be themselves, and so see their ideal future through the lens of living out their full potential.  They seem to innately know what it is that matters to them.

Over several years of running a career education program in a primary school, I was always fascinated by the career dreams that children expressed. 

‘Fantasy’ is the word that is often associated with this stage of career choices, but it was fascinating to notice that behind their career preferences there was usually a deep message.  Many of the children knew who they really were at the core of their being.  Of course they may have expressed this in ways that sounded like ‘fantasy’ to the jaded adults around them, but they were expressing what they wanted to BE, not DO. Their responses were job titles, but those job titles, drawn from their narrow knowledge of the world of work, told a much deeper story. They wanted to be a helper or express creativity in some way.  They wanted to be knowledgeable and respected, or be in some position of power. They were aware that they wanted to be adventurous, or pursue an unusual career path.  These children were tapping into their inner understanding of themselves. Without any concept of ambition, and little knowledge of the world of work, they were expressing what it would take for them to experience fulfilment in their career.

Somewhere over the intervening years between childhood and adulthood we seem to lose those thoughts of ‘being’ and put the emphasis on ‘doing’. 

When I started working in my own private practice I was often surprised by clients who were unhappy, unmotivated, wanting to make a career change, yet on the surface seemed to be doing exactly what their skills and experience would indicate was a great career choice for them.  I felt great empathy as I had been in a similar situation before studying career development, and wondered what was ‘wrong’ with me because I felt the need to throw away a perfectly good job to make a complete change in my work life.  Therefore when I heard the same story repeatedly from clients I took special note of this, intrigued about the missing ingredient that led so many people to experience career dissatisfaction when, on the surface, they were working in a job which seemed a good match for them.

Initial career choices are traditionally based on interests and skills, with personality and experience gaining more significance as individuals refine their career path and develop their own specialities.  But it’s a very lucky person who also, right from the beginning of their career, is aware of their own core values, the factors that are deeply embedded in them. 

“We have, each one of us, an essential inner nature which is instinctive, intrinsic, given, natural, i.e. with an appreciable hereditary determinant, and which tends to strongly  persist….This inner core shows itself as natural inclinations, propensities or inner bent. That authentic selfhood can be defined in part by knowing what one is fit for and not fit for.” (Maslow, “Toward a Psychology of Being”)

At the 2011 CDAA Conference in Cairns Mark Savickas shared questions he uses to gain insight into his clients’ deepest needs.  One of the questions was “Who was your childhood hero?” From this seemingly trivial question came responses that reflected the essence of a person.  When individuals from the audience shared their responses it was clear that these stories evoked delight in being true to themselves.

It is that purest knowledge of who we really are, at the core of our being, which may hold the key to people having more success in making career choices which are satisfying for them.  We need to consider the unchanging nature of our clients, not the personality that they have adapted through a lifetime of interactions with others, but the deep personal needs that each person must satisfy to be truly content in their work. 

Understanding what you want to be may be the key to understanding how you can be true to yourself, and gain genuine fulfilment, through your work. 

The holy grail of recruitment is to hire exactly the right person for each position.  Yet as career practitioners we see the result of people being in jobs that just aren’t right for them.  The impact on individuals, on their families, on stress levels, work relationships, and on company profitability as a result of unhappy workers is immeasurable. 

The visual imagery of square pegs in round holes comes to mind.  There is nothing wrong with the square peg or the round hole; they just don’t match properly. You could take a business perspective and say that it is fortunate that recruiters often don’t get it right.  After all many of us make our living as a direct result of people not being happy with their work, or their workplace not being happy with them. 

Recruitment processes tend to be thorough, with emphasis on a great résumé, interview and often aptitude testing results.  So what goes wrong?  Often it’s not the skills or experience or even attitude of an individual that stops them from performing their role in an outstanding way.  If the work just doesn’t suit their personal sense of purpose, contribution or motivation they are unlikely to perform their role with excellence in the same way that they would if these factors were well matched.

Could it be that, to know what work will truly satisfy someone and will enable them to work at the peak of their abilities, we need to go right back to basics.  Who is that person at the core of their being, what really matters to them and what deep values do they hold?  Would this deeper understanding of individuals, beyond their experience or their outstanding résumé, assist companies with their workforce development and productivity?

Young children innately understand the essence of themselves and who they need to be to live a fulfilling life.  If we can assist our clients to strip back the layers that they have built up over life, to recognise who they are innately, then their career decisions can be based on what they want to be, not just what they want to do.

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Last Modified: October 26, 2012
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