This post has been modified to reflect new information since its original publication.
If you haven’t identified the things that matter most to you, then you might end up working for a company that isn’t a good fit. For example, if you prioritize introspection and alone time, but you pass up a back-office role to take a customer-facing position because it offers more prestige, then you’ll quickly become frustrated. One way to avoid this problem is to write a personal values statement—a bulleted list that describes the things you care about.
The more precisely you define your values, the more likely you will be to find a career that aligns with those values. A well-thought-out personal values statement is also a great way to show potential employers your personal brand and the high moral standards you live your life by.
Follow these steps to create a personal values statement that can serve as a guiding light for your personal, as well as your professional, life.
1. Write down the things you value
The first step is to brainstorm what traits, qualities, and characteristics you admire. Write down everything that comes to mind, and don’t worry about how long your list gets; you’ll condense it down to a manageable size in the next step.
Here are some common values you might consider. However, this list is far from complete. Don’t feel obligated to restrict your choices to those listed here:
If you are having trouble thinking of values to list, you can ask yourself these questions:
- What traits do you admire in others?—What values make a person special? Bravery? Compassion? Intelligence?
- Which values made your past successes possible?—Did you close that deal because of your persistence or patience?
- What types of behavior inspire you?—This behavior usually represents a value you admire.
- What kinds of behavior make you mad?—This is usually the opposite of a value you appreciate.
- What are you most proud of?—Think of the value associated with your proudest accomplishment. For example, did you complete the marathon due to your fortitude or optimism?
- What’s the one thing you would change about yourself?—Is there a particular value you struggle with?
- Describe the happiest time of your life—What were you doing? What value is involved?
Once you’ve listed between 20 and 40 items, it’s time to start editing your list.
2. Group your values into themes
After you’ve created your list, you need to reduce it to a more manageable size. Luckily, many of the values you’ve listed will naturally fall under larger categories.
- Intelligence, learning, and discernment can all fit under wisdom.
- Responsibility, honesty, and honor can all fit under accountability.
- Respect, loyalty, and kindness can all fit under friendship.
Keep sorting items in your list until everything fits into an appropriate overarching theme. These themes are your personal values.
3. Eliminate the least important values
Now that you’ve condensed your personal values list, you need to reduce it further by choosing the top five or 10 values to use in your personal values statement. An easy way to do this is to rank each one from most important to least important.
Try comparing two values at a time and ask yourself, “If I had to live without one of these values, which would it be?” Then, go through the rest of your list, two at a time, deciding which one is less important.
4. Write a sentence describing why each value is important to you
When you’ve finalized your list of values, you need to give each one a context. To do so, you should write a sentence or two explaining what each one means to you.
How do you interpret this value? How do you live it in your life?
For example, if your value is empathy, you could say something like this:
“Empathy—Being open to learning about others’ experiences and the motivations behind their actions. Letting people know you are there for them.”
Personal value statement best practices
Everyone’s personal values statement is unique to them, but there are a few common guidelines to keep in mind when creating yours.
- Be authentic—Don’t try to be someone you’re not. There’s no point in writing a personal values statement if the values you list don’t come from your heart.
- Get a second opinion—Show your statement to your family, friends, coworkers, and even your boss. These people know you best and will have the best insights and suggestions to improve your statement.
- Keep it current—Revisit your statement every year or so to see if it needs updating. Everyone changes over time. It makes sense that your values might change too. For example, getting married and having a baby might lead you to value financial security more than you did when you were single.
- Ignore mundane values—Don’t leave a value off your list because you worry others might find it boring. Your list won’t be authentic if you self-censor your values.
- Rush the process—Writing an effective personal values statement takes a lot of time and introspection. Trying to whip it out during your lunch break is a sure way to fail.
- Include a negative—Don’t include any value that others might interpret as a negative, even if you think you can put a positive spin on it.
“… your personal core values are there to guide behavior and choice. Get them right and you’ll be swift and focused in your decision-making, with clear direction. Get them wrong or leave them ambiguous, and you’ll constantly wonder how you got into this mess.”—Kevin Daum
Personal value statement example
Here’s an example of a personal values statement by Ronald Huereca.
Creative/Innovative: Being creative/innovative is thinking outside the box on a lot of issues. It’s challenging authority and figuring out why things are done a certain way. It’s being proactive about fixing problems and finding solutions.
Intelligence: Intelligence is willing to learn and continue learning new things each and every day. It’s not afraid to ask questions and figure out the “in the mud” details.
Loyalty: Loyalty is staying on the ship no matter how violent the storm. When one is loyal, the person never leaves and never questions the integrity of his higher up.
Open Minded/Independent: Being open minded/independent is important in order to be objective to be a better decision maker. It’s realizing why one is making decisions and being able to see a broader picture.
Self Disciplined: Being self-disciplined is running in the 100-degree heat when nobody else is out there with you. It’s quitting the filthy habit that consumes you. It’s getting up for work when there is no one to hold you accountable. It’s being true to the God you will never see in this lifetime.
Self Aware: Being able to analyze one’s decisions and beliefs. It’s knowing why you made the decision and why you believe what you believe.
How to use your personal values
Now that you’ve created a powerful personal values statement, it’s time to put it to work.
Promote your personal brand
It’s a good idea to add your personal values statement to the “About Me” section of your personal website or your LinkedIn profile. If you have a career portfolio, you can add it there too. This way, you can show potential employers and those looking to network with you what principles guide you.
Make career decisions
However, a personal values statement is most useful when you use it as a benchmark for making important career decisions. All you need to do is ask yourself “What would a person who values X do?”
Imagine you are offered a big promotion, but the new position requires relocating to another city. If you have school-age children and your family is your highest priority, then it will be easy to stay true to your values and turn down the promotion to avoid disrupting your kids’ lives.
“When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.”—Roy E. Disney
Being sure of your values can also simplify the process of looking for a job. For example, if you value interaction, connection, and friendship, then you won’t search for any position that includes a lot of alone time. Conversely, if conversation, wealth, and adventure are what motivate you, then you will look for something like a sales job that involves a lot of travel.
To get a good idea of a potential employer’s values, you can ask probing questions like the following during interviews:
- “What’s it like to work here?”
- “What’s the best/worst thing about working here?”
- “How does the company recognize employees for their success?”
- “If you could change one thing about the company, what would it be?”
- “What kind of people tend to be most successful here?”
- “Does the company have any programs to give back to the community?”
Once you figure out what the company cares about most, you can decide if these values align with your own.
Write other professional documents
A personal values statement can also serve as the basis for creating a variety of other professional documents, including the following: