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Using your skills and values to define a career that’s right for you

When looking for a job it’s important to find something that you are both interested in and will enjoy. Here are some tips from Imperial College’s deputy director of careers, Richard Carruthers, on how to find a career that aligns with your values

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    Richard Carruthers

    Deputy director of the careers service at Imperial College London
    February 28 2022
    woman looking for jobs on computer


    We all have different needs and desires when it comes to forming a career plan so here are some tips on how to find meaningful employment and a career that’s a good fit for you. 
    Career planning is more than “what you can do”, it’s also about “what you enjoy doing” and “what will motivate you”. If you can find answers to these questions you’ll be better placed to narrow down your job search and hopefully find a career that you’ll be good at and brings you fulfilment. 
    Start by appreciating who you are; what can you offer the world and what drives and motivates you? Next, explore what type of roles fit your skill set and which industries fit your personal values. Finally, try to gain experience through an internship or graduate employment to test if the work really is a good fit for you.
    In this article I’ll focus on the first and second steps; essentially using your skills and values to help define a career path that’s right for you.
    As a busy student it’s very easy to ignore career planning but it’s important to regularly invest some time during your studies to reflect on your skills and values. Try setting a monthly alert or scheduling space in your diary to remind you to focus on this task to ensure you maintain momentum.
    Skills auditing
    A good starting point is to document what you’re good at. Your university’s careers service will have resources to help with this task or you can draw up a simple table with three columns to organise your thoughts. 

    Note down all the “activities” you’re involved in; this may include university modules or subjects you are studying, coursework, projects, extracurricular activities, volunteering or any part-time jobs or internships you have. Next, write short statements of fact, around one or two lines, that concisely outline your accomplishments in each of these activities. 

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    Finally, identify the “skills” that you believe each accomplishment demonstrates. 
    Having evidence of your skills is crucial but it’s also important to identify which skills you enjoy using. By reviewing your skills you may identify activities you enjoyed more, or less, than others. For example, you may construct wonderful PowerPoint slides and deliver great presentations but if you don’t enjoy the process of presenting, it’s probably not a skill you want to use often in your future career. Similarly, you may write amazing code in Python, but you find the process tedious and boring. Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to use that skill in your future career. 

    You may find it beneficial to assign your skills to lists capturing those you’re “good at and enjoy”; “good at but don’t enjoy”; “not good at but enjoy” and “not good at and don’t enjoy”. Your aim would be to find a career that requires more of the skills that you’re “good at and enjoy” and less of those that you “don’t enjoy”.

    There will always be a need to compromise and accept some things you don’t enjoy but this can be a good start to find a career that plays to your personal strengths.

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    Needs and values
    As well as understanding your skills you should also understand what drives and motivates you. 
    While it is generally accepted that we all have essential physiological needs such as access to food, water and oxygen, every other need that we have will vary in importance based on our individual personality. One person may place friendship and belonging with work colleagues above job security while another person may look for job security over friendships.
    In terms of a career, some people may want an intellectually demanding job in which they are constantly learning while others may prefer consistency and a feeling of being an expert in what they do. Some people want the structure and formality of an office environment while others want the flexibility of remote working.
    On top of our needs, we also have values that steer our moral compass. If you work for a company where you don’t think management decisions are fair, or there’s a lack of respect for individuals, you can quickly enter a negative mindset and could feel at odds with the values of your employer.

    This can make you disengage with your work as you become demotivated. Ultimately, career unhappiness could occur if you’re unable to find compromise between your needs and values and those of your employer.

    Once you know your needs, you’ll need to research the values of a company too. Most large companies promote their corporate values on their website or social media profiles. These often include statements about “honesty” or “expertise” but they can be more abstract and use terminology like “family” or “directional” which could allude to a strong team ethos or community.

    If you are passionate about equality and diversity you can check if they promote active LGBTQ+ or BAME staff networks or mentoring programmes on their website or social channels.

    Or, if they claim to care about the environment you could check for content that sets out their strategy to reduce their carbon footprint or unnecessary waste. It is important to find out whether the company aligns with your views on social issues, if this is important to you. 
    Making decisions
    Once you’ve developed a strong understanding of your skills, needs and values you can start looking at career options and formulate questions to help you make well-informed career decisions. 
    Exploring job descriptions can help you understand the skills required for the roles you are applying for. The Prospects website has a great resource that explains different job profiles and could act as a starting point while also browsing job vacancies.

    You could also attend career talks to understand what employers need in their organisations or industry. You should always come prepared with questions to ask at these events. You could ask “what are the top in-demand skills?” or use your needs and values to frame questions, for example, “I’m looking for a career where I’ll be intellectually challenged and get to use creativity to solve problems. Is that something I’d find in your organisation?” 
    Your university’s careers service will usually have an active alumni network engaged in mentoring programmes or message boards, with which you can connect for advice.

    You could also use LinkedIn to find people working in the industry or jobs you’re interested in to ask their opinions and gain their advice. Simply browsing LinkedIn profiles can help you understand the skills but engaging with the people can help you better explore the culture and values of an industry or organisation. 
    In conclusion
    A strategic person reflects on their abilities and desires then seeks information, consults with others, and deliberates on the facts before making a decision.

    This process takes time, but it’s worth the effort. Students who take this approach often perform better in applications and interviews because they’re prepared to demonstrate how their skills and values align with those of the company and the work.

    They also often find more fulfilling careers as they align the work to their own personal standard of success. It’s hard work, and takes time, but it’s worth it.  

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