In Make Your Job a Calling, we make a case that a key strategy for discerning a calling is to start by understanding your gifts, where “gifts” is defined very broadly to include all of those aspects of what make you unique. Psychologists have worked hard to identify the key aspects of people that are important in understanding individual differences, and one of those is values. In simplest terms, values refer to whatever people find important. In our career counseling work, we often ask clients this question: What are the top five things, the “non-negotiables,” that you absolutely need to have in a work environment in order to be satisfied? The answer to this question reveals a person’s work-related values.
We say “work-related” values because people have broader life values that usually relate to their work values, but that represent what they value when they think about life as a whole, rather than their work. For example, one classic list of broad life values includes things like True Friendship, Inner Harmony, Family Security, and Salvation. It is clearly important to think about such high-level values when sorting through the role you want work to play in the context of your life as a whole. When it comes to the question of what type of work would fits you best, however, we assess the reinforcing conditions you’d want in your ideal workplace, without which you would likely feel frustrated and discontent. One popular taxonomy describes these six values:
- Achievement. People with Achievement values want to do something that makes use of their abilities, in which they experience a sense of accomplishment.
- Autonomy. Those with Autonomy values appreciate being able to plan their work with little supervision, try out their own ideas, and make decisions on their own.
- Status. People who value Status want the opportunity for advancement in a job, appreciate getting recognition for their work, want the social status that comes from being viewed as “somebody” in the community, and like the authority to tell people what to do.
- Altruism. Altruism values are characteristic of people desire good friendships with their co-workers, want to do things in service of others, and want to avoid being asked to do work they feel is morally wrong.
- Comfort. People who value Comfort want to keep busy while at work, appreciate the chance to work independently, like variety on the job, desire pay that compares well with that of other workers, and appreciate steady employment with working conditions.
- Safety. Those with Safety values want the company to administer its policies fairly, and desire supervisors who back up employees with upper management and who train workers well.
As was the case for interests, there are both informal and formal means of assessing work values. Informal means include using a checklist strategy, like the one we present here. A better approach is to use a formal inventory to measure values. Values are tricky to measure because it is common for people to “want it all” in an ideal job. Re-read the above list of values, or the longer list on our values checklist—wouldn’t all of those things be great? Sure they would. One problem, though: If a job that reinforces all of those values exists, we haven’t found it. No job has it all. This is why the best measures of values involve some kind of rank-ordering in their approach, forcing you to differentiate between values that are merely very important and those that are absolutely a necessity. This is why we ask people to describe for us their “non-negotiables”—compromise is inevitable, so it’s important to identify what your most important values are.
Once you have a good idea of what your most important values are, you can explore occupations that are most likely to reinforce those values. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Information Network, or O*NET, provides information about which values (using the taxonomy presented above) are reinforced by the environments that define each of more than a thousand occupations. In our experience, however, values are most important not at the level of the broad occupation, but when evaluating a specific work opportunity. For example, you might have a couple of job offers and need to figure out which one is the best fit. In this scenario, once you know your values, use them to figure out which of the opportunities is more likely to satisfy your non-negotiables.
 This list is part of the list of “terminal values” (i.e., desirable end-states) described by social psychologist Milton Rokeach in two books considered classics by values researchers: Rokeach, M. (1968). Beliefs, Attitudes, and Values: A Theory of Organization and Change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, and Rokeach, M. (1973). The Nature of Human Values. New York: The Free Press.
 These come from University of Minnesota counseling psychologists René Dawis and his longtime collaborator, the late Lloyd Lofquist: Dawis, R. V., & Lofquist, L.H. (1984). A Psychological Theory of Work Adjustment. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.