Exploring Career Values

by Janel Granum

whoamiAnyone who looks at my desk will see that I enjoy an entropic space. When I was a teacher, the drawers of my desk were often brimming with an assortment of lab supplies. As an adult, I understand my values, interests, and needs- from small to large. Having a personal space that I can organize (or not organize) may not be as important as feeling like I am helping others, but it definitely contributes to my workplace satisfaction.  For youth identifying and articulating their values is often a challenge, but the right strategies and activities can help young people better understand their needs and future fit.  Here are some strategies to help students advance their understanding.

  • Make career readiness assessments more accessible. Career inventories, values surveys and teamwork assessments are all great tools for helping young people get to know themselves better, but even simple self-assessments can trigger anxiety in students, especially if they associate these tools with tests. Creating low-risk and engaging warm-up activities can help young people be more at ease during self-assessment, which ultimately allows them to find out more information about themselves. In Signal Success, we often utilize kinesthetic versions of self-assessments which allow students to move around the room and discover their values and interests.
  • Change the questions and be ready for a bigger conversation. When I visit programs, most of the students I meet are either unsure about what kind of career they want or initially present as very sure, only to reveal their confusion within a few probing questions. Last year I was working with a class and I listened to one student explain that she wanted be a social worker and then ten minutes later in the midst of a work values activity she was quick to declare that earning a lot money as her most important value. This kind of disconnect is completely appropriate for adolescents with minimal exposure to career exploration, but It is important to help students examine how their values may or may not align with the values in their field of choice.
    Instead of asking what kind of career you want, try to start by asking about different situations. For example: Would you like working in a city? Do you want to work with animals?   What types of activities do you like? Which ones do you struggle with? Help students identify instances where their interests, skills and values match the opportunities that they are exploring, and places where they need to reflect and resolve mismatches.
  • Try to connect career decisions to college decisions. For some young people, decisions about colleges may feel more accessible than contemplating career and work.  Big versus small school, college town versus urban city are familiar choices that not only help determine college fit, but also connect to broader future planning.  These are decisions that can lead to happiness or challenge, but learning the process of how to identify, question and decide is what ultimately sets the stage for successful navigating important choices.

It is important that youth take the time to think about their own values to find satisfaction in their future colleges and careers. Youth who can identify at least some key values will make more informed decisions about majors and possible careers.

For More Information:
Work importance indicators from Mass CIS
Work values and college major choice , Balsamo et al. Learning and Individual Differences, April 2013
Sample Career Exploration Curriculum from Signal Success

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