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What values motivate you? What do you look for in an employer after your PhD?

How do you find out if an employer suits you? We don’t often think about it, but values play an important role in this. What values motivate you? This blog provides exercises to find out.

Image: Jon Tyson

Choosing an employer after your PhD

I speak to many PhDs for whom the future prospect of an academic career is no longer attractive. This can be due to all kinds of factors, but often a mismatch in terms of values plays a role. They often know what they are missing and come up with words like: (financial) security, lack of prospect of a future permanent position, respect, fair treatment, recognition or appreciation. It takes energy to do work in an environment that does not match your values, and if you do it for a long time, it will undermine your health.

What are you missing in your employer?

When choosing a new employer after your PhD, you would do well to consider your values. If you work in an environment that matches your values, you will get more energy from your work. You are also more likely to enjoy working with colleagues and supervisors, because they are motivated by the same things.

And there really is something to choose from. One employer is different from another. It helps then, to compare the values of different employer, so that you make choices that suit you.

How do you figure out your values?

Values vary from person to person. Maybe there are values you already know about yourself, write them down. You can also ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do you think is worth pursuing?
  • What motivates you? What do you get out of bed for?
  • What could you not do without?
  • What is a prerequisite for you to do your work well?
  • When do you experience flow? What gives you energy?

Try to make a list of 8 values. If you have trouble finding the right words, look up a list of values online.

Taking it one step further

Write the 8 chosen values on a paper. Go one step further and consider: what do you mean by these values, what do they stand for? Write that down as well.

Using the 8 values found, look at your work. What does your current work meet? Indicate with figures to what extent your current workplace complies.

What do the results look like? Are there more passes than fails? How important are the values that now have unsatisfactory scores?

Use your values to assess an employer

Do you experience a mismatch with your current employer? Are your values not sufficiently reflected in your current workplace? Then you can use your values to investigate which employer does suit you.

Image: Ashes Sitoula

With you list of values

You can use your list of values to rate companies.

  1. Do online research. Read the texts of job postings, and a company’s mission and vision statement to see what values they enunciate. Also look for indirect references to your values. What does the services they offer, the stories they present or the way they address people in their communications reveal about their values? Which of your work values do you see reflected?
  2. Conduct an interview with an employee. Using your values, brainstorm about questions you can ask employees of a company or organisation. You don’t always have to ask about your values literally. For instance, if you think it is important that managers show their appreciation, you could ask the employee how work meetings go and/or how her manager generally interacts with her.
  3. Ask targeted questions during your job interview. Think of questions you can ask about values that are important to you and agree with yourself what you definitely want to know about them at the end of the job interview. It is important to get this information before you decide whether or not you want to work here.

Finally, assess the workplace, give grades for how this workplace scores on your values. The great thing is that this also allows you to compare different workplaces with each other. Then it becomes clear: what is there to choose from?

Hopefully these exercises will help you a step further with the question: what are you looking for in an employer after your PhD? Are you looking for someone to help you do this exercise? I often do this as part of a career coaching programme.