Over the last two years many people have felt the urge to pursue careers that better reflect their values. What steps can you take to get there?
The pandemic has prompted many of us to rethink fundamental aspects of our lives — like how much time we spend at work and what really matters to us.
It’s triggered the so-called Great Resignation in many parts of the world, as people act on an increasing desire to build a career that matches their personal values — whether that’s promoting environmental sustainability, social justice, or ethical business practices.
Professor Lan Snell, Head of School and Dean of the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) School of Business, said there are a lot of external forces impacting people’s shifting priorities.
“When we look around us, there are just untold, spectacular failures of leadership,” she said.
“People are increasingly feeling jaded with what's going on.”
She said for many people this has prompted a “back to basics” reassessment of their own values.
The business world is changing too, presenting increasing opportunities to carve out a values-aligned career. Now could be a great time for you to pursue one.
“The new work order is all about flexible work choices, including purpose-led work. This has shifted the balance of power from employers to employees as demand outstrips supply for talent,” said Professor Snell.
So, wherever you’re at in your career, how can you build one that’s more authentic to you?
Think deeply about your own core values
Professor Snell said before making a big change, it’s helpful to think about both your personal and professional values.
These could include things like achievement, creativity, kindness, helping others, or risk-taking. Often, your professional value set reflects your personal one – but this is very personal and can take time to distil.
“For example, I value authenticity and integrity. That's my personal value,” said Professor Snell.
“So, my professional identity is going to reflect my personal value set in that pursuit for authenticity and integrity. I won't compromise on that.”
She said, especially for aspiring leaders, being clear on your own values can help you lead more purposefully.
“For example, our MBA students are expected to really crystallise and articulate what their value set is, because that's what they should be leading with – and it should be an authentic representation of who you are.”
To work out what your values are, it can help to write down values that resonate with you or think of people who you admire. Or consider other strategies like “journey mapping”.
If you’re unsatisfied in your current job, consider comparing a list of your personal values with those of your company, to see if they align.
Be wary of advice to “pursue your passion”
While you may sometimes dream about giving your two weeks’ notice and becoming a full-time artisan glass blower, it can pay to be a bit more strategic.
Professor Snell reminded that sometimes you may not have the resources to throw yourself into your passion – and this can be a “romanticised” idea.
“When considering pursuing your passion or assessing what you want to do, I think you need to be grounded by a certain reality. Apply a realistic lens to: Who are you? What are you good at? Do you have the capabilities and/or credentials? Can you compete in that space? Is it viable, sustainable?”
Small steps in the right direction might be best. Some experts suggest dedicating 20% of your time to a new pursuit – so you can test it out without abandoning everything else.
Consider your strengths – and what you need to work on
As well as an honest self-assessment of your professional strengths, talking with other people can be helpful to uncover what skills you may need to craft a more authentic career.
“Having conversations with people is really important to understand and have a realistic assessment of your strengths – and your deficiencies,” said Professor Snell.
She suggested seeking out people or learning opportunities that can help in the areas you wish to improve.
If you’re mid-way into your career, postgrad study could also help you try out ideas – and gain invaluable feedback.
“You can entertain new ideas in a safe space and get feedback from your peers, and from faculty as to the commercial realities of that,” said Professor Snell.
“You might also find your future business partner through the networks you access at university.”
She reminded that, alongside more traditional postgrad options like master’s degrees, there are many shorter, more specific courses like microcredentials that can also help fill in skills gaps.
Do your research
In recent years, even before the pandemic, there’s been more consumer demand for transparency and ethical business practices, said Professor Snell.
“The balance of power has changed with consumers demanding businesses take a more active, responsible stand. We see this manifesting with ‘woke’ corporate behaviours as consumer sentiment drives social responsibility and accountability,” she said.
Before you take a job, talk to people within the organisation and ask questions in the recruitment process, to gauge how the company culture and mission play out in practice.
Ask how your career can suit your lifestyle
Even if your job reflects your values, you can still become burnt out if it doesn’t suit your lifestyle. It’s worth thinking about how a job can fit in with your life, so you can build a career that’s sustainable over the long term.
Professor Snell reminded that regional areas have become increasingly popular throughout the pandemic, upending traditional trends.
“The tide has turned in terms of competition, with metropolitan cities now becoming too heated, too competitive, whereas regional cities have increasing demand for talent but a much smaller pool,” she said.
“This demand versus supply imbalance is actually a competitive advantage as people start to realise that they can still pursue professional roles with an improved quality of life.”
Whether you’re keen to switch jobs right away – or want to study to help you get there – make sure you factor lifestyle into the mix.
Want to learn more about how postgraduate study can help you craft a career you love? Visit usq.edu.au/postgrad to explore your study options.