Career Change Guide
Chapter 1 – Your Values

Your values are fundamental to who you are. They develop when you are young, and although they may evolve, they stay with you throughout your life.

Core Values

Core values form the guiding principles of our behavior. They come from our experiences with family, friends, and community. As adults, we develop our best relationships with people who have the same values as we do.

Having an in depth understanding of your Core Values is essential to knowing yourself. They remain with you as you age, although specific ones may become more-or-less important as your perspective changes. Core Values may appear common to most people, but the relative importance and meaning for each person will differ.

When values conflict, one will take precedence over another. For instance, if someone with limited capability whom you care about does something only satisfactorily, you might accept it. Yet, you would not accept this performance from a different person. In this example, Caring topped Excellence.

To develop an understanding of your Core Values, look at each of the values listed below and ask yourself what each means to you. Think of examples in your own life. For instance, what does Fairness mean to you? In our society, the understanding of Fairness has evolved in recent years. One person might say, “Everyone has the opportunity to do that, so that is fair.” Another might say, “Some people are disadvantaged due to their birth and that is not fair.”

Honesty: truth telling and being open

Integrity: acting consistently with one’s principles

Promise keeping: fulfilling the spirit of commitment

Fidelity: being faithful and loyal

Fairness: treating people justly

Caring: having compassion and being kind

Respect: appreciating the human dignity of others

Citizenship: being a responsible member of the community

Excellence: performing at the highest level

Accountability: taking responsibility

Social consciousness: focusing on the greater good

What we think and say are our values and may not be what they really are. Since our actions reflect our values, to know yours, you need to consider your actions. Look at past decisions, especially important ones such as job changes. Ask yourself, “What were the values that influenced me to make those decisions? How did I feel afterwards?”

You may think that money, power, and position are values. While they might appear to be values, they are not. Ask yourself, “Why is making or having money important to me?” On the one hand, your answer could reflect your values, such as the desire to support your family or to have personal freedom. On the other hand, focusing on making money might reflect something less noble.

One way to learn about your values is by considering your relationships with your family, friends, and colleagues at work. With whom do you have the closest relationships? What are the values you have in common with them?

John Kroger is an example of someone who made his values the basis of his career choices. After graduating from law school, he wanted to help society, always believe in what he was doing, and never compromise his values. He decided to join the United States Attorney’s office as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Almost immediately, Kroger became deeply involved in an important case against the Mafia. When the head prosecutor could no longer work on the case, Kroger took the lead. In an intense and highly publicized battle, he won the case. This success immediately resulted in his becoming one of the leaders of the Southern District of New York office prosecuting the Mafia and major drug kingpins.

Kroger was successful. While he enjoyed winning, he became disenchanted. To prosecute a Mafia leader, a U.S. Attorney typically obtains evidence against a lower-level person in the organization and then gives that person the option of providing evidence against his bosses and receiving a reduced sentence. Kroger did this, but in so doing, he placed informers in precarious positions. Some were identified by the mob and murdered. Furthermore, after a mob leader was sent to jail, someone else would takeover.

Kroger found himself worrying about the ethics of manipulating lower-level mobsters and getting some of them killed. Drugs were still being pushed. This did not sit well with him, and he decided to quit. Instead of becoming a highly paid defense attorney, which is the usual track for a successful U.S. Attorney, Kroger joined the University of Oregon as a professor of law.

Kroger was there only a short time when a former colleague at the Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney’s Office called and asked him to join the team prosecuting the Enron financial fraud case in Texas. At that time, Enron was viewed as at the highest level of crime in corporate America. Kroger agreed and immediately became a part of the investigation into Enron’s chief financial officer, Andrew Fastow. The government team discovered that Fastow had illegally transferred funds under his wife’s name. Even though she had no other involvement, this action put her in legal jeopardy. When the government team gave Fastow the opportunity to cooperate with them to keep his wife out of the case, Fastow cooperated.

Kroger did not like how he felt about this and saw it as no different than what he had been doing against the mob. Consequently, he quit the government’s Enron prosecuting team and returned to teaching law.

(Source: Kroger’s book, Convictions: A Prosecutor’s Battles Against Mafia Killers, Drug Kingpins, and Enron Thieves.)

Kroger’s Core Value of wanting to do something that benefits society drove his career choices. How do your Core Values impact your career choices?

Other Values

Other values and considerations can become important when making work choices. Any career choice should include consideration of loved ones, community, and personal commitments. Your spouse’s situation could affect where you live or how much time you are able to devote to your work. You could have involvements in your community or other interests that take up a lot of your time and are important to you.

One’s personal situation can take on primary importance in a decision about work. For instance, some women who have young children want to leave work at a specific time, usually earlier than their peers. These women should work only for organizations that understand and honor these needs.

I know someone who grew up in a small city in Upstate New York. He spent five years after college in various parts of the country but moved back to Upstate New York to be near his family and the community he loved. He recently changed jobs and only considered opportunities near the community where he lives. His feelings about his family and community acted as values in his decision to work only in Upstate New York.


Another important consideration is culture. We all have a sense of our own culture. It influences how we relate to others, our values, outlook on life, and priorities. Where we work has a culture of its own, and it is important that we feel comfortable with it. Understanding your own culture and that of where you want to work can help you make good job choices.

People’s personal culture begins early in life and results from relationships with their family and the community in which they grew up. This includes the parent’s social-economic status, behaviors, and attitudes about many aspects of their lives. Their community’s norms, customs, and ethnicity also affect their values.

Think about your life. Yes, you have changed, and you have moved on from the culture in which you were raised. Some vestiges of it remain with you today. Can you think of any? There could be many, but you may not be aware of them.

Other important considerations about an organization’s culture are its pace, interplay of its values, decision-making processes, and treatment of employees or members. These affect how an organization relates to the world and the dynamics of its operations.

Organizations in the same fields can have different cultures. For instance, an organization that manages wealthy people’s money could have a thoughtful, long-term approach with responsibility and continuity being important. People in this organization will be measured, courteous, and collaborative. Yet another financial organization that has high risk/high returns as its objective could emphasize risk taking and rapid-paced, short-term, focused decision making. Here the people might be abrupt, profane, and competitive. Every organization is unique.

I know of a U. S. Coast Guard Officer whose ship was in port when he was transferred to an identical ship in the same harbor. He walked across the dock and boarded his new ship. He found it to be squared away, with sailors who did their assignments well and treated each other with respect. He found a refreshing contrast to the ship he had just left. Also, the new ship performed at a higher level. The difference? The skipper of the new ship had high standards and respect for others that permeated the ship’s crew. Even within the same parent organization, individual operating units can have different cultures.

Values and culture are often the most important considerations in decisions about work choices. Consider Sally’s story. The daughter of an Army officer, she lived in Europe while growing up and visited many art museums while she was there. In college, she studied business administration and minored in art history. After graduation, she went to work for a high-end retailer that was expanding. She liked the fact that the company had a lot of young, high-spirited people with an optimistic, energetic culture.

Sally did well and over time was promoted. After a few years, she was transferred to the London office to help manage the expansion of the business in Europe. She led a team that interviewed, hired, and trained hundreds of bright young people for new stores. These were exciting times for Sally.

Three years later, Sally returned to the United States and found a much different culture in the retailer’s U.S. operations. The company had lost its mojo. Employees were more concerned about themselves than doing a good job. As a district manager, she dealt with poorly performing stores and people whom she had to fire. Meanwhile, the company began pressing her to implement policies that she thought were wrong. Sally no longer felt good about the culture of the company. She resigned.

Sally decided that she wanted to work in the art world and began to volunteer at local art galleries in her area. She applied for an intern position at a major art museum and was one of the few accepted. Soon after she became an intern, a job in Development became available. She applied, and she was selected.

For the next three years, Sally added new corporate donors and managed existing ones. Meanwhile she married and had a baby. Her husband was accepted into a U.S. Army program in which he would go to medical school in Washington D.C. with full pay as an Army officer. Sally resigned from the art museum and, with her husband and child, moved to Washington D.C. Once her child enters school, Sally plans to apply for a job in development at one of the major museums in Washington D.C. or wherever she is living.

Sally’s move to a major museum put her in a different culture than the retail organization. The museum had a long-term outlook, with a focus on high-quality, and a pace that enabled Sally to develop her life outside of work. Now that Sally is married and has a child, her priorities have changed. They may change again when her child is older. One can expect Sally to contribute wherever she is.

It is important to have the same values as those with whom you work and to feel good about your employer’s culture. When in this situation, you will be productive and do what is right for your colleagues. They, in turn, will want to help you. A win-win for all.

Recommended Actions – How To Change Careers at Any Age

Identify your Core Values, especially the ones that are most important to you.

  1. Think about what your life decisions tell you about your values.
  2. What are the values of your family members, friends, and others whom you respect?
  3. Review the values listed in this chapter.
  4. Identify the three or four Core Values that are most important to you.

Identify other value-like considerations.

  1. How would your spouse/significant other feel about a career change or relocation?
  2. Do you have any personal commitments or feelings that might be affected by a job change or relocation?
  3. Identify any major considerations or circumstances that you feel are important to where you work.

Develop your thoughts about your personal culture.

  1. Identify the culture of your parents and the community in which you grew up.
  2. Determine what is now your personal culture.
  3. Identify the culture of where you want to work.

Make a list of the values and important considerations relating to where you work next.

  1. Include the most important Core Values, culture and other considerations you have identified.
  2. Prioritize this list.

How to Change Careers – View All Mike’s Recommended Actions for changing careers from each chapter and section >

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