Find your workplace fit by interviewing with values in mind

Written by: Kelli Karanovich
Published on: Jul 20, 2021

(Image: Giulia May)

You’ve always known that having “a job” is no substitute for having the right job, but today the difference is widely seen as being worth waiting (and working) to find.

With the opportunity over the past year to pause, reflect, and better appreciate the values they hold and the value they provide their employers, there is a renewed demand among workers for workplace value alignment.

And considering the long-term benefits of genuine workplace satisfaction (better health outcomes, increased productivity and higher quality work, lower chances of burnout, and longer tenures) seeking value alignment is worth the short-term frustration for jobseekers and employers both.

The interview process can be the perfect way to discover whether an organization’s values are a fit for yours – whether those are philosophical, financial, cause-based, or connected to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Here are four tips for interviewing with values in mind.

Now: If you haven’t already, identify your values clearly and in writing.

Everyone has a sense of what they value, but not everyone can actually put those values into words. This can lead to feeling anxious or overwhelmed in the interview process, and therefore unable to listen for and ask about the details that signal an organization’s values. The result could be missing a good opportunity or accepting a position that’s a poor fit.

To avoid that trap, compose a written list of your top values prior to the interview process. Give yourself time to reflect before writing and to revise after you’ve begun jotting things down. Consider your past work history, your personality, your weaknesses, and your strengths. If you’re living with a developmental difference or a physical disability, “flexibility” is probably one of your top values. The same is likely true if you’re navigating a major life change like a gender transition or welcoming a new child to your family. Be honest with yourself about what you need.

Be sure to acknowledge how practical concerns may also be values-driven. Say you love the vibe of the office but don’t feel a personal connection to an organization’s mission. If “passion” is your top personal value then it may not be a great fit; on the other hand, it could be a great match if you place a higher value on “mutual respect” and “belonging.”

Or take pay and work hours: If “family” is one of your core values, then you will need to screen for positions that provide enough in compensation and time off for you to meet the needs of your household.

Review your list of values before each interview to help keep your mind on track. It won’t always feel appropriate to share your list of values with your interviewer, but if you’re invited to do so then be upfront and unapologetic.

Before the interview: Prepare questions as well as answers.

It’s always a good idea to anticipate the kind of questions a potential employer is going to ask. When doing this with values in mind, think about replying in a way that will demonstrate your values in action.

For example, if you’ve used the pandemic to pivot career paths, be prepared to talk honestly about what you’ve learned while navigating these changes, particularly in terms of what matters most in your professional life.

Meanwhile, the adage about interviews being for both jobseekers and employers still holds true. Research both what the organization says about itself and what former employees are saying. Write down any questions that arise in the process, and be prepared to ask them during your interview.

While no interviewer wants to feel interrogated, most will appreciate the effort you’ve taken to learn more about the organization.

During the interview: Show respect, be yourself, and pay attention to the small stuff.

Even though the pandemic has blurred the lines between work and home, there’s still a standard for workplace behavior that differs from the norms of your everyday life. However, following the protocols of “professionalism” (like a conventional dress code) should not mask your core personality, identity, or values.

For instance, if your pronouns differ from your physical presentation, be upfront about what they are, and don’t be afraid to politely correct a potential employer who misuses them. Likewise, masking certain behaviors (such as repetitive motions or lack of normal eye contact) is common among autistic professionals and others with atypical neurotypes. However, this takes a toll that can eventually interfere with your ability to work. Dropping the mask – letting the employer meet the “real” you – is the only way to discover whether you can really flourish in the role.

If asked about your behavior, you have the opportunity to be honest about your conditions and the professional-world values that matter to you because of them. Conventional wisdom has in the past suggested strongly that jobseekers withhold this kind of personal information, especially as it relates to health care costs, but paying attention to how a potential employer handles these kinds of situations in real time can tell you more about an organization’s values than a mission statement ever could.

After the interview: Take stock. 

When an interview is over, be sure to review your list of values and take stock of your impressions. It’s always polite to follow up with a thank you message. However, don’t feel pressure to accept an offer if it doesn’t feel right. Instead, view each interview as a learning experience that will bring you closer to finding a workplace where you can thrive.

Kelli Karanovich is an editor at Work for Good, as well as a professional copywriter and educator who also publishes as Kelli Lynn Grey.

By Keri Bass
Keri Bass Assistant Director of Vocational Exploration and Career Coach