How to Find an Employer that Shares Your Values

TSP • @myTSPnet


In the long-run, success in a new role is heavily influenced by whether you feel in tune with the organization’s values. As Harvard Business Review put it, “Culture determines how work gets done, but values show how companies prioritize, make decisions and reconcile conflict. A culture may celebrate innovation, but values determine what gets sacrificed in the pursuit of it.”

The job scope, compensation and career path may fit with your expectations. If you sense a conflict with your core personal values, however, it’s almost impossible to show top performance and maintain commitment over time.

Business is about trade-offs and decisions. The best companies have a clear set of values that guide them in making those calls. For example, KMPG, a leading global professional services and consulting firm, has published a clear set of core values:

  • We lead by example
  • We work together
  • We respect the individual
  • We seek the facts and provide insight
  • We are open and honest in our communications
  • We are committed to our communities
  • Above all, we act with integrity

For a company like KPMG, where trust from clients and compliance with regulatory rules are critical to the company’s existence, the clear focus on integrity is fundamental.

Most companies have some set of official values, but the real question is whether leadership lives up to those values day to day under competitive pressure. For example, the official value statement may say we value team collaboration and mutual respect. However, if a disruptive or abusive employee with high sales performance continues to get promoted, the people in the company will understand there’s a disconnect between what we say and what we do. Great companies live their values.

When evaluating a company as your potential next employer, how can you make a reasonable judgment on their values from the outside? There are some steps you can take, in your research and interviews, to get a sense for how a company lives their values in practice.

A good first step is listing up your own values, and what’s important for you to see in an employer. These could include items like client focus, innovation, diversity, social and environmental impact, open communications, a flat organization, or dedication to professional development and training. Do you have a rank order, to set priorities? A company you are considering may be strong in some areas but have less focus in others. What really matters to you at the end of the day?

Employers often ask candidates to walk through specific examples of how they addressed a given business challenge — candidates can do the same. Most people know they should prepare a list of questions for an interview, but these often revolve around job scope, team structure or expected future career path. Candidates can also ask an interviewer for examples of how they put their stated values into action.

For example, if a company’s official values include leading by example, are there any specific stories about leadership showing the way they expect the rest of the organization to behave, let’s say in handling a difficult client that is also the company’s most profitable account. Or flexibility in taking risks and learning from mistakes to drive innovation, what’s sometimes known as “fail early, fail forward.” Are there examples of an initiative that did not go as planned, but instead of the person or team facing negative career impact, they learned key lessons to move the business forward? These kinds of questions must be delivered with some sensitivity so the interviewer doesn’t feel put on the spot.

Look into the company’s website, blogs, and social media posts. Which stories do they put forward as examples of success, and what does that say about their values? If environmental and social impact are important to you, do you see that highlighted anywhere or it is an afterthought?

Be cautious with reviews on sites like Glassdoor and others. A few loud comments can grab attention, but are they representative of the company’s values in practice? Reviews can be a valuable source of input. But it's important to make sure you are reviewing a large number to get a sense of the reality.

In the end, values are about where an organization is ready to take a stand, trading off other factors like near-term profitability to stay consistent long term. As a candidate, it's critically important to understand whether there is a good match between your closely held values and the company’s.