hiring values

Job seekers are constantly debating which traits are most important in prospective employers. Should they prioritize pay? What about the location and commute? Where do benefits, work-from-home options, and professional growth fit in?

The most important factor underpinning all of these things, however, is an employer’s set of values. What a company deems important — whether it’s diversity or animals — influences all of the other decisions it makes. While perks like office snacks may come and go, vital considerations like PTO and bonuses are based on an organization’s values. After all, a company that values long-term customers will reward its sales team very differently than one that values new acquisitions.

And it’s in employers’ best interests to find employees with matching values, too. While Gallup found that only 27 percent of employees believe in their companies’ values, a whopping 86 percent of Millennials would take a pay cut to work at a business whose values aligned with their own. Happy employees are more productive and engaged, meaning shared values can have a double impact on the bottom line.

But how do employees find their organizational kindred spirits when it comes to values?

1. Look for companies that back their words up with actions. It’s easy for businesses to say they champion, say, women in tech or fair trade. It’s harder to find businesses that back up those intentions with real efforts: programs, sponsorships, volunteering, legislation.

Credera, a management and IT consulting firm, has been working with Meals on Wheels to develop a mobile platform making it easier to deliver meals to seniors. This matches up with the firm’s value of serving others and innovating to better serve those in need. “Whether it’s a sacrifice of perception, time, or power, we see team members considering a client or team member’s interests as greater than their own, and then they act on it. This is what true servant leadership looks like,” Justin Bell, Credera’s president, explains. “At Credera we believe that the fundamental position of all servant leaders is that they are, in fact, servants first.”

2. Ask about others’ experiences. The best gauge of a person’s future behavior is his past behavior, and the same goes for companies. If you want to know whether a business is serious about mentoring its employees or awarding promotions internally, ask people who have seen the company through a few business cycles.

One biotech company found that because it didn’t have enough senior-level positions available, it was losing high performers to smaller companies with executive openings. To combat that trend, the company’s leaders began meeting to discuss how it could create more opportunities for its best employees — something existing employees will share with others looking to join the team. The upside for the company? Employees “feel a sense of shared ownership in any promotion that happens” and can attract more of the same.

3. Use a public index. Some workers specifically want to avoid working with companies that espouse views opposite of what they believe. Others want to work hard to help the causes they care about. In either scenario, it can be hard to assess where a company truly stands.

That’s where a public index like Good Guide can come in handy. Rating products and their ingredients, guides like these can help those searching for animal-friendly or ethically produced products to support with their work. Dara O’Rourke, an associate professor of environmental and labor policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and the co-founder of Good Guide, explains, “More and more consumers [are saying], ‘If I’m supporting this company by buying a product or investing in it, I want to make sure it supports my personal values, and I don’t want to buy from a company that doesn’t.’” Those consumers feel the same way about their work.

4. Take a look at their core values and mission statement. Some mission statements only serve as lip service, but job seekers can decipher which ones are thoughtful and sincere by how they’re phrased — and how leaders and recruiters explain them.

Rob Dube, the president and co-founder of imageOne, a document security and workflow efficiency firm, found that core values had started growing within his decade-old company, even without its leaders explicitly defining them. After they did establish concrete values and definitions — such as “We Think Like Visionaries” — they found that a clear and inspiring vision helped them “take control and build a business that revolves around our core values every day.”

While it can be hard for job seekers to compare compensation and opportunities across organizations, values can give them an apples-to-apples comparison. By focusing on what their prospective employers value, candidates can ensure they’re in a position to not just survive, but thrive.