Op-ed: Millennials, what are your work values?

Posted at 8:00 AM, Sep 03, 2016

Sarah Wagoner is the Kroger national account manager for Mead Johnson Nutrition and a volunteer for Network of Executive Women (NEW) Cincinnati. Learn more about NEW Cincinnati by visiting

As a wide-eyed college graduate beginning my “real” career 10 years ago, I assumed I would start my new job with a blank slate. But after walking through the double doors of my future that first day, I realized my colleagues had preconceptions about me and my “millennial work ethic.”

Sarah Wagoner

Since then, I’ve learned there are many opportunities to face and conquer concerning the baggage of predetermined opinions that our coworkers and bosses may have about us.

I’ve found the following strategies help a job seeker find a company that is a good cultural fit and dispel or circumvent the hurdles of others’ preconceptions. And like a runner training for a race, the majority of the hard work is done before the start line.

Identify your strengths and values before you interview.

Our strengths often indicate where we place value. For example, throughout my career, I’ve found that my skill set includes relationship-building and communicating the big picture. So, I place value on trust, communication and strategic thinking.

Whether you take the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment or keep a running list of areas in which you excel, identify and make note of your strengths. Physically writing them down is a sure-fire way to articulate and cement your thoughts and allows you to reference them later.

Overly modest and have difficulty recognizing your strengths? Keep a folder in your inbox of positive feedback you have received. It could be a response to how you championed a special project or organized an office baby shower. Often, these bits of positive feedback indicate larger skill sets and values, like leadership or your desire to build a cohesive culture.

Identify the company’s values before you interview.

It’s critical to identify and articulate what the company’s values are. It helps define expectations and allows you to determine if the organization or role is a good fit.

If you don’t know what the company’s values are after visiting the website and social media accounts, put on your sleuth hat and ask. If you know someone who works for the company, ask about the company’s culture and values. Search for more information on the Internet. Many companies are becoming more transparent about their values and culture.

Live and breathe the common values.

Make a list, either in your head or on paper, of the overlap between your strengths and values and the company’s values. I draw a Venn diagram to help me visualize the commonalities. This intersection is what Carla Harris, vice chairman of global wealth management for Morgan Stanley, a keynote speaker at a recent Network of Executive Women Cincinnati learning event, calls “your distinct competitive advantage.” If there aren’t any overlaps in values, this could indicate the company or specific role may not be a successful fit long-term.

Be prepared during the interview to share your competitive advantage and how it will benefit the company.

When you start your career or a new role, be laser focused on your competitive advantage by integrating it consistently into your conversations, performance and daily life.

What does value alignment have to do with preconceived opinions? Everything. There will be a period in which you’ll have to prove yourself in a new role. But I’ve found that value alignment, consistently practiced, quells early opinions and very quickly you can establish what you are known for. Removing this initial barrier allows your time to be spent exceeding, versus managing, perceptions.

You can begin the process of identifying your overlapping values regardless of where you are in your career. It is possible to unhinge yourself from the predetermined perceptions of others and walk freely through your own double doors.