Your core values are foundational. They are the concepts that you live by on a daily basis. They generally drive your everyday decisions and how you live your life. If you can’t lie for any reason — you have honesty buried deep in your soul. If you would drop anything to serve your fellow man you are an overwhelmingly caring person. If you seek money over anything else you might be greedy.

Leadership, and the drive to take charge is a core value that may guide most of your daily decisions. Be aware that core values are ingrained in you and not likely to change over time. That being said, you can actively target new core values through training. You may want to be a leader and you can take classes to become a better one.

However, other things, like creativity, are hard to learn if you don’t already have the knack for it. Understanding the five most consistent core values that you don’t waver on can help you choose the industry you want to work in, the type of people you would be most successful working with, and the type of work environment you might consider seeking.

Let’s quickly explore some common personal core values that you might align with. This, of course, is not an exhaustive list of potential core values. And these core values don’t necessarily align with what you might see a company profess as its core values — we will see in a bit how those are a totally different animal in some cases and often used more for marketing than anything else.

Personal Core Values

Here are some core values that may apply to you. Consider how you can personally apply these values in a positive way at your work, avoiding negative extremes on either side. For instance, curiosity in moderation is vital. But too much curiosity and you are always getting side-tracked and going down unproductive rabbit holes. On the other extreme, too little curiosity keeps you from learning new things and can keep your technical skills too narrow.

Creativity: You are always thinking out of the box. It is in your fabric to tackle solved problems in new ways. You might be a visual thinker. Or enjoy working with your hands.

Curiosity: You need to understand how everything works. Or you might have a driving need to know everything that is going on at work.

Honesty: You can’t stand telling any form of lies. Holding secrets close to your chest pains you. Criticism comes easily to you.

Simplicity: You prefer the path of least resistance when providing solutions. Hearing complexity of any form rubs you the wrong way.

Respectful: You look to your manager as someone to listen too. It is hard for you to solve the problems around your boss.

Transparency: You are full disclosure in all situations. When asked for an answer, you are totally upfront with every detail.

Integrity: You are bound by your morals and ethics. To you, there are never any grey areas in the conversation. Being above board is most important to you.

Humility: You are content with letting someone else share their opinion. You don’t need to be center stage.

Excellence: You are on top of your game at all times. No one can beat your mastery.

Communicator: You are an avid sharer of your thoughts, opinions, and what is going on in general. If I need someone to be in the know, I can start by telling you. You are able to get the information out there.

Proactive: You are involved and upfront in all situations. If it needs attention, you have likely already been involved.

Humor: You see every opportunity to make people laugh, regardless of the situation.

Leader: You prefer to give orders rather than take them. Leading the bull by its horns is where you are most comfortable.

A Company’s Core Values

A company’s core values will likely be a bit different from your personal identifiers. You might describe facets of your person as always striving to achieve absolute excellence and perfection. Be aware that a company proclaiming to embrace those values may have a different definition of the word you think you agree on.

Excellence to a programmer means all the code looks great, the build builds, the deployment is fully automated, the environment is elastic and scales as it needs too, the monitoring system will let me know if I need to worry — until then I will be playing foosball or reading up on some tech news.

But to the business, excellence might mean “striving to make the most money while also keeping the customer happy with our product”. Both are valid and positive definitions of the word. But sometimes what’s important to you about a given value couldn’t be further from the company’s definition. Never assume anything!

Core values can serve two very distinct purposes. The first most important is to guide you or your company. Stating “these are the core values that I want to live by” gives you something very concrete to sail the ship by. A company that weighs its employee’s performance against their core values will usually have a great company culture (assuming the values are good ones of course). A company that either doesn’t define its core values or holds its employees to something other than their core values, will probably not have much of a company culture — just a workforce. Pretty simple.

The other use for core values is not always a positive one. Sometimes people and companies alike try to fly the flag of core values as a marketing statement to the world. A line in the sand to their peers or customers – for example, declaring that their core values always have the customers held in the highest regard. But purely from a lens of “look how awesome we are, we care about you, we will do right by you”. With no meat behind the statement when it really comes down to it these statements are just “markitecture” for profitability.

Be wary of a company that doesn’t live by its core values.

Most company’s mean well with their core values. There are many companies out there, technical and otherwise, that like to post their core values up on the wall. Having core values displayed in the open is a statement that the company has at least spent the time to define the direction they intend to drive their culture. Whether they live by their core values or not will need to be determined through questions during the interview process. Asking “can I see your core values?” or “can you tell me about your core values?” is totally acceptable to the employer you want to work with. The one that declines has failed your interview straight away.