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What Do Employees Value Most: Dream Job or Salary?

If you were to put together a “Dream Job” list, you’d probably have a few positions on there because you love the work (think illustrator or travel blogger)—and a few because you love the salary that comes with it (say, pro athlete).

Dream job ideas aside, when you’re searching for a new job, you’re probably pondering a similar question: What should you prioritize, the type of work that you’ll be doing or your income?

In an ideal world, you’d snag a well-paying job that you adore, but that combination isn’t exactly easy to find.

The bottom line: There’s no one answer that’s appropriate for everyone. After all, when it comes to what employees value the most, there’s a lot of variation from person to person. But there are some key questions that you can ask yourself in order to figure out what suits you best.

What’s Your Financial Situation?

First, keep in mind that this is a pretty personal question—and a job that’s a good fit for you during one stage of life may not be a good fit for you a few years later.

For instance, if you’re engaged, planning a big wedding, and drowning in debt, or if you’ve recently bought a house and had a baby, salary may play a larger role in your decision-making process. You may feel an increased sense of pressure and responsibility to provide.

On the other hand, if you don’t have a partner or children, or you’re debt-free and living with a group of friends in a low-cost apartment, you likely have fewer lifestyle costs to worry about. So you may be more inclined to lean toward a position with an awesome job description—even if the salary isn’t impressive. At this point in your life, you can probably afford to take a larger financial risk because you have less to lose.

Is The Job Temporary or Permanent?

Let’s say you find a job that pays you well, but you don’t love the responsibilities. It’s a lot easier to put up with that scenario if you know you’ll be there for only a couple of years. For instance, maybe you’re taking this job during graduate school and you know it won’t last forever—or you’re ultimately planning to move to a new city.

But if this is career choice that could span decades, think twice. You will likely find it difficult to work solely for money for a long period of time—especially if it’s a high-stress job, or you’re in a toxic work environment, or you’re not using your key strengths on the job.

What Does Your Free Time Look Like?

You might be fine with doing a job you don’t love that pays the bills if you’re able to do the things that you love when you’re not in the office.

Maybe, for example, a job has reasonable hours and allows you to spend your weeknights hanging with friends, enjoying a book club, or playing poker. Or it pays you so well that you’re able to afford triathlon gear and running, biking, and swimming have become new passions. Or it allows you to travel in style all over the world, trying new cuisines and learning new languages during your down time.

On the flip side, if your hours don’t allow you much free time to do things that you love, or if your salary doesn’t enable you to spend any money on your hobbies, think about how much that’s affecting your wellbeing. If you feel like you’re not living a full, satisfying life, that is something you need to weigh. It might be time to set different priorities when job hunting.

Just How Much is The Salary?

Let’s put the personal factors aside for a moment. Research from psychologists at University of Virginia and Purdue University, which looked at 1.7 million people in 164 countries, found that the ideal income for people is $95,000 per year when it comes to life satisfaction and $60,000 to $75,000 when it comes to emotional wellbeing. In other words, you may not need six figures to be happy.

Of course, if you live in an expensive city like New York or San Francisco, you’ll need to raise that number significantly, and if you live in a more affordable, rural area, then you can probably lower it. But it can give you a ballpark idea of how to think about the “ideal” salary.

How Do The Other Elements of The Job Stack Up?

Finally, remember that this question isn’t just about your day-to-day tasks and your paycheck—it’s important to think about any other pros and cons that you associate with the position. For instance, does the company align with your values and give you a sense of purpose?

Does the job offer perks that allow you better work/life balance (like work-from-home days, reduced hours, or lots of vacation time)? Do you feel like you have job security and room for advancement? Do you have solid benefits? Training opportunities that can help you learn and grow?

In the end, it’s difficult—if not totally impossible—to find a “perfect” job, so you do have to manage your expectations. Are you going to love every single aspect of your position? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t come close to reaching that career goal.

Take a big-picture snapshot of how you’re feeling. Are the answers to most of the questions above “yes”? If so, then you’re likely on the right track. However, if you find yourself with doubts, it may be a sign that you should keep looking.

Not sure how to proceed? You don’t have to go at it alone. If you’re a SoFi member, sign up for a complimentary one on one session with a career coach, who can help you with any aspect of your career. Not a SoFi member yet? Head to to learn more.


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