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Technical Careers: It’s Not Just a Paycheck

9 Feb, 2012

Technical Careers: It’s Not Just a Paycheck

Even in the toughest of job markets, it’s important to keep your values in sight. Certainly money matters, but we all want to work for more than just a paycheck. We need to be able to articulate what matters to us and what gives us satisfaction, whether it’s in solving complex problems, providing excellent customer service, being part of a team that does great things, or anything else that motivates you to excel in your profession. Whether you are unemployed and seeking a job or feeling trapped in an unrewarding job, some introspection will help guide your career in the right direction.

As salary and resource constraints drive corporate expectations to do more with less, the attitude of “I’m grateful to be employed” has faded in many companies ill-prepared to weather the storm. Working harder and smarter for the company has eroded to become “I’m just here for the paycheck until the economy turns around.” In the case of those unemployed, the attitude is similar. After months of unemployment, it’s easy to think “I’ll take almost anything” even when that means applying for positions that are a poor fit for your skills, interests, and personality.

Taking just any job or staying in a frustrating and demoralizing position has long-term consequences that are rarely considered. The amount of time and energy that goes into an unsatisfying job is taxing. It saps energy and wears away at enthusiasm for other things in life. When you are just trying to get by, innovation and creativity take a nose dive leading to accomplishments that are bland and uninspired. Think about your job search and the response you’ll get from a boring resume. Resumes are no longer a simple list of responsibilities; today’s compelling resumes must describe achievements, results, and value. If you have achieved very little it is immediately apparent.

Beyond the impacts to your resume, consider how well you’ll fare in an interview when you still carry pent-up anger and frustration about the last employer. Unhappiness carries over in an interview and colors interviewer perceptions of your personality, energy, and enthusiasm. You may well miss the opportunity to work for an organization that aligns with what you value most. Knowing what you value and what you seek in a job can shift your perspective from past to future and your attitude from pessimist to optimist. Your ability to approach a prospective employer with a realistic understanding of “must-haves” moves you from “I’ll take almost anything” to a more positive attitude of “I’m looking for the right opportunity to grow within and contribute to an organization.”

Spend a bit of time considering the type of environment that you will find most rewarding. Think about where you have succeeded and where you’ve failed, and reflect on the circumstances surrounding those events. The time you spend asking yourself, “What’s really important to me?” will pay dividends when you need to decide if a job is a good fit for your future. Now, let’s review an exercise that will help you answer this question.

Evaluate Your Motivations

Examine the motivators in the following table. Consider the significance of each motivator and how it contributes to your feelings of well-being and self-worth. Many of the motivators – perhaps all – will appeal you. But you must remember that we are still in a tough economy and few jobs will be a perfect fit. Begin the exercise by selecting ten of the fifteen motivators that you are willing to live without. The thought processes that you go through to make these difficult choices will give you a better understanding of what is truly important in your work life. When you have reduced the list to the five motivators that are most important to you, then number the remaining five motivators in the order of preference, with 1 being the most important. Careful consideration of the relative importance of motivators further develops your understanding of and insight about those things that matter to you.

LEARNING: an environment of abundant learning opportunities where learning is encouraged

CONTRIBUTION: a job with substantial responsibility where I can make significant and meaningful contributions

USE OF SKILLS: a demanding role that challenges me to use all of my skills and abilities

VALUES: an organization that aligns with my personal values, beliefs, and philosophy

GROWTH: an employer that offers many career paths and actively participates in career planning

INTERESTS: a chance to work in a field that I find interesting and intriguing

INNOVATION: a culture of creative teams doing new and inventive things

PARTICIPATION: a work environment where my ideas are heard, valued, and make a difference

VARIETY: a fast-paced environment with a high degree of diversity in the kinds of work to be performed

TEAM LOYALTY: an culture of very strongly bonded teams that value individual contributions

TECHNOLOGY: a work environment that embraces, acquires, and uses cutting-edge technology

WORK RELATIONSHIPS: positive and supportive supervisor-to-worker relationships; friendly and helpful peer-to-peer relationships

WORK-LIFE BALANCE: reasonable hours, flexible schedule, telecommuting, a culture of “family first”

WORK ENVIRONMENT: pleasant surroundings with sufficient work space, meeting facilities, break areas, and quiet areas

WORK LOCATION: desirable locale; easy or short commute

Once you’ve completed this exercise, you’ll have a better understanding of the factors that contribute to your personal job satisfaction. To deepen your insight and confirm your selections, take the exercise one step further. Review each of your top five motivators and create statements to clearly define the elements of each motivator that are important to you.

Let’s use Participation as an example. Thinking about my own values and why participation is so important to my job satisfaction, I have developed these statements to describe my ideal work environment.

  • I’m informed about what’s important within the organization.
  • I’m invited to share my thoughts, ideas, and opinions.
  • My thoughts and ideas are heard and help to shape decisions and actions.
  • I’m involved in meetings, processes, and projects where I have a stake in the outcome.
  • I work with individuals whose ideas and opinions I value.

Clear statements of this kind create two significant advantages. You are better positioned to recognize when you’ve found the “right” organization and to know when it is right. And you have the right mind-set to present yourself as a desirable employee for the culture and work environment. Both of these elements will contribute to your long-term success in the organization.


In the current economy, IT jobs will very slowly recover and as time progresses will become even more competitive. There is no place in the technical field for average or mediocre professional credentials. In an industry where technology, techniques, and processes frequently change, only those who demonstrate values, motivation, and achievements secure jobs in the best workplaces. Think about it from the employer’s point of view. No employer wants to have employees who are working only for the paycheck.

Jennifer Hay

Want to learn more about this career expert? Check out a full list of career articles, contact information, and biographical info by visiting her Career Experts member profile. LEARN MORE

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