What do people of different generations look for in a new job?

What is the most important thing to look for in a new job?

When we posed this week’s Generation Gap question, we found that everyone looks for something different in a new job. More than that, though, the answers provide a fascinating series of snapshots, showing what we look for in work at different phases in our life. Three generations—three very different outlooks.

Millennial

“I would want to know, does it align with where I am and where I’m going? For me, potential and opportunities are more important than pay right now.”

—Nicola Lova, 30, software engineer, Athens, Ga.

Takeaway: It’s a tricky balance: A job should provide salary and benefits to help you take care of yourself now, but it should also advance your career and point you to the future. When you’re still starting out, it makes sense to look at the long-term effect of your job choice—to make sure that you’re learning new skills and strengthening existing ones. That means you may need to weigh a salary increase against whether this new job sets you up for the next job, and the one after that.

Gen X

“Most important is money. It’s more important than whether you like the job. If money didn’t matter, then I could work at an animal shelter and make next to nothing and be totally happy. But that’s just not the case. You have to pay for your life.”

—Eryn Press, 39, accountant, Milwaukee

Takeaway: Let’s be frank. In a perfect world, we’d all do what we love without worrying about the paycheck. But this is the real (imperfect) world. A short-term unpaid internship can help a college student to get her foot in the door. But after that, we need to get paid. As we age, new priorities emerge, such as providing for your family life and paying a mortgage, and retirement begins to loom, placing even more emphasis on money. That’s why, no matter your age or stage, negotiating a reasonable salary is important.

Boomer

“It would be good to work with nice people. Just to get along with them. Decent co-workers, and not the bullying type. I guess you don’t know who you’re going to be working with until you get there, do you? And whoever interviews you wouldn’t really tell you how your potential coworkers are—if they’re nasty people. Even if you’re earning just a dollar more at a new job, but the people are better, that might make up for it.”

—Marie Setter, 68, retired insurance claims adjuster, Watsonville, Calif.

Takeaway: As people age and reflect on their careers, they gain perspective on their own job needs. Perhaps being happy with your 40-hour-a-week “roommates” is more important than your pay. So, if you’ve been burned by a difficult workplace, you may make it a priority to find a friendlier one. Similarly, if you’re a longtime freelancer, you may be so keen on gaining benefits through a full-time employer that the size of your pay increase becomes a secondary consideration.

(Quotes have been edited for style and length.)

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