What we talk about when we talk about good jobs

Campus leaders regularly hear that today's students want good jobs. But what do we mean when we talk about "good jobs?"

Writing for Business Insider, Shana Lebowitz uncovers what it means to have a good job today and how the definition of a good job has changed—and remained the same—over time.

Lebowitz began by interviewing more than a dozen people at different stages of their lives and careers about what a good job means to them. She used the responses, along with a Business Insider survey of 1,037 people, to come up with five key takeaways:

1: People prioritize personal fulfillment and a positive company culture

Today, people are more interested in personal fulfillment than security and stability from employers, explains Rebecca Fraser-Thill, the director of faculty engagement in the Bates Center for Purposeful Work at Bates College. Lebowitz adds that this shift is likely attributable to both the decline in the popularity of the pension and the 2008 economic downturn.

People also prioritize a positive company culture, writes Lebowitz. In fact, 74% of respondents in the Business Insider survey indicated that work/life balance was an essential aspect of a good job, and more than half of respondents said the same about flexibility.

2: People still want their job to provide them with a good salary and benefits

Still, a good salary and benefits—such as health insurance, paid vacation, and a 401(k) or other retirement account—are a priority for many people, especially recent college graduates working to pay off student debt, according to the Business Insider survey. This may not come as a surprise, as the average student loan debt for grads of the Class of 2017 who borrowed money was $39,400, according to Student Loan Hero.

For this reason, it's not uncommon for graduates to pursue high-paying jobs right out of college before transitioning to lower-paying jobs that satisfy their interests, writes Lebowitz.

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3: People prioritize prestige less as they age

Interest in high-paying jobs at reputable companies seems to wane with age, Lebowitz points out. "Prestige is definitely not important to me anymore," explains Alyssa Ain, a lawyer in her early 30s transitioning to a career in social work. "I've just seen how empty it is." Ain adds when she was younger, her prestigious job at the law firm helped her feel smart and capable. But now, "prestige is last on the list of things that are important about a job."

What's more important than prestige is opportunities for advancement. According to the survey, 65% of respondents see opportunities for advancement as essential to a good job. But Lebowitz notes that opportunity for advancement doesn’t necessarily mean scoring promotions. Instead, people look for opportunities to learn or move within their role or industry.

4: Sometimes a good job is one that gets you where you want to go next

Among people across all income, education, and skill levels, a good job may just be work that pays enough or work that can be used as a launching point to the next job, argues Fred Goff, the CEO of Jobcase.  For instance, you may classify your taxing job as a "good job" because it allows you to pay off your student loans—and gives you peace of mind that you can take a more interesting job later, without the stress of looming debt.

5: Any job can be a good job

Lebowitz argues that any job can be a good job with a little "job crafting." Borrowing the term from Yale University professor Amy Wrzesniewski, Lebowitz writes that those who are most satisfied in their work have crafted their job to be more meaningful by incorporating projects they're passionate about.

"It's easier in some ways to be like, 'I'm just going to leave this job and go find another one' than it is to sit down with your supervisor and say, 'Hey, I really need or want these particular elements. Is there anything we can do about that?'" explains Fraser-Thill. But "job crafting" can both make work more personally fulfilling and give you a greater sense of autonomy in your career, she adds (Lebowitz, Business Insider, 12/15).


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