Key to career contentment is getting your career non-negotiables met. If you're not sure what yours are, this list may help. Which, if any of these, should be your career non-negotiables?

Prestige. This matters especially to people who care deeply about what others think of them. That partly explains why so many people become attorneys even though studies find the field rife with misery. For example, one survey found that “lawyer is the unhappiest job in America.”  

Money. Western civilization is built on the premise that money buys happiness. If you believe that, perhaps high financial compensation is a non-negotiable for you.

Job security: Some confident souls care not a whit about security. If they get dumped, they’re sure they’ll quickly find another job. For others, however, security is Priority One.

Incentivization. Some people love being paid on performance, for example, on commission: The more you sell, the more you make. Is that you?

Promotability. Some people love the idea of trying to climb the ladder. They want to work at a place where that’s likely.

Entrepreneurial opportunity. Some people, even if working within an organization, want to be able to seek out a money-making idea and bring it to fruition.

Expected workweek. Some people’s mantra is work-life balance. Others love a workplace in which everyone works 60+ hours a week.

Flexible schedule. Some people feel that 9-to-5 is a ball and chain. “As long as I get my work done, I resent having to work specified hours.” Is that you?

Telecommuting. Assuming you’re self-motivated, telecommuting at least part of the week can be a dream: No commute, no boss peering over you, no need to dress up unless you want to. And if you feel like it, you can sneak in a long lunch and a longer movie and get the work done later.

A short commute. Even if you can stay calm during a long commute, it takes a hunk out of a likely already packed day.

Autonomy/control. Even when working in an organization, some people need a lot of autonomy and control.

Cause-driven work. Some people need to work on behalf of a cause.

Sector: Some people want to work for only a for-profit, a non-profit, or government.

Geography. Some of my clients would only consider working and living in what have been called The People’s Republics of Berkeley, Santa Cruz, Madison, or Cambridge. Others would rather work and live anywhere but. Do you have a geographic non-negotiable?

Setting. Is it crucial that you work, for example, in an office building? At home? At a school? A university? Outdoors? Somewhere else?

Physically attractive work environment. Some people’s mood is dramatically affected by the workspace’s attractiveness or lack thereof—for example, a noisy cube farm.

Travel. Most people end up preferring to confine their traveling to vacation-time. Traveling for work usually is far less enjoyable. But perhaps, especially if the travel includes getting out of the airport and into exotic places, you might deem it a non-negotiable.

Adventure/Excitement. Some people are adrenaline-addicted and don’t want to kick the habit. I’m not just talking about bomb dismantlers. For example, some people like the thrill of being a cop or even a survey researcher whose job is to interview people in gritty neighborhoods.

Variety. Some people can’t stand routine. For them, heaven might be an hour by yourself at a desk on Project A, out in the field to work on Project B, back for a meeting on Project C, and a bit of completely different work at home on Project D.

Work difficulty. Some people eschew easy work although many can tolerate that. Many more people require that the work rarely be too difficult.

A good boss. Is it high-priority to have a boss who’s wise, kind, and a mentor?

Good co-workers. Is it key that your co-workers be smart, hard-working, and ethical?

Using your existing training and education. Some people want to use their current skills and training and don’t want to go back to school.

Learning. Some people will only accept a job with ample opportunity to keep learning, for example, the computer programmer who wants a job using a hot, new language.

Glamour.  Do you crave being around stars, jewelry, pop culture, fashion?

Other (Specify:)

Getting your non-negotiables

It’s easy to pick your non-negotiables. It’s not as easy to find an employer willing to give them to you. Of course, the better an employee and the more thorough a job searcher you are, the more likely you can get what you want. Perhaps seeing your list of desiderata will help motivate you.

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia.

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