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Show Me the Money'

First, the good news: Today's job seekers are pretty clear about why they would choose one job over another.

In the most recent poll published on my Web site,, job seekers had no trouble deciding what matters most. Hands down, they say they are seeking "career advancement" (34%), or they want to "earn as much money as possible" (26%).

That leaves 40% looking for something else. "Intellectual challenge" anyone? Eighteen percent say they're up for this. A "fair, ethical employer?" These days, people, including mutual fund executives, think about this, too, right?

Or "working for a company that treats its people with respect." Another compelling factor?

What about "having a life outside of work"? That's something the career gurus say people hold as most important, too.

Wrong, wrong and wrong. Each of these factors was described as most important by a whopping 5%. This contradicts virtually all of the large-scale job satisfaction surveys conducted in the past.

Given Up

While there could be any number of reasons why our job seekers are motivated differently, the most likely reason is probably self-evident. Most employee surveys are just that, conducted among people who are already working. They are already being paid, so their basic needs are covered. Now, with a way to pay the mortgage and with a health insurance company ready to pay for their video game-addicted, squinting kids' new, tinted contact lenses, they are seeking affection, companionship, emotional satisfaction and respect.

But if you are not working, and especially if you are among the growing ranks of people who have all but given up looking for gainful employment, just earning enough money to get by is compensation enough. A good workplace? Any workplace would be fine, thank you. A life outside of work? Those who aren't working are already all too familiar with life without work. An ethical employer? Most of those unemployed would love to exchange war stories when they can afford to meet you at Starbucks.

As important as it is to work, job seekers, particularly those in the investment management industry, are making a mistake if they fail to put some real thought into the environment they are about to walk into. Here's why: Because with any luck at all, they will not be unemployed again any time soon, but they will be working for their next employer for years. That could be tens of thousands of hours working with people you don't like, who don't care about you and who truly demand that you share their obsession with this month's revenue forecast at the expense of all else.

That's a lot of time beneath the grinding wheel. Especially when it seems unlikely that the heady days of the last decade, when fund executives, not their employers, held all the cards, will return any time soon.

This means you may have a lot less opportunity to change employers of your own free will. Ask wholesalers who have been consolidated out of work, or IT people who have watched their jobs migrate to India. They're looking straight over the cliff at a truly vexing career future. But once they find a new job opportunity, they will undoubtedly again value stability and common courtesy (and dare we say respect?) as somewhere near the top of their list of needs.

Or ask the people who work at firms that are now ensnarled in open-ended SEC and state regulatory exams how much they wish they could turn the pages of a calendar back a few years to ask the right, and the hard, questions about their employer's code of ethics. Or for that matter, to ask any questions at all about their employer's business practices.

Stand Up for Your Rights

So yes, be concerned about how much you are paid. Consider whether a job will propel you up a rung or three on your career ladder. But tread carefully. Make sure the ladder is real and that you truly understand where it will take you.

Charles O'Neill runs and Diversified Management Resources, an executive recruiting firm.

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