Updated on 09.30.14

How to Get a High-Paying, High-Integrity Job

Trent Hamm

ymoylOne of my favorite sections in what is undoubtedly my favorite personal finance book, Your Money or Your Life, discusses the process one can go through to find a job that is both high in integrity (meaning it’s actually in line with your values – you’re not selling your soul or killing your spirit by doing it) and high in pay.

A lot of people, quite frankly, view this as an impossibility. The general equation seems to be that following your passions means low pay and following the bucks means ditching your passions. From my perspective, this feeling usually results from too many years working thankless jobs that are incompatible with personal ethics and passions. Others have made themselves comfortable with a low-paying job that gives them the freedom that they want, but not the financial resources to create a strong personal safety net.

Your Money or Your Life argues that there is a third way (and, frankly, so does What Color Is Your Parachute?, which is a brilliant guide solely focused on careers). From page 228:

There is no Job Charming. The people we’ve met in these pages have had to do a lot of soul-searching, risk-taking, experimenting, and challenging of old beliefs in order to move forward into jobs with higher pay and high integrity. They’ve had to see that their lives are bigger than their jobs. The parts of themselves that had been suffocated by their paid employment had to be given room to breathe again. Visions from childhood of how life could be had to be excavated from under the status, seriousness and self-importance that masquerade as adulthood. They had to tell themselves the truth about whether or not their current employment was really doing what paid employment is supposed to do: earn money.

In other words, Your Money or Your Life argues that it is very difficult (not impossible, but difficult) to spend significantly less than you earn and build a financial foundation for yourself if you’re working in a way that’s at odds with the person you are. The solution? Get your spending under control, then find a job that pays well and lines up with your values.

Job Hunting Checklist

But how do you actually find that job? The book offers a checklist, and here it is, with some of my notes.

1. Purpose

What’s the purpose of the job? Obviously, a big part of the purpose is to get paid – you need money in your pocket, right? But ask yourself this: is the task you spend many hours of your life on each day actually have a purpose that you find valuable?

This is trickier than it seems, especially since jobs that seem to have purpose early on eventually grow to not have that purpose later on. I felt this to some extent with my research job, where I felt a great deal of purpose when I first started, but that feeling waned as my project matured, eventually leaving me still enjoying some aspects quite a bit (the people in particular, and some individual pieces of the work), but being nervous and going through the motions in other respects.

For now, almost all of the work I do earns some money, but perhaps more importantly to me, it has a purpose – I’ve somehow been blessed with the opportunity to write about things that actually help people and this stuff is read by thousands upon thousands of people every day.

2. Intention

Do you have the internal motivation to actually make good on your goals? Procrastination and a lack of focus are your enemies. Self-motivation, on the other hand, is a huge ally.

To put it in a more tangible sense, think about the career you dream of having – the high-paying, high-integrity job that you’ve always wanted. That’s your goal.

What are you doing today to get there? If you’re not doing anything at all, you’re not actually motivated to get there. If you know what you need to do but keep putting it off, procrastination is keeping you where you are.

3. Willingness

It’s one thing to know what you need to do to make it happen. It’s another thing entirely to put your foot down and actually do it.

For years, I dreamed of being a writer, particularly one who could reach a lot of people with stuff that actually affected and helped them, and made enough from it to at least survive. I held that dream in my head – and I let it flounder.

It wasn’t until I actually started trying to make it happen that it actually happened. And it didn’t happen immediately. It took years of constant effort, eating a lot of my spare time, to make it happen.

The most important step is the first one – and the willingness to follow that step with another one.

4. Consciousness

Keep your eyes open. The world around you is full of possibilities. It sounds sort of trite, but it’s true. Our days are loaded with opportunities to stand out from the pack and do something exceptional and interesting.

Look at every interaction you have as a meeting with a potential customer. Look at every experience as a possible source for an article. Look at every shop you visit as a potential retail location. Look at every moment as a source for ideas and opportunities.

The more you step back and look at your daily life through this lens, the more opportunities will bloom into view.

5. Recognition

When do you know you’ve been successful? Most of the time, it’s not a clear demarcation.

Your Money or Your Life argues that the only real way to tell if you’re successful comes from inside. You can’t use income or recognition from others as a metric – it comes from you.

Some people feel successful immediately, with only a bit of success. Others never feel successful. The truth, though, is somewhere in the middle – you’re successful when you wake up, realize you’re happy with what you’re doing and what you’re getting paid for it – and you can’t imagine doing anything else.

You can get there. Today is the day to get started.

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  1. The problem with high-integrity and high-pay is that compensation follows supply and demand. For instance, there are many passionate actors, but most of them are waiting tables. There are also many passionate scientists, but most of them are assistants or associates (and not for lack of talent). To land one of those high-paying jobs you essentially have to be passionate about something that is in demand, or rather in more demand that what can be filled with passionate people.

  2. Agreed, ERE. If what you’re passionate about is something for which supply greatly exceeds demand, it will be hard to find good pay.

    For me, I went through the process in the opposite direction. My first criteria was “what careers are in demand?” After that, I asked which among them would be something that I could be passionate about.

    I now write about taxation and personal finance. I make a living doing it, and I love it.

  3. Damester says:

    Absolutely agree with the two posters on the issue of supply, demand. Other market forces also affect pay levels. And so does the industry.Some industries historically pay less. Period. (and we’re not talking non-profit, a whole other category.)

    A job with “high integrity” would imply working for a company that itself has integrity. Alas, those are few and far between. (Look close and beyond the rhetoric and PR and you’ll see lots of nasty stuff.)

    It would also imply that you work for people who have personal/professional integrity. They exist, but today, they are the minority. So rare as to almost be extinct.

    You need to define “integrity” –and also what is “high integrity” in terms of a position? Something/someone either has integrity or it doesn’t. There is no low, medium or high integrity in my opinion. (It’s the same thing with “quality.”)

    You either have it as an organization or as a person or you don’t. But again, one would need a working definition because there are a lot of companies and people that pride themselves on their integrity but this is NOT the case in how they treat customers, employees and others.

    One of the biggest myths being perpetuated, and one that causes so much pain for people, is the idea that passion translates into profits and $$. It certainly can and does, but nowhere near the frequency that most people would desire.

    That said, you should try as early as you can in your own life to align your values, interests, passions and skills. If you can do it in your “work/career,” great. If not, find some way to do it (Volunteering, side business, etc.)

    It’s a waste of so much human talent that so many companies structure things so that people cannot put more of themselves into their work.

    The other issue is that people often do find jobs/work where they can employ their passion, but then are thwarted by company politics, etc.

    So the work itself can be great, but the company and the people you work with and/or for (as you experienced Trent), are not aligned with your values, and so one’s integrity can be compromised.

    Then, what do you do????

  4. Val says:

    This hit home. I have worked for an employer whose purpose gave me a reason to come to work. I loved the organization’s mission. I liked my boss. I enjoyed my work. Telecommuted when I needed to. I would tell people if this job or my boss are not here , I don’t know what I would do. The compensation was good, not REAL good, but good. All was well. The last few years though there were repeated senior executive and board level changes. The whole climate and culture of the organization has changed and will continue to do so, probably not in a positive direction, My manager has been ‘displaced’, my position eliminated, I was ‘given’ a new position, not the work I like, below my qualifications, a boss I am neutral to, the scope of work not of my interest at all, a bit less pay, no chance of enlarging the position, or making the position more in line with me, and the whole organization turns me off now. 8 hours is a looonnnnggg time, these days.
    I don’t really have a dilemma, I know I have to buckle down and look for the ‘NEXT’ perfect fit job. It will take a while, I will look until I find it.
    Until then I try to show up everyday and be a part of my forced team.
    I have to say though, the perfect fit is possible. I have had it. I want it again. This was the kick in the pants to get busier trying to find it.
    Thanks for the reminder!!

  5. Srinivas Rao says:

    As somebody who has gone through an MBA chasing down different paths with the idea that a high paying job was the answer I love this post. I guess the real challenge for a good amount of us is we get caught up in the day to day of all of this.

  6. Dave says:

    I guess I am one of the very fortunate ones to have landed the very type of job Trent talks about here. I stumbled into the position during the time I was finishing my undergraduate studies and haven’t looked back. I love what I do and can’t see myself doing anything different. It pays well enough to let me take care of my family the way I want to. I feel very fortunate indeed.

  7. Greg says:

    Demester great comment. I am also aware of this love, passion pursuit. I have tried this many times. I was so passionate about music that I went for degree in music history and worked few years for big music institution with poor money and not a lot of perspective – I started to hate music, quit job and now doing something giving me good money and time for personal development. But still I miss this idealistic vision of doing what you care about even if I know that money not always follow our passion and I totally agree with you that it is very dangerous to tell people that they should not beware this.

  8. LLnL says:

    When work is not in line with your dreams and values it is impossible to maintain the kind of workmanship that will get you noticed. Promotions come when someone seems a spark in you. When you can prove to others that you are committed to working hard as a team player opportunities are born. But when it is just a means to an end it shows on your face and in your efforts.

    Great article. I had to stumble it so that I can use it as a reference later.

  9. Troy says:

    A couple of generalities will answer most questions regarding this post.

    Most jobs that pay well pay well for a reason. They are hard. Most people can’t do them, or are unwilling to do what it takes to be able to do them. That is why they pay well.

    The addage “if it was easy, everyone would do it” exists for a reason.

    Most people are average, hence the definition, so most people get average.

    So how do you get a high paying job. Do something well that others can’t or won’t do. Simple.

    My experience shows me the best avenue to high pay, integrity and control is to become self employed.

    I am reminded by people that look at others and say “I want their job. They hardly work and make lots of money”

    I then wonder do they understand not only how hard the job is, but how much harder it is to make it look so easy?

  10. Hi Trent,

    Just found your blog – great piece here.

    Just a comment about what you said upfront,

    “The general equation seems to be that following your passions means low pay and following the bucks means ditching your passions.”

    My friend and I spoke about this the other day. My friend is a natural healer and very skilled.

    He told me that when he started his business he found “his job” as a healer to come so easy and effortless that he felt guilty being paid for his services. So what he did was lower his fees so that he wouldn’t feel as guilty taking the money from his patients – and therefore was paid less.

    And here’s my point: Most of us (myself included) have spent such a long part of our lives doing what we didn’t enjoy doing to earn money that we didn’t realize we could earn money doing what we love.

    Some of us have been following this model so long that it feels awkward and even WRONG to receive large sums of money for doing what we love.

    I’m not suggesting this is “how it is,” but what I am suggesting is that this is what we’ve been programmed to think and believe: that making lots of money will only come to those who ditch their passion.

    And it’s so untrue. If you spend the time and energy to really make your dreams happen, you’ll see at some point that doing what you love becomes the only option ;)

  11. bethh says:

    I’m not a type of person who has a burning passion for things – I have lots of interests, but none of them are all-encompassing. I feel like our tendency to place an emphasis on passion does a disservice to the people who aren’t wired in that particular way. The one time I DID have extreme enthusiasm for a job, I wound up living, breathing, and eating it: even when out with friends, we talked about work FAR too much for my taste.

    Fortunately for me, I was laid off a couple of times (in the 2000/2001 bust times), and when I took time to think about what I’d enjoyed in my diverse jobs, I was able to identify the best of my skills and interests. I went back to school and have been fortunate to build a career that (so far!) really does reflect my values and interests, and I’m happy to be satisfied with my job, not passionate about it.

    Of course another problem is that “high pay” is so very relative, bringing us (as always) back to spending less than we earn.

  12. k2000k says:

    Interesting article and comments, being a recent college graduate I am still trying to figure out what I want to do. Do I search for a potentially lucrative, but currently hard to find, job, that will eventually involve things that I am interested in? Or do I go for a lower paying job that fulfills certain intangible criteria now?

  13. Jessie says:

    I agree with the first two posters comments…

    to K200k:

    I’m curious what you took in college – that really should provide you with your firs steps and direction to determining what type of job you want to puruse.

    Have you had any summer jobs, or jobs while you were going to school – ask yourself when you were the happeiest? What skills did you learn that you could use somewhere else?

    My mom would tell the firs step is to get A job, any job, a job that pays.

    Second to that – find your passion, follow your heart and find the job that will make you happy both financially and in your heart.

    Yes, it’s hard to quit a job once you start – but this is how the world turns and you need to take care of youself.

  14. Anna says:

    Damester #3: Something/someone either has integrity or it doesn’t. There is no low, medium or high integrity in my opinion. (It’s the same thing with “quality.”)

    Off topic, Damester, but I must respond to this dubious interpretation. The analogy with “quality” doesn’t work, because quality, unlike integrity, does indeed come in degrees (e.g., a low-quality garment). We often see terms like “a quality garment” but that usage is still incorrect. “Quality” has to be qualified.

  15. Shawn says:

    So I’ve spent twenty-five years (is that “too many”?) working a thankless job that is incompatible with my personal ethics and passions. But I can house, feed, and clothe my family and sometimes have a little extra for a Christmas present or two. I’m getting rather tired of live-your-dreams posts that will end up sending more people into bankruptcy and living off the government. Some of us have to shovel coal, dig ditches, or string power lines in order to put food on the table. I don’t have problems remembering my visions from childhood and how I wanted to live my life, but I’m a grownup now.

  16. Damester says:

    If you noticed in my comments, I believe I said we have to define “integrity.”

    You are correct about the need to define “quality” as well.

    I spent more than a few years writing and implementing quality management programs and the first step is defining it in terms of the customer, buyer, etc.

    What is “quality” to one is not “quality” to another. It has to meet certain specs. (and there is no scale in quality management, for example. You either meet the specs or you don’t.)

    But I stick with my belief about the use of the terms “high” and “low” when applied to either quality or integrity. Respectfully disagreeing with you on that.

    You disagree, but that does not make my thoughts on it “dubious.” (your word)

  17. DC says:

    Recently published book that follows this train of thought: Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford.

    It is a good read.

  18. Marie says:

    I have a very good job. I got it by getting educated as much as I could in the field of my choice. Then I worked very hard and earned a good reputation. As I did so, I networked and got to know my colleagues. I also always made it a point to LISTEN to others. Listening to others lets you know what others need from you and sometimes I’ve gotten ideas that improve my performance. (Note: Don’t automatically assume everyone has good ideas!) Also, be professional. Never bring your personal feelings to work. By caring about what I do and providing quality service, I have been able to land some very good jobs. I don’t make movie star salary, but who does. My pay is very good. There are no shortcuts.

  19. jm says:

    I believe there is a difference between a career and a job. You work a job, but you build a career. If you apply the concepts of integrity and salary to both, it has been my experience that a job tends to start out with high pay but low integrity, while a career is generally the opposite.

    I’ve noticed that some people are perfectly happy to show up for their job, either giving their all or just doing enough not to get fired, collect their weekly paycheck and go home. By the same token, some people are only happy building their career, taking the work home with them every night, and really investing themselves in it and cultivating a passion for what they do.

    In my own experience, I am working in the same place I got my first real job at after college. For the first 7 years or so it was truly just a job. Once I made the decision to turn it into a career, integrity and pay have taken off exponentially.

    Also, I don’t know if its just the previous commenters being jaded, but I think there are plenty of high-integrity companies/organizations. You just need to know where to look.

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