Back in the day, I always believed you should prioritize going after a job you love over everything else, no matter how small the salary is. It seems simple enough, right? Choose a position because you believe in the organization’s mission, or the company culture, or the awesome leaders working there, and just maybe the money will come.
Well, I was also pretty naïve, I’ll admit to that. Because sometimes, money matters. Scratch that, a lot of the time it matters—to pay rent, to support your family, and simply to sustain yourself. Just because so many of us are raised to go after our dreams doesn’t mean that’s always an option.
And that’s why I’m now singing a different tune: It’s totally OK to prioritize salary when considering a job offer, especially in these three situations:
1. You Truly Don’t Know What You Want to Do Next
I know a lot of people who don’t know what their next step will be. And that leads to this common refrain: “I’ll just get a job that pays well for now, save up, and eventually quit when I find something I truly care about.”
At first, I tried to dissuade them from acting—in my head—so rashly. I asked them questions about what career paths interest them, or what they would do if they had all the money in the world, or what gets them excited, but had little luck in changing their minds. (Can you tell I’m an editor at The Muse?)
Then I thought, is this really such a horrible solution? They needed a way to pay rent, they were open to exploring different fields, and they would be building up essential life skills (like teamwork and adaptability) regardless of where they worked. And who knows, maybe they’d stumble upon their dream career after initially choosing it for the money.
So, whether you’re fresh out of school, changing careers, or just completely lost, it might help to take a job that’ll sustain you now until you find something more fulfilling down the road. Rachel Bitte, Chief People Officer at Jobvite, suggests even trying out a temp job as a way to pay the bills and gain access to all kinds of opportunities:
“The impermanent nature of temping means that you’ll be able to try out more jobs in a shorter time period than you would otherwise, making this the perfect choice for folks who don’t know what they want to next or are looking to broaden their core competencies…As you get more and more experience under your belt, you’ll naturally figure out what you like and don’t like in a job. Not to mention, working in a number of different spaces, positions, and even types of companies will help you pick up some new skills along the way.”
2. You Can’t Afford to Follow Your Dreams Right Now
You’re a new parent, you’re dealing with debt, you were fired and need a job fast before your bills are due. These are all—among many others—legitimate reasons why going after your dreams just isn’t feasible right this second. If an opportunity arises that can help you financially, it’s OK to say yes. Because having a job you love but being unable to pay for groceries won’t make you feel good, either.
However, that doesn’t mean you should give up on your long-term goals—consider picking up a side gig or part-time internship, or taking an online class in your free time to keep those dreams on your radar (rather than in the back of your head).
3. You’ve Been Unemployed for Months
Maybe you’ve been job searching for months without any luck, and finally an opportunity arises. However, despite paying well, it’s not even in your desired field, and honestly, it sounds kind of boring.
You could turn it down and go back to searching, but, maybe you’re sick of browsing the web for jobs, and of hanging out at home in your pajamas, and of seeing your bank account get smaller and smaller. You want to start working, you want to have co-workers again, and you want to start utilizing that brain of yours for something. And you know you’re motivated enough to find some kind of opportunity in even the most boring position.
As Career Coach Ellen Fondiler says, “As long as you have a plan—and realize that the job you are taking for the money is a means to an end—there’s nothing wrong with going that route. Don’t put off working on your passion, but make a commitment to work on it alongside the job you are taking.”
Always keep in mind: What will you get out of this position? How can you guarantee it will get you closer to your career goals? “For example, go into work each day and look at it as free business training,” says Fondiler. “Realize you are learning key skills about how a workplace functions. Even if your boss is horrible, you are still learning how to be a good boss and also what your future employees will need in the workplace.”
This (temporary) job, she says, is a great way for you to meet new people, gather connections, and become an active (versus a very passive) job seeker, and it’ll give you the confidence you need to take that next leap, wherever that may be.
“I envision a world where everyone is doing work that is meaningful and rewarding,” says Fondiler. “But while in the best of all worlds we would all being doing the work we love, there are times that we need to take a ‘bridge job’ in order to make money to support ourselves while we are saving to build our business or work towards our dream jobs.”
And that’s normal and common for many. However, we both agree that you shouldn’t choose a job for the money if it means sacrificing your morals and the things that are valuable to you (like your family or your professional reputation).
But prioritizing your salary during a job search doesn’t make you a bad person—it makes you an honest one who knows what’s most important to you in your life right now. Everyone has reasons for choosing a certain job or career path, and it’s always going to be up to you, and you alone, to decide which factors matter most. As long as you’re happy and fulfilled with your decision, that’s all that matters.
Photo of woman deciding job courtesy of Tom Merton/Getty Images.