April 4, 2018
How To Gauge Your Quality Of Life In The Next Job


One of our recruiters was recently talking to a candidate who used to live in Chicago and now lives in San Francisco working for one of the top five eCommerce Internet companies in the country.

During their conversation, a question came up for the candidate:
“I’m curious – if you don’t mind me asking, what are the living conditions there in San Francisco for your wife and two kids compared to where you used to be?"

His answer: "We live in one bedroom – and we're paying $3,000 a month in rent."

It brings up one of the biggest philosophical questions that many candidates toy with when anticipating a job change that may ultimately take them to a very different location and environment: Is My Quality Of Life Really Better Or Worse Since I Took This New Job?

Is quality of life about the money and if so, to what degree does money influence that?

Some perceive their quality of life in their salaried dollars and cents per year so they lock in on that figure – to the point of where some see $200,000 as $200,000, regardless of whether it’s New York, Chicago, San Francisco or elsewhere. Obviously, we know that all dollars are not created equal in these locations, even when comparing cities. If we look at it that way, you’re talking about the kind of comparison that’s very detrimental to high cost of living areas on the coasts, such as San Francisco and New York.

So why do some people choose to see dollars as being the same anywhere? For one, those who live in the highest cost of living areas may rationalize to themselves that they're rich because they make a certain amount of dollars per year (“$200,000 is a lot of money and most people in the country don’t make that, so I must be doing awfully well.). There may also be a vibrant culture that surrounds them, so, in their mind, the culture in a place like Toledo, Ohio could not be vibrant as a major metropolitan city like Chicago.

Focusing purely on a dollar amount as a metric of quality of life is actually not the same as saying, "I want to have my yard and my five bedrooms. That's my quality of life. And I want to have that on an acre of land in a three-year-old house with all the amenities. That's how I define my living conditions."

Yes, you may need a certain amount of money to obtain that standard of living, but let’s take a closer look at that: The same people who say, "I could never consider living anywhere but here” are the same people who say, "When I retire, I want to live in the wine country."

Here’s the challenge: If you truly want to do that and living in the wine country at retirement is the measure of quality of life, couldn’t you live in the wine country outside of Winston Salem, North Carolina for far less than you would in the Bay Area?

As recruiters at Roy Talman & Associates, we have these conversations frequently with candidates who have such confidence in what they think they want in their next destination both for their career and their lifestyle. However, when we challenge them to explore all the possibilities on both fronts, they often discover new, exciting options beyond the assumptions they came in the door with.

Another factor that comes up all the time in the quality of life discussion is the weather. Some people may place a premium on living in the right weather environment, seeing it of paramount importance. Interestingly, everything positive about the area gets multiplied by a factor of ten because the sun is shining. Yet, the weather as a factor in accepting a job in a certain climate may not be all it’s cracked up to be. At first, yes, living in a snow-free climate may seem wonderfully appealing, but there is some evidence that the fascination eventually wears off and sooner than people may expect.

Case in point: In a recent study among college students in the Midwest, these students were asked, “How important do you think the weather would be for you if you were to move to California? And how long do you think it would matter to you?" The students felt the weather would be of the utmost importance and assumed it was going to matter to them forever.

Yet, in a follow up study of those graduates from the Midwest who indeed did move to move to California, a unique finding emerged: Those people started to ignore the weather completely – after just two years.

Think about that. Two years and the honeymoon was over! That fantasy they’d had about living in better weather didn’t matter nearly as much.

In the meantime, consider the fact that several of these new transplants may have accepted a job resulting in them living in a small house where hardly every bedroom is big enough to have a bed. In such places, it’s not unusual to see a professional making $350,000 living with his family in a two-bedroom apartment. Why just two bedrooms on that salary? That’s easy. He also lives in an area that is highly expensive. In many other locations, he might have a 4,000 square foot house on a couple acres of land.

What about commuting time? Certain areas may have gorgeous weather, but what if it’s in a place where the job requires you to leave your house every day before 6am or leave work after 6pm because the traffic in that area is just that unbearable both ways? Candidates don’t always factor in this trade-off, which could find them spending as much as a full week in additional commuting time per year – two weeks in a vehicle annually – compared to the average person’s annual commute total of one week.

Mind you, we’re not trying to sound anti-San Francisco or anti-New York. The point is that when considering a job change, people need to better appreciate the various trade-offs that they may be forced to make and need to be at peace with – especially since those trade-offs change all the time. Some of these people say money doesn't mean anything and that they favor an area where all the activity is. Consequently, many of them live with downsizing in favor of culture, weather or other factors.

You Can Call Your Own Shots – Up To A Point

Each person aims to negotiate their best terms in the next job. Still, when you look at certain geographic areas, you will get results that are typical for that geographic area. For example, in San Francisco, no matter how talented you are, unless you're in the very top small percentage of the population, you will either be living in a much smaller space or you will be commuting to the city from much further out.

Therefore, you can call your own shots up to a point. At that point, you look around and see you are in a location that basically dictates how you're going to live within that environment. It's a trade-off and for a lot of people, that trade-off has emotional components attached to certain factors. Even though some factors will change in importance – such as the weather – the emotional component quite often doesn't change.

Take the case of people who have worked for Fortune 500 companies making hundreds of thousands of dollars. You’d think they’re living “the good life,” right? In some respects, they most definitely are.

However, before long, some of them express a big problem due to one of those emotional components we’re referring to: Even with a large salary, they can’t afford a home that accommodates their family in an area where the school systems are preferable. As a result, it’s not surprising when these folks move back to their former location to get more for the money.

That brings us to another element in the quality of life discussion that comes up constantly: Family. Early on in your career when you might be single or even a newly married couple, it can make sense to occasionally take risks and reach for the stars. However, a funny thing happens when we fast forward a few years where you and your new spouse want to have a family. Suddenly, working 95 hours a week might not be something that meshes with your future plans. Your priorities on quality of life naturally start changing.

Playing “The Lottery”

As long as places like San Francisco and New York are generating as much wealth as they have over the last several decades, they will continually create a stream of people who want to play “the lottery.” What’s the lottery, you ask? For many, it entails moving to a desirable location and having it all – a big house in a great neighborhood with all the great cultural advantages that come with. Some of those who venture to these locations will indeed win “the lottery.”

Just like the lottery itself, the winners comprise an extremely small group of people. You can tell who the winners are by their visibility. They’re defining what winning truly means for them.

Make no mistake, however. In order to win the lottery, it takes a deep commitment to do whatever it takes to succeed and it’s not getting any easier. In many sectors, such as finance or technology, quality of life is not a subject that’s frequently brought up at all. No wonder we hear of stories of people on their email at 2am on Saturday because, well, that’s what it takes. Or living in a trailer while working at Google or Microsoft because that’s what it takes. Do we see that changing anytime soon? Frankly, no.

What we do see are areas rising where there is an interesting combination of quality of life, weather, cost of living, culture and a vibrant economy. For quite some time, Seattle held the crown as that “best of all worlds” type of city but as Seattle is getting to be very expensive, we see the title shifting to a contender like Austin. We suspect that when cities want to imitate the success of another metropolitan area, they’ll look to Austin versus San Francisco.

Where Does That Leave You?

How Does Quality Of Life Have Meaning In Your World?

There are a variety of factors that can play a part in determining how you view quality of life, which can in turn play a role in whether or not you accept a job in a new area: Money. Weather. Schools. Commuting time. Cost of living. Proximity to the gym, the theater, restaurants, the lake/ocean, etc. Religious community. And more.

These factors and others like them can influence your happiness but some of them can also change and shift over time. That’s why it’s vital to have a deep conversation with a recruiter about what you value not only in the next phase of your career but what you value for the quality of your life. Don’t just fall in love with what the job presents to you today. Consider the long-term view of what it gives you as well – and long-term could mean just a year or two from now.

Before you talk to anyone else, make a point to connect with our team at Roy Talman & Associates. With our extensive knowledge of many financial and technology firms from Chicago to New York, we can give you some excellent insight on company cultures, management styles and just how far (or not) a particular salary can take you. That way, you can plan with the entire picture of your work and life in mind. After all, it’s not just the job that’s going to change. It’s everything around you that will likely look different too. Let’s talk more about it well in advance so your next big career move is one that hopefully excites you for many years to come.