Fair careers for 2006
Psychologist. It wasn't long ago that the "experts" thought that problems such as schizophrenia and depression were caused by bad parenting. So countless patients and their families were subjected to years of psychotherapy. Now, it's clear that these and other psychological problems have largely physiological roots. I believe that in the coming decade or two, an ever larger proportion of emotional problems will be attributed to physiological causes. That may increase the need for physicians trained in psychology but reduce the need for psychologists focused on the psyche alone.
My experience earning a Ph.D. in educational psychology from Berkeley, and then teaching at four different graduate schools, has convinced me that psychologist training programs have been padded into doctorate-length marathons mainly for financial reasons: It's not because there's so much of value that universities can teach aspiring psychologists but because universities make more money the longer students are in school. And grad students are free or low-cost research slaves for professors. If you're considering a career as a psychologist, ask yourself whether you want to endure that. Then consider whether a career as a personal coach (see above) might be less demanding and more fulfilling.
To learn more
OOH profile: www.bls.gov/oco/ocos056.htm
American Psychological Association: www.apa.org
Read: What You Never Learned in Graduate School: A Survival Guide for Therapists by Jeffrey Kottler.
Journalist. If you can land a decent-paying job, journalism is a great career. There are opportunities for creativity, you're often learning something new, and you feel you make a difference. Many factors, however, make it ever more difficult to find a journalism job that pays a middle-class salary. Print and broadcast organizations are merging or folding, and many remaining ones are using more nationally syndicated content. Thousands of bloggers and other citizen journalists are doing journalism for free, and before long, online search engines will provide on-demand custom "newspapers," based on information from multiple news organizations.
Architect. Many outsiders think this is a terrific, artistic career, but they don't realize how long it takes before an architect gets to design a building. First, there's a five-year bachelor's degree, or a master's. Then there's a three-year internship. After that, many architects in firms must spend years designing building components, such as the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system. Going off on your own may not be a solution. Most people who hire architects are older and reluctant to trust designing their building to a 20- or 30-something.
Teacher. On its face, teaching would seem like a wonderful career. The workday is relatively shortas is the work yearthere are terrific benefits and good job security, and pay has risen above $60,000 in many metropolitan areas. So why would one third of all new teachers leave the profession within five years? Because most new jobs are in highly challenging low-income areas. Making the job even tougher is a trend, driven by politicians, toward putting all studentsfrom those needing special education to those who speak spotty English to those who are giftedin the same class. That's a herculean challenge for the most talented and workaholic teacher.
Accountant/actuary. This is among the fastest-growing fields. There's always some new government mandate that keeps accountants in demand, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which requires companies to submit a comprehensive annual report describing their internal accounting control system. While some accountants love delving into this kind of detail, many ultimately find it tedious. Another downside: Accountants are often the bearers of bad news: "No, you can't deduct this," or "No, we can't afford that." Management accountants, including chief financial officers and comptrollers, are often involved in strategic planning and have a much more interesting career. But for every one of them there are dozens of others slogging through internal audits, supervising bookkeepers, and cranking out fat tax returns.
Marketing/advertising/public relations. Some people love these jobs: the fast pace, the glamour, the discrete projects with dramatic deadlines. You work hard and then it's over, and you feel as if you accomplished something. However, a number of thoughtful people who have entered this career ultimately found it felt empty: They were selling sizzle, not steak. Many people go into these fields hoping they'll get to do ad campaigns for worthy nonprofit causes, but those represent only a tiny proportion of the available work, and much of that is pro bono or divvied up among the best and most well-connected employees.
To learn more
OOH profile: www.bls.gov/oco/ocos020.htm
American Marketing Association: www.marketingpower.com
Public Relations Society of America: www.prsa.org
Read: Careers in Advertising & Public Relations: The WetFeet Insider Guide
Manager/executive. The guys and girls at the top don't have it easy. Unless you're at the top, you're often in a vise between a boss who wants more results from your group and employees who complain they're already overworked. And unlike worker bees who typically get paid overtime starting at 5:01 p.m., managers and executives don't get an extra dime even if they're cranking till midnight. Plus, managers are finding it harder to get rid of problem employees. And for all that, the media don't give managers or executives much respect. For example, there's an endless procession of books about bad bosses, such as A Survival Guide for Working With Bad Bosses, and How to Work for an Idiot. I've yet to see a book titled A Survival Guide for Coping with Bad Employees or How to Supervise an Idiot.
Small-business owner. This is the only career that allows you to go instantly from unemployed to CEO, even if you're a high school dropout. But to avoid being one of the 80 percent of businesses that go belly up in the first five years, you must be a self-starter and have a simple, low-risk business idea. Usually, the best ones are proven successful business concepts placed in a location with high potential demand and little competition. Two of my favorite such concepts are college financial-aid counseling service and well-located espresso or soup carts.