Good careers for 2006
Politician. Yes, they always have to have their hands out, and their reputation isn't sparkling, but most politicians I've met try diligently to be fine leaders. And while the wheels of government may seem to turn slowly and inefficiently, at least its goal is benevolent. No specific training is required to be a politician, although you must be instantly likable and a compelling speaker. The biggest downside is job instability. But if after a couple of losses you decide to switch careers, the connections you've made will very likely help you land a job.
To learn more
Read: An Insider's Guide to Political Jobs in Washington by William Endicott
Dentist. I find this a more appealing career than physician because training is shorter, hours tend to be more regular, and the paperwork is simpler. And even though patients may dread the dentist more than the doc, dentists' success rate with patients tends to be higher. One requirement is a sturdy spine: Many dentists develop back problems from leaning over patients all day.
To learn more
OOH profile: www.bls.gov/oco/ocos072.htm
American Dental Association: www.ada.org
Read: The Art and Science of Being a Dentist: Leading Dentists Reveal the Secrets to Professional and Personal Success by Jeffrey May
Physician. It's the top of the food chain, but in my view, this career is more trouble than it's worth. The pay is declining. So is the prestige, with more and more patients, thanks to the Internet, feeling they know more about a condition than their doctor. Sometimes they're right. And unless they're employed by a health network such as Kaiser Permanente, many physicians are drowning in insurance and Medicare paperwork. Plus, getting into the field is no picnic. Medical school can cost $200,000 and is usually followed by a few years of low-paying, 100-hour weeks of internship and residency. Nurse practitioner or physician assistant might be a wiser choice.
To learn more
OOH profile: www.bls.gov/oco/ocos074.htm
Association of American Medical Colleges: www.aamc.org
Read: The Human Side of Medicine: Learning What It's Like to Be a Patient and What It's Like to Be a Physician by Laurence Savett
Human-resources professional. HR jobs come in three major flavors: personnel recruiter, benefits expert, and organizational development specialist, which is probably most enjoyable. Org-dev specialists train staff in communication skills and help mediate problems among employees. One thorny part of the job is managing diversity. Training sessions sometimes devolve into angry affairs, and lawsuits and other legal hassles are taking up ever more of the job.
Social worker. Despite stress and frustration, most social workers like what they do. After all, their job is to give away cash, rent subsidies, child care, food stamps, health services, job training, and other resources compliments of taxpayers. Pay isn't as bad as it used to be, averaging about $48,000, and social work remains one of the last professions with excellent job security. It's government work, for one, and it's hard to foresee conditions under which the need for social workers will decline. This is another career in which the training requirements have been ratcheted up: Now, a master's degree is usually required.