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.
To learn more
OOH profile: www.bls.gov/oco/ocos060.htm
National Association of Social Workers: www.socialworkers.org
Read: Days in the Lives of Social Workers: 50 Professionals Tell "Real-Life" Stories From Social Work Practice by Linda May Grobman
Computer programmer. Many programmers love their jobs because they get paid to work on puzzles. Plus, the field is advancing quickly, so there's always something new to learn. The problem with this career is that with so many excellent programmers in China and India willing to work for a pittance, U.S. programmers who don't distinguish themselves will have a hard time convincing employers they're worth a middle-class salary.
Registered nurse. Nurses are often critical to patients' recovery. There are other nice rewards. The average salary for a basic staff nurse is more than $57,000, and in many cities, nurses often earn over $100,000 a year. Job security is excellent, since nursing is among the fastest-growing careers. Plus, just a two-year degree will generally land you a job, while a four-year degree will give you a wide range of choices, from obstetrics to hospice. With a moderate amount of additional training, jobs such as nurse anesthetist or nurse practitioner are within reach, offering a degree of autonomy approaching that of doctors. Caveat: Every year, nurses are responsible for thousands of patient deaths. Please consider this career only if you are truly caring and detail-oriented.
To learn more
OOH profile: www.bls.gov/oco/ocos083.htm
American Association of Colleges of Nursing: www.aacn.nche.edu
Read: Life Support: Three Nurses on the Front Lines by Claire Fagin and Suzanne Gordon
Scientist. At a very senior level, most scientists have great careers: concocting their own research ideas, delegating repetitious work to underlings, presenting findings at conferences all over the world, maybe even curing a disease. Unfortunately, few of those positions exist. To land one, you first need a Ph.D. in a demanding field. Even then, decent jobs can be hard to find; one Rand study found that there's a 30 percent oversupply of Ph.D.'s in fields such as molecular biology. So grads often end up doing one- or two-year postdoctoral projectsmore education and a tiny stipend. There are bachelor's- and master's-level jobs as scientists, but these generally offer little autonomy: You're a functionary, doing relatively routine tasks at the Ph.D.'s behest.
To learn more
OOH profile: www.bls.gov/oco/ocos047.htm
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology: www.faseb.org
Read: Who Wants to Be a Scientist?: Choosing Science as a Career by Nancy Rockwell
Military officer. This job title is a catchall for hundreds of professional occupations: from manager to physician, accountant to engineer. A military career has many pluses: excellent free training, extensive benefits, and esprit de corps unmatched in most civilian jobs. Of course, you must accept a bureaucracy to end all bureaucracies and the possibility of getting assigned to remote, unappealing outposts. (Killeen, Texas, anyone?) Oh, yes, there's also the chance of getting ambushed in Iraq. Troops who have enlisted for one or two tours are eligible for the officer corps through Officer Candidate School. Other routes in are ROTC and the prestigious service academies: West Point (Army), the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy, and the Coast Guard Academy. These schools offer small classes taught by unusually dedicated instructors. When I visited the Air Force Academy, the cadets were more enthusiastic about their college experience than students at any of the 100-plus colleges I've visited, including Harvard and Stanford.
To learn more
U.S. Department of Defense: www.todaysmilitary.com
Read: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Careers in the U.S. Military by Bill Harris.
Administrative assistant/secretary. Many of my clients crave being the right-hand maner, personand this career affords that opportunity. Ignore Hollywood portrayals of the overworked, abused secretary; this can be a fine career. Trusted administrative assistants may have quite a varied workday: draft a letter, appease a client, conduct research on the Internet, plan a luncheon, create a PowerPoint presentation, organize the boss's file system, prepare a spreadsheet, and screen mail and calls. And unlike the boss, admins are usually out the door at 5 p.m., with little or no work to take home. Plus, in major cities, a good admin can earn $70,000 to $90,000. And increasingly, bosses allow their admins to work at home at least one day a week.
Photographer. As with most artistic careers, to succeed you must have talent and be a dedicated marketer. One of my clients, for instance, makes a living as a photographer by taking close-up action photos of children playing soccer or baseball or competing in karate matches, then selling them to the proud parents. To be competitive, a photographer must be expert at using Photoshop to edit digital images and taking advantage of the Web for sales and marketing.