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Nov 10

Dream jobs of 2011. Or are they?

My sister and I were recently discussing career changes.  Jenae has worked in the restaurant industry for the last 11 years, but holding a maths degree, she has always had the option to completely change her career path from one spent on her feet dealing with people, to one spent in front of a computer dealing with numbers.  Apparently, one of the clear job options for someone with a degree in maths is to become an actuary.  I was not familiar with the term actuary, but it turns out actuaries are the people who “interpret statistics to determine probabilities of accidents, sickness, and death, and loss of property from theft and natural disasters”.[1]  You know, like Ben Stiller in the film Along Came Polly.  It also turns out, that an actuary routinely ranks as one of the top jobs to have.  In fact, in 2009 it ranked #2, in 2010 it snatched the coveted #1 spot, and this year it came in third.[2]  Surprised? So was I.

Top 5 Dream Jobs of 2011?

The job rankings I cited above are published annually by jobs’ site CareerCast.com, and the results are respected and often cited by reputable publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Forbes.  They attempt to objectively rank 200 jobs across the full spectrum of the US work market by scoring and examining 5 core criteria: environment, income, outlook, stress and physical demands.  So want to know their top five for 2011? Drumroll…

  1. Software Engineer
  2. Mathematician
  3. Actuary
  4. Statistician
  5. Computer systems analyst
If you were expecting Skydiving Instructor, Wine Taster, Astronaut, Indiana Jones, and Fighter Pilot, then I am sorry to disappoint.  What do all the above have in common? Logic, numbers, computers, and one big fat ol’ YAWN!  Job titles dripping with tedium!   Can you see yourself at a party talking to a girl?  ”So what do you do?” “Oh, I have one of the best jobs ever, I’m a computer systems analyst”.  So, being an engineer (Civil Engineer ranked #33, while the highest ranking “real” engineering role was Aerospace Engineer at #19), I felt it necessary to dig into the methodology for their ranking system to see what made these jobs so “desirable”.

What I found, was that CareerCast.com measured how stressful each job was (environmental, physical, and mental stress) and balanced that with the job’s hiring outlook, income, and potential for income growth.  As a result a low stress, uncompetitive job, that pays well will rank highly.  Or as I like to put it, they are ranked according to “easy money”.  Apparently this is what our society is looking for in a career: a safe, reliable, stress-free job with a large paycheck.  Maybe Rocky Balboa had it right in the film Rocky II when he told a office worker at an interview, “It’s just I’d like to see if I could make a living sitting down like you’re doing over there.”   Nowhere in the ranking methodology do they try to score how much fun a job is, how interesting it is, how rewarding (non-monetary) it is, the job’s prestige, or how challenging it is.  Thus, the list is topped out with jobs that sound like good substitutes for sleeping pills, i.e. “Statistician”,  while many of the jobs we dreamed of having as kids come in at the bottom of the list such as: Pilot (#121), Fashion Designer (#143), Actor (#163), Firefighter (#176), Policeman, (#178) and Emergency Medical Technician (#195).

There are many other issues with the job rankings.  Just one example is: they consider the average mid-level salary of each job, but what they don’t consider is the average mid-level true income for each job.  As a result, waiter (#139) and bartender (#140) rank low with their salaries at just over $18,000, ignoring the vast majority of their income (at least in the US),which is tips.  Or, look at the “worst job”: being a roustabout (#200) on an oil rig earns you 32k, but again this salary does not factor in that for 3 weeks a month you get room and board paid for and cannot spend any of your money.

What about freedom?

Something else that I don’t think is given enough weight is freedom.  Freedom I define as being able to choose where you want to work, when you want to work, and how long you want to work.  I highly value the amount of freedom a job allows.  Can I quit my job and go traveling for a year and not worry about finding a new one?  Can I start work at 6am and finish at 3pm?  Can I work four 10 hour days instead of five 8 hour days?  Can I decide to work just 20 hours a week this month and take a cut in pay?  Can I work from home?  Can I work anywhere in the world? Freedom, is important in a job because a person is always happier when they feel like they have lots of option and are in control of their own lives.   So which jobs rank highly in terms of freedom?  CareerCast’s ranking system does not have a specific “freedom” category to score the above mentioned points, but they do have a “hiring outlook” category which can tell us which people are the most in demand.  People who are in high demand are usually able to make their more of their own demands, and as a result their jobs will often have a high score in the freedom category.  So without further ado, here are the top five jobs in order of “hiring outlook”:
  1. Physician Assistant (37.1 points, 84k/year)
  2. Dental Hygienist (33.1 points, 67k./year)
  3. Veterinary (33.0 points, 81k/year)
  4. Physical Therapist (28.0 points, 74k/year)
  5. Software Engineer (27.3 points, 87k/year)

and..

11.  Civil Engineer (22.4 points, 76k/year)
15.  Surgeon (20.6 points, 365k/year)

I included Civil Engineer on the list because it has been the career that has allowed me to travel the world and work in Guam, the UK, China, and Australia, more-or-less without the fear of not being able to find a job at my next destination.  So in some ways, this career offers great freedom.  I also included Surgeon on the list (even though in only comes in at #15 ) because it pays so well, more than 4 times the salary of any of the top five, and in fact it is the highest paying job in the list of 200.  Money can also mean freedom, not just because it allows for a better quality of life, but because it allows for longer unpaid holidays, taking year-long sabbaticals, or allowing an early and comfortable retirement.

Another way?

So is there something fundamentally wrong with society when we rank our jobs according the most stress-free paycheck and not the most rewarding, or the most exciting paycheck?  Or for that matter, the paycheck that grants us the most freedom in our lives?  Is there something fundamentally wrong with the way we measure success?  In economics we measure a nation’s success using GDP or GNP, but in 1972 the king of Bhutan, a small asian country of less that 800,ooo people, suggested that a nation’s success should be measured not by the gross domestic product, but by the gross national happiness or GNH.[3][4]  Perhaps it is time someone put together a jobs rating list according to the happiest paycheck?

To look at CareerCast’s full job’s rating list click here

References:

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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