The Happiest Careers on Earth — or At Least in America

The title sounds like those careers should be at Disney, huh? Well, they aren’t, necessarily. CareerBliss.com did a survey of American workers to find out who was happiest in their careers. You can read more about it here. Top five happiest careers: biotechnology, customer service (really? really!), education, admin, and procurement/purchasing.

I have worked in every one of these careers, sort of. I’ve assisted student and alums in looking for internships and jobs in biotechnology, especially in bioengineering. I have helped faculty and students with library reserve lists, materials and equipment. I have been a Head Start and nursery school teacher. I filled in for many admins while they were out on sick/maternity leave. I also had a ball spending a college’s and university’s money on books, music CDs and top of the line film and DVD editions. So, now I am in the career that has made me the happiest so far, and it is none of these. Why not?

Studies like these on the happiest, hottest, upcoming, newest, hiring the most careers are something I tell people to take with a grain of salt. Just because they are touted as the “est” careers, the est of the best, does not necessarily mean that one of these careers will make you the happiest worker out there. That is because these trends do not take into consideration what career counselors call career fit. Career fit examines how well suited you are for a career. Do you have the knowledge, skills, interests, abilities for a specific career? Would you even like this career? You don’t know, but you sure would like a new job, huh?

Use these trending articles as a way to explore careers, what is out there right now. However, do not base your career choice solely on what these articles tell you or what your friends and family are telling you based on these trends. You are likely to be disappointed because career trends can disappear quickly, leaving you with a lot of school loans and a new degree that isn’t relevant to the current job market.

Explore work that will make you happy. Take career assessments with a career counselor if you think their results are valid. Do a variety of  jobs, pursue internships, take classes and talk to people in careers that interest you. It’s a lot more work than choosing a career based on current trends; however, if you do put in the effort, you may not end up in the happiest career on earth according to others, but in the happiest career for you.

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Adrenalin Junkies — Risking Your Life On The Job

I’m no adrenalin junkie. I have a fit of the vapors just watching the Blue Angels airshows from the relative safety of the ground. As I read the news this week and follow accounts of the CNN freelancer killed when Iraqi security forces regained control of a government building or the Japanese engineers who are risking their health and lives to contain the nuclear crisis at the reactors, I think to myself, “There’s no job on this earth that is worth risking your life for.” But is there? It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “work life balance,” as in your life is in the balance while you do your work.

There seems to be so many reasons why people feel that gambling their lives while on the job is the right thing to do: honor, to get “the story of a lifetime,” to protect your country, to protect your loved ones, to get that next rush, to save an injured victim. And I am torn. It is one thing when dictators put such a low premium on human life, especially when it’s not theirs.  But what about workers who risk their own lives? Are they consciously devaluing themselves?

I understand; I know we need people to do these jobs, and in some cases, they actually understand the risks. And, yes, you could be an accountant who does not have to take life-threatening risks and who ends up finished underneath the wheels of a crosstown bus tomorrow. And maybe knowing that you are doing something worthwhile with your life while you continue to have it helps you get up out of bed and out the door every work day morning.

But I don’t know. I search the faces of the young cops I know. I remember the conversations with a firefighter friend who has broken just about every bone in his body while fighting fires and saving lives. I look at the face of a young cousin I have never met in a battlefield picture taken before returning to the states after his last tour of duty in Iraq. And what I see is that job risks have changed them and not for the better, I think. There are people who are not in these risky fields who find it easy to say “Thank You” to those individuals who risk their lives on the job every day. I guess I’m not one of those yet. I’m still too affected by the changes I see in my adrenalin junkie acquaintances and horrified by them putting themselves in harm’s way.

Losing Your Sense of (Wonder) Bread Wrappers — Or Finding An Intern

When I was a kid, there were two kinds of boots: the kind you struggled to tug on and off over your shoes, and shoe boots, those “cool” boots you wore and then carried your shoes to school. Shoe boots were fashionable, easy to get on and off and a lot more expensive than regular snow boots. So a lot of kids used Wonder Bread wrappers in their snow boots to help get them on and off. My kindergarten early mornings turned from bouts of vexed crying and a string of “godd***its” coming out of my 5-year-old mouth to absolute “wonder” at how a simple bread wrapper could change my daily morning torture to a more normal sense of the world.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could discover some kind of “wonder” tool to help get you through the work day? As we sidle out of this recession, I am talking with a lot of desperately tired and unhappy workers, people who are being asked to do too much and work too many hours. They are at the breaking point and feel trapped because they can’t quit. These people have bills to pay, and everyone now knows it is easier to get a new job if you already have one. That sense of wonder at a new job, new technology, new gadgets and new experiences quickly dissipates as exhaustion takes over.

Well, if you can spare the time to interview and train an intern, that student may just very well be your next wonder tool. I’ve found in my experience that an intern can be a tremendous asset or a huge liability. If you do a careful job of interviewing for interns, though, you may find those people who provide a willing extra pair of hands, along with their own sense of wonder at everything that is new to them in the workplace. I’ve seen enthusiastic interns revitalize and motivate some very tired workplaces. Even if your workplace cannot afford to hire an intern, there are school programs that will give the students credit for a certain amount of written work and evaluations on the part of the work supervisor.

So what makes a great intern? Your new intern should have a can-do attitude, something with which you should be familiar if you’ve been doing the work of several employees. This person should be willing to learn — learn about your company, the people and its projects, and the career field. The intern should readily understand his or her part in the organization and be willing to do some of the tedious work that has to be done. He or she should be able to “connect the dots,” make inferences about projects and procedures without having to be spoonfed conclusions by you.

A great internship supervisor clearly spells out what an intern can and cannot do. The supervisor ensures that the intern gets acclimated, meets everyone, and is shown around the premises. Providing meetings and a question and answer time on a weekly basis also helps you keep your intern informed, gives that person a sense that communication is working and that you are interested in his or her progress. Give the intern more responsibility as you see fit. There is one caveat about being an internship supervisor — if you are going to take on an intern, you MUST do the work. It is easy to hire interns and use them as the office dogsbody, giving them all the awful jobs to do while not really supervising them. Put some effort into supervising your new intern. Get a plan in place for what he or she will be doing and get an idea of what your intern wants to learn. Do the intern evaluations and work with your intern so that he or she gets the best experience possible. If you put some effort into it, your summer at work may not be a vacation; however, you may get the revitalizing shot in the arm you need. You may actually also get to take a vacation if your intern turns out to be a competent addition to your workplace.

More Female Automotive Engineers and Designers, Please

I’ve been having car conversations with friends, male and female, all week, and I have concluded we need more female automotive engineers and designers. A no brainer, huh? I knew this already, having worked at Art Center College of Design where 1 in 10 automotive design graduates is female and from where 2/3 of the world’s automotive designers graduate. Many of these designers also collaborated with engineering students at Cal Tech. But I am again reminded of this fact every time the seatbelt on my Honda Civic misbehaves. Sit too low, and the seatbelt wraps around your ears. Sit too high, and it slips off your shoulder. Lately, this seatbelt has had a bad case of separation anxiety, refusing to let go once buckled. I finally had to push the seat all the way back and climb out of the seatbelt last week. This Honda is now currently sitting in my parking lot pouting and refusing to start. Its days are numbered…

But it is not just my car that does this. Remember the short-lived days of the automatic seatbelt? My ex’s minivan had these. He closed the car door, started the engine and the seatbelts automatically wrapped around him and the passenger. Again, sit too low, and you run the risk of a “safety decapitation.” Sit too high, and you’re in danger of a freebie radical mastectomy.

What women there are in the automotive industry have been designing automotive interiors since the 1950s. The big push lately has been for women to break into exterior automotive design and engineering. The engineering part includes mechanical and electrical engineering for starters. But I think we still need women working on those interiors as well as cool exteriors, and no, I do not mean designing a really fab rearview mirror that doubles as a make up vanity mirror. The American Academy of Pediatrics advised this week that parents should keep their toddlers in a rear-facing car seat until the child turns two. I bet there are a lot of unhappy parents out there this week, and I am also willing to bet that the number of mommies vs daddies carting their kiddos to and from daycare is probably like 80% vs 20%. Have your ever tried to soothe a screaming baby who a) you cannot reach and b) cannot see you? I know it’s a pain, and I don’t even have kids. Yes, I know, parents should pull over, but how often as a parent have you actually done that?

If women want to work designing the automotive exteriors, that’s fine too. Please design a coupe door that doesn’t a) hit you in the chest when you tug it open, b) close on you when you are trying to execute the knees-together-and-swivel maneuver when exiting the car in a skirt or c) how about designing a door that actually opens for you when you unlock the car with a key fob? Systems that let you know when you’ve left your coffee on top of the car or your baby in the car when going to work would be helpful too. About half of the driving population is female. A little help here, ok?

The Best Thing About Being a Writer Is…

The best thing about being a writer is that I get to keep learning things. Yeah, I know, that kind of flies in the face of conventional writing advice which says “Write about what you know.” But here’s the thing, unfortunately, I do not get to write works of fiction very often these days. I’m more likely to be working on a resume for a client, a how-to article or a career exploration article. Those last two require research and resources even when I can write the article off the top of my head.

I never, ever wanted to teach. Regurgitating what I already know just makes me cranky and impatient. I adore my nieces and nephews, but trying to teach them stuff when they were little drove me wild with boredom. But here’s the thing again: writing IS teaching, especially when it comes to writing about careers. And this is what I’ve learned about writing how-to articles — it’s a lot like coming up with a fiction plot. Skip any step in the how-to process, or be obtuse in any of the others, and you’ve lost your audience. And, you have to rewrite the article before you get paid for it.

It’s the same with presenting career workshops. When I started out in career counseling, I thought I’d really hate doing workshops. Many career counselors get nervous when they have to do workshops, but I found that I never did. Even when I knew I would be evaluated on the presentation, I didn’t really care about the workshops. I thought one-on-one counseling sessions were more important, made more of an impact. Actually not caring made my presentations better and got a dialogue going with the participants, something that can be nearly impossible to do with college students and something that just writing a career article usually doesn’t do either. Workshops can also be more time efficient when you have few staff and many students.

I definitely like writing about careers — at least that part is writing about what I know professionally. Yes, I still do have to do the research, but I’ve discovered some really good online resources in the process and continued to learn about career development, especially what happens to a person’s career during an economic downturn and recovery. However, I do not always get to write about careers. Sometimes it’s gardening, other times interior design. There’s always something new to learn even when you already know (or think you know!) a lot about a subject.

Which leads me to the best thing about being a writer in conjunction with getting older is that I also get to fall back on life experiences for my work. The next article I am going to write is about design and decoration of odd-shaped rooms of which I do know something. The sorority house I lived in as an undergraduate was built by a movie producer during the Prohibition era. The bannisters were hollowed out so they could hold fifths of gin. There was a room on the third floor that concealed a tiny speakeasy. One whole odd-shaped room was lined with cedar. My room had an oversized closet which used to hold a still. Now surely one of these rooms HAS to find its way into this article. I guess I will be learning more about the Prohibition era and speakeasies…

Resume Show and Tell: Keep the Keywords

I was talking with an HR professional the other day who is really just burnt out by the number of  resumes he has seen with the same keywords over and over. He said to me, “I would love to ban keywords and buzzwords from every resume submission.” Of course, you cannot do that when the recruiting software uses a scanner or indexer to match up resumes with job requirements. However, I think he was getting at the heart of the mistake that so many resume writers make: they tell, but they do not show.

It is critical that you use keywords on your resume; the need for them isn’t going away anytime soon. But if you are going to put “team player” in your list of skills, then you must show how you are a team player in your job descriptions below on the resume. Example: “Collaborated with the recruiting department to source five solid candidates for a new business analyst position.”

Skill: Problem Solver    Description: “Located a new background check vendor to replace a vendor who raised their rates.”

Skill: Positive Track Record (Be prepared to quantify how you helped your company and/or affected the bottom line.) Description: “Recruited over 40 medical professionals for a drug clinical trials study, bringing in over $500,000 in fees.”

Skill: Communications (Highlight your verbal and written communication skills.) “Description: Presented at the USC Pharmacology Career Conference.” Or, “Authored online resume guidelines for pharmacology jobs.”

Skill: Thrive in a fast-paced environment (Describe your ability to multitask and meet deadlines) Description: Managed three drug research projects simultaneously, while following protocols and meeting report deadlines.”

While you are probably tired of tweaking your resume, resume writing is a process of show AND tell, or really, tell and show. Tell succinctly what your skills are and show how you put them into action in your past positions.

What Is Hard Work?

Hard work in the past meant physical labor, a job that made you sweat and took a toll on your body. Chances were that you went home after “a hard day’s work” tired, sweaty, hungry and probably with parts of your body hurting. You may have even felt satisfaction at all that, or grumbled that you were too old to be doing all this “hard work.” The number of manual labor jobs in this country has shrunk in the last few decades and so has the number of people training in these careers. The number of electricians, plumbers, farmers and pipe fitters are on the decline as well.

So what has hard work turned into? It is a job you hate doing, the ones I blogged about in My So-Called Bad Job, manufacturing or customer service? Is it hard work because you do not like it, it’s not your passion, or is it hard because it’s stressful? Job stress can be caused by any number of things, including a micromanaging boss, shouting clients or a paycheck that does not stretch to cover your bills.

Hard work doesn’t have to be a job you hate. It can be one that is mentally or physically fatiguing, though. Ever wonder how you could get tired out sitting down all day at a computer? Mental fatigue can physically wear you out, while sitting all day can actually make your body physically hurt because: 1) your body was not designed to sit all day, and 2) the approach to ergonomics and a work station that should actually work for everyone is usually one size fits all. But it doesn’t fit if you’re over 6 ft. tall or a pre-teen sized adult. Turns out sitting down isn’t so great for your heart either. Sedentary work makes you gain weight unless you exercise, and this extra weight along with all that extra stress can hurt your heart.

One of my jobs wasn’t hard work for me at all until I got a new work station. The job wasn’t mentally taxing. I had access to books, movies and CDs before anyone else got to use them. It paid the bills while I pursued my musical interests. But in the end, the job took a permanent toll on my body. That’s what made it hard. Years of struggling with carpal tunnel, nerve entrapment and physical therapy and Alexander Technique classes later, I now have permanent physical damage that isn’t going away. That’s hard.

I think the definition of hard work has become very personal, but we keep letting it be defined by other judgmental people. There is this myth in recruiting and in business in general that working in academia isn’t hard, that it’s slower paced than industry, and that is reflected in the lower salaries that academicians earn. There’s also the myth that Californians work longer hours than New Yorkers. Are they working harder, or are New Yorkers working smarter and harder than Californians, accomplishing more in less time? Who knows? I think it is important, though, to stop and think about whether your work is hard, not necessarily to make it easier, but to examine why you think it is hard and if you find satisfaction or dissatisfaction in your job. Does job satisfaction help you to be more successful? Happier with your life? I think the answers to those questions for you are also going to be very personal, but hopefully enlightening enough to keep you developing your own career.