Monday, August 27, 2012

A Simpler Way to Choose a Career

This is the first of a series of five posts, each of which distills one of the presentations I made at the Commonwealth Club this month.

Many people struggle too hard to pick their career. They spend years of angst waiting on the sidelines for the magically perfect career to descend like manna from heaven.

Here's a more likely path to career contentment:
  • Pick what feels best, even if doesn't yield ecstasy. Passion usually comes after you've done the items below.
  • Get good training. (Tip: Getting mentored and trained on the job is underrated and more often possible than you may think.)
  • Do a thorough job search so you get multiple job offers and thus can choose the best one.
  • Tweak the job description to match your strengths.
Do just those things and you'll likely be more satisfied with your career than are most people.

That said, here are a few careers that many people find rewarding and which promise a decent job market for the foreseeable future:

Optometrist: high earnings, good status, high success rate with patients, regular hours. Training: four years post-bachelors or a seven-year BS/OD program.

Terrorism prevention: biochemical, cyber, conventional. Yes, opportunities are best for PhD-level scientists but social science analysts are needed with expertise in Middle Eastern and home-grown terrorism.

Immigration.  Odds are that President Obama will get reelected, and he has promised to make amnesty/comprehensive immigration reform top-priority. Thousands of government workers will be needed to process citizenship applications, teach courses to prepare immigrants for the citizenship exam, etc.

Accountant. Dodd-Frank, Sarbanes-Oxley, and President Obama's promise (threat?) to increase IRS funding suggest a robust market for accountants, especially auditors. Perhaps even more plentiful will be jobs for health care accountants. ObamaCare has been called a full-employment act for accountants.

All things Muslim. We hear a lot about the U.S.'s  burgeoning Latino population but close behind are Muslims:  from conversion, immigration, and a high birth rate. As all ethnic and religious groups, Muslims have preferred services and products. For example, Muslim women will not disrobe before a male health care provider, so there's a great need for Arabic-and Farsi-speaking female health care providers. An under-the-radar product example: Muslims are fond of goat meat and their religion requires animals to be slaughtered using a special method. So Halal goat farming may be a viable U.S career.

Simple, cloneable self-employment:  Look at successful retailers of a simple product: shoeshine stand, flower cart, gourmet food truck, etc.. Incorporate their best features into your version of that business. When your first store is running well, clone it. That approach is a more likely path to self-employment success than to follow the MBA principles of: choosing a field with high barrier to entry, innovate, and go national fast. My motto: Don't innovate; replicate.

Or here are a few of my favorite low-cost self-employment service businesses: help people create their profiles and photos. College financial aid counseling. Convert cluttered basements and attics into clean, shelf-rich spaces. 

A word about following your passion. Most people's passions fall into just a few categories: the environment, entertainment, fashion, nonprofit work, and creative work. Supply-demand means that it will be tough to make a living in those fields unless you're very talented, well-connected, and/or lucky, ideally all three. You're more likely to make decent money and be treated well in a less crowded field. I'm a big fan of doing what you a hobby.

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