May 2, 2012
Are you hot or useless? Career rankings may predict success, or not
If you know your way around a blood-pressure cuff, tartar scraper or bedpan, it appears that you're golden. You're also lucky if you do network administration, data analysis or computer programming.
If, on the other hand, you're in touch with your artistic side, wrangle words or think literature and art have anything at all to offer modern society, you are, in a word, useless.
At least that's what you might be led to believe if you've read any recent version of the "top jobs/worst degrees in America" stories that circulate each spring.
Paired with recent news that 1 in 2 recent grads are jobless or underemployed, it's enough to really depress new college grads as they try to avoid their parents' basements. It's also enough to terrify incoming undergrads and seriously worry the rest of us who might be trying to build our careers.
Degrees in film and video arts, music, graphic design, architecture, literature, political science and government, and journalism all fall into the category of the 13 most useless majors, according to one story published by The Daily Beast, which ignited the fury of hundreds of indignant readers who wrote to defend the liberal arts.
Also available for our anxiety-filled reading is the list of 11 Fastest Growing Jobs for College Grads, which includes network and computer systems administrators, personal and home health-care aides, dental assistants and hygienists, physician and medical assistants, and computer software engineers.
An obvious pattern emerges.
But, right-brain-dominant people, take heart. The truth is less obvious the more you study these lists.
For example, take one of the 13 so-called "most useless" degrees: film, video and photographic arts. The types of jobs one with this degree might pursue include video editor and photographer. The unemployment rate for a recent grad is 12.9 percent, higher than the current Washington rate of 8.3 percent and the national rate of 8.2 percent. But the unemployment rate for an experienced grad is a much improved 6.7 percent, with earnings of $50,000 (up from $30,000 for a new grad) and a growth rate of 9 percent over the next eight years.
When you consider that in 2010 the median household income (that's household, not personal) was $49,445, that's not bad. Sure, you earn crumbs when you first graduate, but as you gain experience, you make salary gains, too.
On the other hand, home health aide, listed as one of the fastest growing jobs in America, was expected to grow by a whopping 56 percent.
But the annual earnings for that job (in 2002 figures): $20,184.
Yeesh. Even adjusted for inflation, that's not exactly going to purchase the American dream.
Another hot career: medical assistant, with a salary just under $30,000.
There's no doubt, though, that careers in computer programming and data analysis are booming and also offer high earning potential. So if that's your bag, excellent for you.
Back to the "useless" list: architecture (expected earnings for a worker with experience: $64,000); and hospitality management (experienced salary of $53,000 and an unemployment rate of less than 6 percent).
Oh, and a personal fave: journalism, with a growth rate of -6 percent (yep, that is a negative there in front of the 6) and a salary for non-newbies of $58,000.
This one would smart if I let it, because I have a degree in -- gasp -- journalism. Speaking from experience, what I think these studies fail to take into account are the newly emerging fields being made possible by the demands and expectations of our digital, media-reliant society (for example, journalists are now content curators, digital producers and social-media marketers, and many earn good salaries and work in high-demand, constantly evolving careers).
These lists also don't recognize that many degreed workers add to their tool kit additional experience via training, certificates and forays into new areas (for example, I do not have an MBA, but I have conceived, launched and sustained my own business, building my resume in new ways).
I am highly employable. Not despite my degree, but because of it, and because of the years of experience and expertise, the versatility and the enthusiasm I bring to the table. Oh, and I can string together a proper sentence and communicate clearly because of my "useless" liberal arts leanings.
I think the bottom line is that most industries offer opportunities for the best, the brightest, the most excited and engaged workers in their fields. And isn't there something (a lot) to be said for following your interests and maximizing your own special skills?
Surely, if we all stampeded into the "fastest growing" fields and away from the "useless" ones, the whole market dynamic would shift anyway, right? I'm interested to hear what others, especially job searchers and new grads, think about these types of rankings.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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