Career contentment depends less on a career’s “coolness’ than on whether it matches your core ability: words, people, data, or hands-on.
To that end, this is the first in a four-part series. In this installment, I offer a brief introduction to 11 word-centric careers. The other installments are on people careers, data careers, and hands-on careers.
The careers have been subjectively selected on: whether many word-oriented people enjoy the career, autonomy, creativity, pay, offshoring- and automation resistance, and if it offers a decent chance at making a decent living. Few if any careers deserve an A on all those attributes but the selected ones have a high grade-point average.
In this list of word-centric careers, I would have liked to include the often enjoyable careers of novelist, journalist, and yes, how-to writer. But so many good writers willing to do such writing for little or no pay precludes my touting them here.
Information on training requirements and the path to well-paying positions, if not listed here, may be found in the link next to each career intro.
Neat niche: Proposal writer. Government agencies and nonprofits use writers to write requests for proposals and to answer those requests. This niche exposes you to new ideas and often to have a hand in developing them. More info.
Political writer. You work for a candidate, ballot initiative, or lobbying organization. You might write slogans, flyers, website copy, fundraising letters, even speeches. A word about that: A good speechwriter melds the politician’s values and positions with market research data and then writes the speech in a style consonant with the politician’s style. A good speech also should be sonorous and otherwise appealing to the audience. The speech must be memorable and counter the public’s skepticism about politicians. For starters, you may have to volunteer to do some basic writing for your favorite local pol. More info: Al Gore’s speechwriter’s take on the speechwriter’s life.
Website editor. Article writers generally can’t make a middle-class living from their writing. But many publications need to pay at least one of its editors decently because s/he is core to the publication’s success. That well-paid editor might, for example, develop a vision for the publication that will attract ample loyal viewers and perhaps paid subscribers and/or advertisers. S/he’s typically charged with finding writers who will produce quality articles with minimal supervision yet do so for little or no pay. S/he search-engine-optimizes articles and headlines. S/he might also guide a graphics person and a techie to make the article pleasant to read online. More info.
Ghostwriter. Many people would like to have authored a book, whether for vanity, career enhancement, societal contribution, or to market their business. But writing a book requires great knowledge, writing talent, and time, which is why many people use ghostwriters—The ghost interviews the “author” or reviews their notes and turns it into a book. A ghostwriter may get a “with” credit on the cover, for example, "by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with Mignon McCarthy." But not always. Perhaps the most famous is Hillary Clinton, who not only failed to give a “with” to any of "her" three books' ghostwriters but didn’t even mention them in the acknowledgements, much to her ghostwriter Barbara Feinman’s chagrin.
Neat niche: Ghostwriters often write social media posts: blogs and even Facebook and Twitter updates.
Dating site profile writer. Romantic prospects improve if your profile on dating sites accurately reflect you and the sort of partner you’re looking for. Many people don’t know themselves well enough to write a good profile. Or they’re too modest, boastful, or inarticulate to present themselves accurately. Could you help them? Your service might also include reviewing or even taking photos of them for their profile. Here’s an example of such a service.
After creating an impressive portfolio of such profiles, you might try to get hired as an in-house profile writer. For a fee to the dating service, it could have have you help subscribers with their profile.
Hearing officer. Government employs hearing officers, sometimes called administrative law judges to avoid disputes becoming expensive lawsuits. Common examples: denied claims for welfare benefits, special education services, traffic tickets, public housing disputes, student complaints about a college. Training: a bachelor’s degree plus a law degree and/or relevant experience. More info. Training info.
Trainer (not including athletic trainer.) Employers hire in-house or contracted trainers to teach job-specific skills such as software or sales but also to comply with government mandates, for example on harassment, diversity, and workplace violence. Health insurers and government agencies hire trainers to educate patients and, preventively, in communities with a high rate of obesity, tobacco use, and intoxicant abuse. More info.
Teacher. Many K-12 teachers love their career. If affords limitless opportunities for creativity and in helping the next generation to flower. But many other teachers are overwhelmed even at managing classroom discipline, plus the bureaucratic regulations, overweening administration, and unhelpful parents/guardians. As many as 50 percent of teachers leave the profession within the first five years.
It’s unfair to describe teaching hours as short. True, students typically leave by 3 PM and the school year is usually less than 180 days but many teachers put in significant hours on lesson preparation, grading, and in in-service training, including during part of the summer.
Unarguable is that public school teaching offers virtually unsurpassed benefits and lifetime tenure after just two or three years. And when considering that, the relatively short total number of hours per year worked, and that most teachers did not major in high-pay fields such as engineering or computer science, some experts have concluded that teaching is not an underpaid profession. More info.
A word about college teaching. An ever larger percentage of college teaching is done by part-time, no-benefit instructors. It’s now more than half! (It’s ironic that public speeches by college leaders generally urge treating labor fairly yet hire so many part-timers to avoid paying benefits—Judge by what people do, not by what they say. As psychologically rewarding as college teaching often is, unless you’re unusually desirable to a college, you may need to view college teaching as a spice to your worklife rather than the main course. Tip: There is increased demand for instructors who can develop online courses compelling enough to defy their low completion rate.
Spokesperson. The title varies, for example, public information officer, media relations director, investor relations manager, and community relations specialist. Whatever the title, companies, non-profits, government agencies, and celebrities use spokespeople to spread the good word and put the best face on the bad. The job requires you to be both substantive and credible. More info.
Spiritual leader. In decades past, this career would have been titled religious leader but religiosity is in decline while the thirst for spirituality remains: the search for meaning beyond the quotidian and purely cognitive, for example, secular humanism, environmentalism, and non-deistic Buddhism. Whether deistic or not, most flocks want a shepherd, so if you have the gift of inspiring wise living through sermons and one-on-one, even during life’s trials, being a spiritual leader can be psychologically if not financially rewarding. That description may sound like it would include motivational speakers and indeed, we reach a gray area at the nexus between sermon-giver and motivational speaker. More info.
Speaking or writing coach. Many people would love a writing- or speaking-centric career. Aware that it’s difficult to earn a middle-class living at it, many wannabes hire coaches. Others hire coaches merely because they want to improve their craft whether or not they make a living at it, witness the countless novel and screenwriting workshops and college degree programs in creative writing. To succeed at a coach, you must be a fine writer or speaker plus provide input and feedback that's both instructive yet motivating. And as in most self-employment, you’ll need to be a willing and able marketer, at least until word-of-mouth generates sufficient clients. This website of a book writing coach provides a flavor of this career: And here’s an excellent cautionary note from a former speaking coach.
NOTE: Dr. Nemko recently gave a related talk, The Future of Work, at U.C. Berkeley. Here is the audio.
His nine books are available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at email@example.com.