14 Careers to Consider and Five Overrated Ones

Top picks from my new book, Careers for Dummies.

Posted Feb 18, 2018

Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain
Source: Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

First, a note: Today, the number of page views of my PsychologyToday.com articles has reached 5,000,000. Thank you for reading my work. That adds much meaning to my life.

It is standard and probably correct that there are no best careers, only careers well-suited.

But sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good and it helps for a job-seeker to see a curated list.

These 14 careers, selected from the 340 I profile in my new book, Careers for Dummies, score high on characteristics sought by an educated readership. After describing the 14, I explain why five careers are overrated.

Foundation Program Officer. It’s fun to give away money, and that’s a part of what foundation program officers do. They determine which proposals to fund. Also, they may supervise implementation to help ensure bang for the buck. More info.

Program evaluator. You’re brought in to an innovative program to make suggestions for improvement or whether its funding should be continued. More info.

Mediator. Conflict, alas, is common between employer and employee, divorcing couples, and landlords and tenants. Mediators, who must be skilled listeners, questioners, and problem solvers, attempt to facilitate wise solutions. More info.

Genetic counselor. As the meaning of each of our 18,000 genes becomes clearer, genetic counselors are ever more helpful in determining, for example, whether a couple should get pregnant, someone have a prophylactic mastectomy, a person with severe mental illness have children, etc. More info.

Librarian. In today’s era of the Google search, the job market for librarians is moribund but not dead, especially for specialty librarians: at hospitals, law firms, universities, etc. Librarianship provides a peaceful yet stimulating environment, helping nearly all patrons, and a pro-social mission. More info.

Executive assistant. Many people enjoy being a right arm to an influential person. The assistant often can be the power behind the throne or at least be of valuable support to a worthy person, business, or nonprofit. More info.

Athletic Coach. Most student-athletes are more motivated to play their sport than to understand the intricacies of calculus. The good coach capitalizes on that to help young people grow into adults with solid values. And coaches get to enjoy the strategizing, adrenaline rush, and the sport’s fun. More info.

Optometrist, Audiologist, and Orthodontist. I present these together because they share the same pluses: high cure rate, regular hours, and a six-figure income. Orthodontics has an additional plus and minus: Because orthodontists usually see patients frequently over an extended period, they can develop a relationship, which for most people is a plus. The minus is that the training is long: After the bachelor’s degree, there’s four years of dental school plus a two-year orthodontics residency. More info on optometry. More info on audiology. More info on orthodonture.

Physician Assistant. You get to do much of what doctors do—usually treat the more curable conditions—and make six figures, yet training is much shorter and cheaper. And as the U.S. moves toward covering more people, including many low- and no-pay patients, much medical care will be downscaled from MDs to physician assistants, so the job market should remain, ahem, healthy. More info.

Landscape architect. Many people appreciate a career in which they're not stuck behind a desk all day. Landscape architecture offers a blend of field and office work, art and science and, yes, environmentalism. More info.

Fundraiser. This is the nonprofit analogue to a salesperson. Because you’re a profit center rather than a cost center, pay can be good. More info.

Estate Attorney. Sure, if you’re an estate litigator, you could be fighting about whether a will should be overturned, but most estate lawyers spend most time ensuring that a person’s financial legacy is assured and estate taxes (so-called death taxes) are minimized. This is among the least contentious attorney niches, and with the Boomers aging, a growing one. More info.

Overrated careers

Medical researcher. The promise of curing or preventing disease is seductive. Alas, because of that, the field is crowded and so, despite the long training required, a surprising number of Ph.D.s and even post-docs struggle to find a job even in industry, let alone at a university. And if they land a job, progress toward a significant discovery can be slow. Many researchers retire after a lifetime of long workweeks without having generated an important advance.

Physician. This isn’t the career it used to be. There's increased paperwork, decreased insurance and Medicare reimbursements, plus patient lawsuits. Not long ago, physicians were seen as almost God-like but today, many patients come in waving internet printouts that imply they know more than the doctor does or that the doctor made a mistake—and sometimes they’re right. It’s impossible for physicians to have detailed current knowledge of all conditions. On the other end of the continuum, there are the frustrating, non-compliant patients: who don’t show up for appointments or fail to follow their physician’s entreaties to quit smoking, lose weight, or stop abusing alcohol or drugs.

Lawyer. Competitive pressures cause too many attorneys to succumb not just to 12+ hour workdays but to ethical temptations. And most lawyers spend far less time in exciting courtroom proceedings than in poring over statutes, case law, and contracts.

Police officer. Media inflaming of outlier officer malfeasance has increased citizen antipathy to cops. Too often, that causes outlier community members to abuse and even endanger police officers. Another source of frustration is that cops merely keep a lid on societal problems they can't solve. Finally, police officers, especially in today’s era of scrutiny, spend much time on paperwork. Most people go into law enforcement because they are people of action, not paperwork.

Architect. It takes about as long to become a fully licensed architect as to become a physician but the job market and pay are usually much worse. And most architects spend much time not on designing cool buildings, but, for example, on ensuring that the plumbing meets local, state, and federal code requirements.

Actor. Actors spend most of the time doing the opposite of acting: waiting. Not only do many actors wait tables to support their passion, they have to wait for the right audition opportunities: They have to wait for their turn at auditions. They have to wait to hear if they got the role. And if they land one they must wait a lot for their turn at rehearsal and during the performances and recordings. Finally, of course, there’s a reason the words “starving” and “actor" so often adjoin. For every rich star, there are hundreds of “professional” actors who, by year-end, earn less than they could as a Wal-Mart greeter.

I read this article aloud on YouTube.

This is part of a series of articles offering simple tips for your career, drawn from my new book, Careers for Dummies

Choosing a Career

Landing a Good Job

Tips for Succeeding on the Job

5 Preachy Pleas

Stress-Reduction Tips for the Stress-Prone

Managing Your Time and Your Procrastination

Tips on Management and Leadership

Low-Risk, High Payoff Self-Employment