Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Cool calculations to make before chasing a hot job
Mary Ellen Slayter

SHOULD you be a nurse? A teacher? An accountant? Maybe. But please base your decision on something other than their relative ‘hotness’ at the moment. I mean, Jake Gyllenhaal is pretty hot at the moment, too, but that doesn’t make him the boy for me. Same goes for you and these oh-so-fabulous careers everyone is talking about.

Every time one of those lists of the hottest careers or industries comes out, there’s a steady stream of questions from readers asking whether they should pursue one or more of these fields. Perhaps the most disturbing came from a young man who wanted to know if he should study to be a nurse or an electrical engineer. I didn’t know what unnerved me more: the thought of being cared for by a nurse who should have been an electrical engineer or vice versa.

The same goes for anyone trying to decide to teach kindergarten or drive a big rig. I’m not saying you should ignore broad economic trends. Such information can help you keep your expectations in check, which is especially important if you’re planning to return to school on borrowed money to pursue a new career.

But while the overall health of the field should certainly play a factor, you also will want to consider your temperament and natural talents, and how well they mesh with the day-to-day realities of the job. The rising pay cheques of each of those ‘hot’ careers come with serious downsides, which is one reason there are labor shortages there to begin with. The best way to counteract the hype surrounding "hot jobs’’ is careful research—and you will have to do it on your own, ideally by talking with people who actually do the job that may interest you.

Impressed that nurses make an average of $52,330 a year? Ask a real-life nurse how calloused her feet have become or how much she pays her chiropractor each month.

Here are five questions you should ask yourself before you go chasing a ‘hot job.’

What kind of hours do you want to work? This goes beyond day vs. night. In many cases, if there is a shortage of people available to do the work, you’ll be pressed into overtime. Does that thought thrill you (more money!) or depress you (sorry I missed my son’s birthday party,)? Think about what kind of life you want to have and whether this job can make that happen.

How much time are you willing to spend in school? The fastest-growing fields often require a significant investment in education and training. You can’t just show up at a local hospital and offer to start doling out meds. Nor is the local elementary school going to hire you just on the merits of your English degree and your uncanny knack for getting 6-year-olds to wash their hands after going to the bathroom.

Is the pay range really something you can live with? This is where number-crunching can pay off. I beseech you to sit down and figure out if you can actually live on the amount you will make starting out in the potential new field—including any student loan payment you will have to make.

Also, ask the schools you’re considering attending.

Does this job play to my character strengths? Skills you can pick up; character isn’t likely to budge much. If you’re not naturally a nurturing person now, what makes you think that trait is going to appear when you finish nursing school and you’re dropped into the geriatric ward? For the right person, nursing is an immensely satisfying job. For the wrong person, it’s misery.

— LA Times-Washington Post