In the days of yore, dewy-eyed high school students would visit the school career counselor to confront that all-important question for the first time: What should I do with my life? In response, the savvy counselor would redefine the question this way: What is your dream? The answer to this question would suggest a range of careers that would not only satisfy the ability to earn a basic living, but also satisfy the all-American desire for personal satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment in working life.
In the wake of the Great Recession, this charming scene can seem like a throwback from a 1970s high school comedy, complete with kitschy yarn-art on the wall. For better or worse, college-bound students must now ask themselves: Will my career pay enough to support my future family and me? In addition, an inevitable second question must be asked: Will my career survive future market upheavals? The answers to these questions must be tempered with pragmatism, but don’t necessarily require dreams to be deferred.
While it is certainly true that the ability to obtain basic financial security should inform most career decisions, this does not mean that the treasured American right to pursue happiness should be tossed to the side. So what is a college-bound student or a professional considering a career change to do? With careful planning, and by keeping the practicality of financial realities in view while also considering one’s own talents and passions, career aspirants can still achieve a harmony of profit and job satisfaction.
Tried and Tested
It is no surprise that some of the top income-generating careers grow from a field of study within the realm of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (collectively referred to as “STEM”), which demand a mastery of specialized technical knowledge. In fact, a recent roundup of the most profitable college majors included a host of the usual suspects including engineering and computer science. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2012 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median salary among bachelor’s degree holding nuclear engineers stands at $99,920, while the medium among petroleum engineers is listed as $114,080. Top earning network and computer systems administrators with bachelor’s degrees earn an average of $108,090, while the top computer and information research scientists show the earning power of a doctoral degree by averaging $153,120.
However, the country is not run on high-tech know-how alone. U.S. News & World Report just released their “Best Jobs” guide for 2012 and it included some surprising entries. Meeting and convention planners will see some 31,300 new professionals join their industry in the current decade ending 2020. Some in salaried positions will earn as much as $76,840, while those enterprising enough to establish their own businesses could take home even more. The public and private sectors combined will require an additional 190,700 accountants, teaching them how to become a CPA and prompting accounting schools to ramp up for significantly higher enrollment. As the most ambitious scramble to find their place among top earners who average $106,880 nationally.
During the throes of the recession, many laid-off or underemployed workers decided to return to school or switch career paths in order to weather the difficult years that seemed to be ahead. Some reflexively chose recession-proof jobs like registered nursing. U.S. News & World Report just named registered nursing the number one job for 2012, citing its expansive focus (neonatal to geriatric care) and an aging population that will require the services of well-trained nurses. Serving a specialty population as an advanced practice nurse will draw salaries that are known to make doctors jealous, as is evident when looking at the compensation packages for neonatal nurse practitioners. The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) reported in May 2011 that these specialized advanced practice nurses enjoy an average base salary of $107,550, but with additional incentives earn closer to $124,540.
Forbes recently provided a different kind of career roundup, a list of jobs that make people happy. Interestingly, in contrast to the “profitable” professions named above, these jobs often involve supporting and helping fellow human beings: clergy, firefighters, physical therapists, and teachers, among others. While these professions fall on the lower end of the pay scale, their payoff is huge when it comes to personal satisfaction.
In the end, it is important to remember that the meaning of “profitable” doesn’t apply solely to the financial realm. The definition also includes any vocation that an individual feels is worthwhile and rewarding. The financial distress that many Americans now find themselves experiencing may have caused this important dimension of “profitable” to be forgotten. As a result, Eve Tahmincioglu recently reported on MSNBC that many Americans are struggling to find basic happiness in their careers, because they are imagining “happiness” to be a tangible object one can grasp, but never quite reach.
Perhaps Americans can reverse this trend by redefining the meaning of “profit” in the collective psyche so it not only includes financial security, but personal satisfaction as well.
Guest Article: Sarah Carano is a recent graduate at Iowa State University, she studied journalism and minored in accounting.