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My Seven Favorite Professions

By Marty Nemko

If my relative asked me, “What are the best careers?” I wouldn’t cop out and simply say “It’s a matter of what fits you.” Here are seven careers that I believe, for many of college-educated people, are an ideal combination of money, status, meaningfulness, quality of life, and a good job market for the foreseeable future.

Orthodontist. It’s one of the few medical specialties in which self-employment remains a possibility, and the average self-employed orthodontist earns $200,000+ a year. Too, you develop a long-term relationship with most of your patients, and at the end of treatment, you’ve succeeded with nearly all--they walk out with a better smile. American Association of Orthodontists:,William Proffit’s book, Contemporary Orthodontics, 4th edition.

Optometrist. Same deal: high cure rate, self-employment possibility, and six-figure average compensation. Plus, aging boomers mean increased demand for optometrists. American Optometric Association: Theodore Grosvenor’s book, Primary Care Optometry, 5th edition.

Audiologist. I rate this just a bit lower than optometrist because despite ever improving hearing aids, success rate is lower. So is the average compensation, though you’ll hardly starve. Too, the degree requirement has been ratcheted up: Until recently, a master’s would do. Now it’s a four-year doctor of audiology. Still an unusually rewarding career. The nation’s most famous hearing aid wearer? Bill Clinton. American Academy of Audiology: Frederick Martin’s book. Introduction to Audiology (9th Edition)

Physician Assistant. You derive most of the rewarding aspects of being a physician with far fewer headaches. You get to do health exams, diagnosis and treatment (even including suturing) under a physician’s often not-close supervision, and instead of a dozen post-bachelor training years, it’s two. And there’s far less insurance and government paperwork. And while salaries aren’t doctorly, they’re pretty healthy: averaging $80,000 a year. American Academy of Physician Assistants: Terence Sacks’ book, Opportunities in Physician's Assistant Careers.

Higher Education Administrator. A college campus is among of the most pleasant and stimulating work environments. And with education ever more viewed as the magic pill, ever longer legions of students are lining up to enroll. That means a better job market for you. Perhaps the most fun niche: student affairs administrator: you might coordinate orientation, student housing, or extracurricular activities. Student Affairs Administrator in Higher Education: Nancy Archer Martin’s book, Career Aspirations & Expeditions: Advancing Your Career in Higher Education.

Landscape Architect. Just a bachelor’s and you can be designing resorts, industrial parks, and rich people’s backyards. And today’s newest religion is environmentalism, so there are lots of jobs in, for example, coastal habitat restoration. America Society of Landscape Architects: John Simonds’ book, Landscape Architecture, 4th Edition

Librarian. Forget about the image of librarian as mousy bookworm. Today’s librarian is a high-tech information sleuth, a master of mining cool databases (well beyond Google) to unearth the desired nuggets. Plus you’ll probably have regular hours and good job security. American Library Association: Priscilla Shontz’s book, The Librarian's Career Guidebook and Laura Townsend Kane’s book, Straight from the Stacks: A First-Hand Guide to Careers in Library and Information Science.

Does a specific career intrigue you? The next step is to check out that career’s professional association’s website (listed for all the careers above). If it’s still interesting, read the book I list. If the career remains in the running, find at least two people in the career (one can be misleading) willing to let you watch them in action for an hour or two. How to find professionals to shadow? Try the professional association site. It often includes a membership list or at least a list of its local chapters. Attend a chapter meeting, chat with a few people during a break and, voila, you’ll likely find people willing to let you observe. Don’t just watch; ask. These questions usually reveal the career’s dirt as well as its delights: Describe a typical day. What are the best and worst things about this career? What’s the wisest way to get trained? Are there particularly desirable niches within this career? Why do people leave this career? Anything else I should know before choosing this career? (A catch-all question is always a good idea.)

Of course, my favorite seven professions might be your nightmares. For one-paragraph introductions to 500+ careers, you might look at the brand new third edition of the book, Cool Careers for Dummies. Take that recommendation with a grain of salt--I wrote the book.

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