Media outlets love to issue “hot jobs” lists (we’re as guilty as anyone), telling you which careers to target based on considerations like occupational outlook and earning power. But while expected salary and job opportunities are perfectly valid factors to include in your decision, they’re far from the only reasons to pick a career path.
Here are three reasons why you should take such rankings with a grain of salt.
1. Today’s hot job is tomorrow’s law degree.
Years ago, career counselors (and well-meaning relatives) advised humanities majors to take their LSATs before graduating with their bachelor’s degree — “just in case.”
“After all,” the conversation generally went, “You can do anything with a law degree.”
Then, due to a variety of factors (the recession, for example, and websites like LegalZoom that offer basic legal services on the cheap), the bottom dropped out and law blogs started running pieces like “The 20 Law Schools With The Most Unemployed Graduates.”
The point is, you have no way of knowing whether today’s promising occupation will still be in demand tomorrow. If you choose a field based on your interests, aptitudes, and passions, you’ll at least be willing to fight for it when tough times hit.
Pick something off a list, and you may be stuck chasing a career that was never really going to lead to your dream job.
2. Fit is everything when it comes to careers.
“When looking for a job, you want to take into consideration your own unique personality, values, interests, and skills,” says Penny Loretto, associate director of the Career Development Center at Skidmore College.
“’Hot jobs’ that are continually advertised all over the media may be good for some individuals as long as it’s a career that matches your own personal attributes and expectations,” Loretto says. “Selecting a job based on current trends or salary alone could be a big mistake, since it’s just a list of jobs or career fields and doesn’t take personal attributes into consideration.”
If you long to write the Great American Novel, and can’t concentrate in math and science classes, you’re probably never going to be a success as a software engineer, no matter how hot a career it is. And if you can’t stand the sight of blood, you’ll never be happy as a registered nurse. There’s no point trying to shoehorn yourself into a job that will always be a bad fit.
As a career counselor once told me during my own years of carving out a career path, “Trying to make yourself happy in the wrong job is like trying to write with your non-dominant hand. You might learn to do it passably, but it will take longer and never feel natural.”
3. ‘Picking’ a career is a process, not a one-time choice.
Another popular trope of the career advice world is the old, “You’ll have X different careers in your lifetime.” It might interest you to know that no one really keeps tally of that.
It’s true: the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is where most people would look for such data, doesn’t track that information, in part probably because figuring out where one career ends and another begins is increasingly hard.
Unless you go back to school and retrain for something drastically different than what you have been doing, your career will likely evolve gradually as you figure out your strengths, weaknesses, and interests. That’s all to the good, since there’s no real way to know how you’ll fit into a career until you’re in the middle of it.
Regardless of where you start out or hope to end up, the rules of building a successful career are the same:
- Listen to your heart, but don’t confuse fear with disinterest. Sometimes, you need to take a class that’s a stretch or volunteer for a project that will require you to try something new. That’s not the same as doing a job that feels like writing with your non-dominant hand.
- Do whatever you can to build your network, including doing internships and being socially active in your field.
- Look for ways to build your practical skills while you follow your dreams. That might mean taking STEM classes to balance out your humanities courses or finding ways to get a valuable certification before graduation, to set yourself apart from the field of prospective hires. Being pragmatic doesn’t mean walking away from what you love; it just means taking deliberate steps to get yourself where you want to go.