If you have an aptitude for high-level math, you relish the challenge of constantly changing assignments, you’re a strong communicator and you work well on a team, consider a career as an actuary, a job that involves calculating the probability and financial impact of illness and property loss, usually for a consulting firm or insurance company. The combination of healthy compensation, job satisfaction, manageable stress levels and robust growth land actuary in the No. 1 spot on job listing website CareerCast.com’s 2015 list of the best and worst jobs in the U.S. Next in the “best” ranking: Audiologist, a job that involves testing, diagnosing and treating hearing and balance problems.
This year all 10 of the jobs in CareerCast’s best jobs list are in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) or in health care. That’s not surprising, given the rise of big data and the expansion of health care spurred by the Affordable Care Act and the aging Baby Boom generation. Mathematician is listed as the third-best job and statistician ranks No. 4. Then come biomedical engineer, data scientist and dental hygienist.
CareerCast publisher Tony Lee says the objective of the best and worst jobs lists is to help young people and career changers better focus their ambitions. “For the ninth grader who loves crunching numbers to win his fantasy baseball league, learning about the career path of an actuary or data scientist may spark a career interest that simply didn’t exist before,” he said in a statement.
Of course the lists also generate publicity for CareerCast. Forbes has been covering them for the last five years because, like Lee, we think that it’s useful for readers to consider the challenges, stresses and rewards of various professions.
Also the team that puts the lists together has the accumulated wisdom of 27 years. The project started in 1988, when two doctoral students at the University of Wisconsin, working under the direction of career book author Les Krantz, assembled the first ranking, evaluating the 200 most populous jobs in the U.S. The lists used to appear in two different publications owned by The Wall Street Journal. Then in 2009 Lee, who had worked for those publications, including the now-defunct CareerJournal.com, started CareerCast.com as a subsidiary of Adicio, an online classified ad and career support software company, and put out the lists under its auspices. Lee and CareerCast editor Kyle Kensing write up the report.
Their team has come up with a formula that takes into account a range of considerations, from what they call emotional factors like the degree of competitiveness and the amount of public contact (both viewed as negatives), to physical demands including crawling, stooping and bending and work conditions like toxic fumes and noise. In addition to income and growth potential in the field, they look at what they call stress factors, like the amount of travel the job requires, deadlines, and physical risks like whether the workers’ or their colleagues’ lives are put at risk on the job. The methodology seems sound to me though some of the measures may not resonate for all workers. For instance, extensive contact with the public is considered a negative, although many people thrive in a situation where they can interact with numerous people, as opposed to a job where they spend all day alone.
Another thing CareerCast researchers don’t do: Uniformly poll large numbers of actual workers in the 200 fields. They gather their data from the BLS, other government sources, trade associations and private survey firms, and they spot check some of their findings with people who work in various fields. But they don’t attempt the gargantuan task of systematically surveying hundreds of workers in each of 200 professions. The failure to do that kind of research misses the telling experience of real people.
For instance when I reported last year that CareerCast had listed audiologist as the least stressful job in another, more subjective list it puts out, of most and least stressful jobs, I got a long, convincing comment from Allie, an audiologist who started by saying, “Maybe I need to take a Xanax, but every day I am stressed! Maybe because I am dealing with people who are missing one of their SENSES.” She went on to describe a patient whose insurance company refused to pay for his hearing aid, a woman with vertigo who vomited all over Allie’s shirt, four screaming children with severe ear infections, and informing the parents of a one-month-old that their baby had severe hearing loss. And that was all before lunch. It may be that Allie works in an especially hectic practice but her story makes me wonder whether audiologist should be listed as the second “best” of 200 jobs.
Of course the most important things to consider when choosing a career are whether your skills, aptitudes and desires match the demands of the field. I never got past geometry in school, I feel I have no aptitude for science or engineering, I become flustered when I have to learn how to use a dummy-proof new program on my computer or phone, and I have a profound fear of working in any field that involves bodily fluids, so I can’t imagine myself working in most of the top 10 jobs, like data scientist (No. 6) or especially software engineer (No. 8). At a stretch I could see myself as a physical therapist but according to the American Physical Therapy Association I would have to master physiology, neuroscience and pathology, which would probably do me in. In fact I have the greatest aptitude for the No. 1 job on the “worst” jobs list, newspaper reporter. For our coverage of that list, click here.
The Best Jobs for 2015
5. Biomedical Engineer
6. Data Scientist
7. Dental Hygienist
8. Software Engineer
9. Occupational Therapist
10. Computer Systems Analyst