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Hot Careers and Overhyped Careers

By Marty Nemko

I'm always nervous when asked "What careers are hot?". Here's why:
  • By the time you're trained, today's hot could be cold.
  • What's hot may poorly fit your aptitudes and interests.
  • Knowing what's hot doesn't mean it will be easy to land a job. For example, while many jobs are available in CleanTech, it seems like half the population wants one. For most CleanTech openings, there are dozens if not hundreds of applicants. For example, I know of one $40,000 job as a production assistant for a solar company that, with an ad on Craigslist, got 100 applicants in one hour! In contrast, for example, typewriter repair is clearly not hot--There may be 0 to 3 applicants for each position. So, contraintuitively, it may be easier to land a job in a cold career than in a hot one.
Nevertheless, because people are always asking me what's hot, I thought I'd share my thoughts here. I didn't identify these careers just by reviewing the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, which are weak because they're retrospective rather than prospective and because they're subject to manipulation by professional associations--those groups attract more members if their field is perceived as hot. My selections merge BLS data with what I've learned from my clients, colleagues, readers and listeners, and from spending too much time reading articles, many of which have been emailed to me by you, my dear readers. I never would have had the time to scour the Net as you have.

Before getting to my selections, I need to comment on fields you're probably expecting to see here but on which I'm no longer as bullish as I have been in previous years.

For example, there's social networking. A recent study found that while businesses have been increasing their expenditures on Facebook ads and other social network marketing, 75% admit to having not figured out how to measure their ads' effectiveness. And while such ads are targeted, make it easy for your Facebook "friends" to forward them to you, and the cost per impression is low, my intuition says that the social networking magic pill may soon become recognized as less than magic.

Another field you may think has to be on my hot list is mobile phone apps. Of course, the last few years has seen an explosion of apps. I'm wondering though whether we'll soon enter a period of consolidation: a point at which apps for the most important needs will have been developed and it will be more a matter of survival of the fittest apps of each major type, with all but the best companies going away, as was the case in the video game industry. In the past, hundreds of video game companies were viable; now there are just a few: Activision-Blizzard, Electronic Arts, Take Two, Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, and Zynga.

Too, I believe that most niches within CleanTech are risky choices. As mentioned above, the ratio of job applicants to job openings is poor. In addition, the stock market, which bets prospectively rather than retrospectively is betting unambiguously against alternative energy: The wind stock index is down 75% and the solar index is down 80% from their highs, which were both soon after Obama was elected--knowing he planned to heavily subsidize alternative energy. With the voters now insisting the government get its budget under control, the government can no longer afford to spend taxpayer dollars on initiatives that every single energy company deemed cost-ineffective (Otherwise the govt wouldn't need to fund it,) as was the case with yesterday's now embarrassing darling, ethanol. Having had conversations on the viability of alternative energy with some of the world's leading physicists (including Freeman Dyson on my radio show last month,) the taxpayer's investment in solar and wind may well likely fare as poorly as its investment in the aforementioned ethanol and in the nationwide network of plug-in electric car recharging stations which were very rarely used and that quickly have become utterly obsolete because today's electric cars can plug into our home's regular electrical outlets.

I am, however, bullish on one CleanTech niche. Relative to solar, wind, smartgrid, insulation, etc., the following niche is below-the-radar yet likely significant because, unlike the expensive solar and wind and the inconvenient mass transit, it saves money and imposes minimal restrictions on people's time and freedom. It's most often called collaborative consumption: it uses the Internet to make more convenient the long-standing ideas of the thrift store, time-share, and the library for everything from a lawn mower (the average one is used 4 hours a year) to your sofa (which could be rented out to tourists.). I believe that hiring will grow on websites like Freecycle (giving away stuff you own and getting other people's stuff free) and AirBnB (travel accommodations from a sofa in someone's apartment in NY to a castle in Ireland.) While, long-term, this recycling on steroids will reduce the number of jobs--less manufacturing, fewer jobs-- some under-the-radar jobs will likely be created in companies like those listed above and Zilok, Snapgoods, and Swap Tree (borrow or rent anything--from bounce house to raft to popcorn machine) OurGoods (barter network),, which co-ordinates swaps of couch accommodation for visitors and travelers has become the third most visited travel site in the world, SmartBike, TechShop (a workshop with tools and people to help you make stuff), HearPlanet, even UsedCardboardBoxes. I believe there will be growth in jobs in collaborative consumption companies as website creators, graphic designers, marketers, in customer service, and business development--those companies will be acquired and merged.

Another space that erroneously continues to be perceived as hot is health care. For example, according to, nursing job openings are down 19% versus a year ago and that matches what I'm hearing from clients and colleagues. The health care niches that are growing and I'm betting will continue to grow are: physician assistant, physical therapy assistant(who can do much of what their much more expensive brethren can do,) health care IT person (e.g., electronic medical records,) case manager, wellness coach, health advocate, and ObamaCare expert--It will take an army of geniuses to figure out how to implement the 2,500-page document that even most members of Congress who voted for it nor their staff members read. ObamaCare experts will include attorneys to file and respond to the slew of lawsuits--they've already started.

I believe banking will overall decline. One reason is that the government has essentially nationalized student loans, taken away student loan-making from banks--the government now is that bank. Then there are the many new government regulations, e.g., the Dodds-Frank collection of new regulations. But those additional government requirements will create jobs in banking not only to help financial institutions comply with all the regulations but to implement the government's mandates to forgive loans made to homeowners--variously called modifications, forbearance, and partials. (The latter allow homeowners to borrow money interest-free with the loan guaranteed by the taxpayer. Partials allow the borrower to get current on the loan he'd let go into arrears.) Whatever the jargon, all these giveaways boil down to the bank or taxpayer eating the money the borrower had agreed to pay. Former mortgage brokers, whose careers tanked with the housing collapse, may find jobs working for banks as a loan modification specialist. Relatedly, I project an increase in jobs for real estate attorneys and paralegals helping delinquent homeowners to extract as much money as possible from the lender.

Despite the mortgage modifications, some homes and commercial and industrial buildings--indeed a record number--are going into foreclosure. The overall career of real estate sales may not make a comeback for quite a while but should be viable for Realtors specializing in foreclosed property: agents who become expert in the unearthing, buying, and selling of foreclosed and pre-foreclosed property, especially commercial and industrial properties. The garden-variety real estate agent is usually more interested in the simplicity and aesthetics of single-family homes.

Despite the crash in housing prices, fewer people can afford to buy them, especially with the now more-often required 20% down payment and verifiable income sufficient to reliably make their mortgage payment. And people who can afford to buy are reluctant to do so because they see prices continue to plummet in the face of ever growing foreclosures and because of our jobless nonrecovery. Many people are afraid of losing their jobs and thus be unable to pay the mortgage so they feel it's safer to rent. That's why I believe that jobs will be plentiful in the rental housing field: developers, rehabbers, leasing agents working for the renter and others for the property owner, property managers.

Education. Government initiatives such as No Child Left Behind by law or effect of policy are forcing public schools to redistribute large percentages of resources to the lowest-achieving schools and the lowest-achieving students. That is causing an acceleration in bright flight to private schools. So I believe that people and businesses serving private schools and home-schooling parents will thrive. Entrepreneurs who would like to help ensure that average and high-ability kids live up to their potential, may do well in opening a private school.

Another opportunity in education: The desire to improve education quality and convenience while lowering cost will cause increased use of online education. Online course developers and teachers who specialize in online instruction should have an edge in getting hired. The public schools will continue to hire special education teachers because laws make it much easier to cut services to regular students than to special ed students. Also, teachers who are bilingual in Spanish will have greater chances of being hired.

A high percentage of international news relates to problems in the Middle East or with Muslim extremist terrorism. Even if the government does restrain overall spending, hiring of experts on the Middle East and radical Islam will likely continue. A related point: Robert Muller, in his recent confirmation hearing for FBI Director, said that one of his highest priorities will be to hire technical experts to foil cyberterrorism.

Business decisions are ever-more data driven, and a U.C. Berkeley study reports that the amount of data in the world doubles every three years. So companies are hiring more business analysts to mine that data. Business analysts are also hired to aggregate data to drive decisions about what's worth investing in. Compliance specialists are hired to figure out how to meet federal, state, and local laws, regulations, carrots, and sticks. SimplyHired reports a 19% year-over-year increase in hiring of accountants, notably fraud examiners/forensic accountants.

Everyone agrees that America is becoming, as the NPR show title says, "Latino USA." That will accelerate of course, if after the 2012 election, President Obama gets his wish for amnesty/comprehensive immigration reform. In turn, that will likely encourage a new round of Latin American immigration to the U.S and of course, "bringing the illegals out of the shadows" will create many more jobs in government as well as in the private sector. Obviously, that will create jobs for Spanish/English interpreters (oral language) and translators (written language) as well as bilingual and English-as-a-Second language teachers. But whatever career you pursue, you might ask yourself, "Is my becoming bilingual/bicultural in Spanish likely to help my employability?" If so, it may be time to buy or borrow a copy of Rosetta Stone, or if, for you, the benefits of learning in a classroom outweigh the cost and inconvenience, sign up for a course or three.

I continue to be bullish on the videoconferencing industry. Not only is the technology for videoconferencing ever better, easier, and less expensive (check out,) financial pressures are causing businesses to ever more consider meetings by videoconference than the traditional, for example, in-person sales conference. Videoconferencing should grow additionally more popular as companies become ever more global. As in any field in growth mode, there will likely be increased hiring across the board: finance, human resource, accounting, sales, marketing, engineering, customer service, project management, etc.

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