2010 Special Report: The State of Careers

Stocks have rallied (somewhat) and the recession’s “over.” Yet unemployment still worsens. Here’s this year’s playbook for tackling your career goal -- and coming out on top.

Bye-bye, Aughts -- don't let the door hit you in the ’00s on your way out.

True, there were all those years of economic euphoria. Only thing is -- like that classic sitcom Seinfeld -- they were based on nothing. As a result, the United States is stumbling into the Tweens with a full-on nasty hangover known as high unemployment.

Still, there’s no need to let dismal job numbers deter you from pursuing your career goal -- whatever it may be. Whether you’re entering the new decade unemployed, underemployed or unhappily employed, you’ll need to tailor your game plan to succeed in the new year’s uncertain economic climate. Here’s how.  

Goal: Land Your First Job

Plan of Action:

Stay focused.  If you’re just entering the work force for the first time or are without a job due to forces beyond your control, target the field you want to be in -- with laser precision -- to make the hunting simpler (and your prospects brighter).

“By casting too wide a net, job seekers waste time applying to positions for which they are not perfectly suited,” says Sophie Beaurpere, director of communications for the online job-search aggregator Indeed. Instead, she recommends that would-be applicants make Web technology work for them, with methods such as Indeed’s Job Trends tool (which allows users to chart the growth/decline of various fields over time) and job opening e-mail alerts. “These means help seekers stay informed about the newest postings and also track changes in their target field,” she says.

And you’ll want to do that right now: January is a very popular time for job searches. “It’s always the highest traffic month of the year,” says Susan Joyce, editor and publisher of the Job-Hunt Web site. “It’s as if everyone has made a New Year’s resolution to find a new job, and as soon as most of the bowl games are over, they jump into the job market.”

The downside of a winter search: loads of competition. But Joyce says this traditionally dies down by April.

Goal: Ditch a Dying Industry

Plan of Action:

Maybe the hallway between you and that new corner office seems to get longer by the day. Maybe job security in your industry gets more precarious by the minute (you know who you are, newspaper reporters, bank tellers and Saab dealers!). Whatever the reason, when your vocation situation calls for you to go in a different direction, you’ll want to make a choice that will serve you for more than a few years. So, which careers are looking good in 2010 and beyond?

Roger Moncarz, the Division of Occupational Outlook branch chief in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Projections Program, reveals that the occupations expected to enjoy the greatest growth percentage during the period from 2008 to 2018 are (in descending order):

• Biomedical engineers

• Network systems and data communications analysts

• Home health aides

• Personal and home care aides

• Financial examiners

Moncarz notes, though, that fastest growing doesn’t always mean careers with the most opportunity. For example, although the biomedical engineer sector is expected to increase at a rate of 72 percent, that adds up to only 28,000 jobs by 2018. So it’s important to look at gross growth, too. Using that metric, the profession most worth pursuing would be registered nursing: it’s projected that there will be 582,000 new positions added by 2018 (for a total of 3.2 million jobs).

Of course, there are many professions you’d best avoid if you want to have a job in 2018. Included on that list: sewing machine operators (shocker), telemarketers (woo-hoo!) and door-to-door salesmen (ditto!).

Goal: Leave Your Job

Plan of Action:

You’d love to unshackle yourself from your current desk and look for a nicer ball and chain elsewhere (perhaps one made of white gold). But you’re wondering if now -- considering the economy -- would be a good time.

Ask yourself these questions: Am I in a decent job? Does it feel relatively secure? Is my gut telling me that now would be a bad time to shake things up?

Then trust your gut … especially if it is telling you to be cautious.

According to Joyce, “There are more unemployed people per open job.” That also means the current economic climate isn’t especially conducive to pursuing a job in a new industry. Indeed, according to October 2009 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 15,700,000 unemployed individuals actively seeking work, and only 2.5 million job openings. In other words: there are about six people per job opening. (And that’s not counting employed or underemployed workers who may also be looking for work.)

And if you’re actually considering going one step further -- leaving your entire career -- keep this in mind: “I don’t know many people who have switched careers during a recession,” says Joyce.

Goal: Captain Your Own Ship

Plan of Action:

While, as Joyce says, the economic downturn may not be the most fertile of environments to grow a new career, she notes, “I do know several people who have started businesses [during recessions].”

Hanging your shingle as a consultant, particularly if you can lure your former employer -- or your former employer’s competitor -- to become a client can be especially lucrative. Keep in mind, encourages Joyce, that “consulting gigs do sometimes turn into full-time jobs when the economy begins to recover.”

Of course, taking a job like that would go counter to the whole “captain your own ship” initiative. But then … it’s good to have options!

Goal: Plan Your Career Long-term

Plan of Action:

The short-term take-away is that opportunities do exist in our new economic reality. And how about after that?

The key is to plot where you’d like to be over the next decade and to examine how your skills fit those goals. From there, research the job outlook in that industry. Arming yourself with information is the best way to begin that process.

For a top-notch resource on career paths, check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ just-released Occupational Outlook Handbook (available online). You can also watch the experts weigh in on where job growth will be thanks to the multitude of downloadable videos shot at the White House’s December 2009 Forum on Jobs (check it out at Whitehouse Web site).
by Thomas P. Farley