Where I mix career information and career decision making in a test tube and see what happens

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Job Going Begging

Yesterday I received an unsolicited e-mail urging me to apply for a certain job opening. At first, I got a warm feeling. Even though I’m happy with my present job, it was encouraging to know that another employer considered me an attractive potential hire. However, once I started reading the message, I realized that the job in question was totally inappropriate for me. Nevertheless, the message also provided some interesting insights into the current job market.

The message began as follows: “I am [name withheld], Recruiter for a rapidly growing, community-based Regional Medical Center in Alamogordo, New Mexico. I came across your online resume, and would like to speak with you about our available Occupational Therapist position.”

In case you’re wondering, I am not an occupational therapist and never have been one. So why did I receive this unsolicited e-mail? The answer may be found in the recruiter’s statement “I came across your online resume.” My online resume contains the word “occupational” three times—all of them within the titles of books I have worked on: the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the Guide for Occupational Exploration, Third Edition, and the O*NET Dictionary of Occupational Titles, 2001-2002 Edition. In my LinkedIn profile, the word “occupational” appears five times—once in a book title and four times describing the contents of my books.

Evidently, this recruiter was employing an automated program. The searchbot scoured the Web for resumes containing the word “occupational,” harvested e-mail addresses from these resumes, and then generated an e-mail urging all of these potential recruits to get in touch. This searchbot (or the recruiter’s method of using it) apparently was not clever enough to look for the word “therapist” or “therapy” in the same resume, because otherwise I would not have been included in the e-mail blast.

I’m guessing that this error was unintentional—that the recruiter did not anticipate that the word “occupational” might appear on resumes in contexts other than occupational therapy. And, in fairness, I doubt that the searchbot harvested the e-mail addresses of a large number of occupational information workers, because there aren’t many of us. Also, consider that this error did not cause much trouble for the recruiter; those of us who received the message in error are unlikely to stuff her inbox with angry replies.

What else does this message tell me? It shows that, in this time of high unemployment, at least one job is going begging. And that’s not surprising, because this occupation is projected to grow by 33 percent between 2010 and 2020—much faster than average—and to create 5,710 job openings per year over this period. Several other health-care occupations have similar growth projections, but this one requires a master’s degree and therefore the pool of qualified applicants is small compared to, say, the pool of potential home health care aides.

There’s probably some significance that this job is in a small city: Alamogordo, New Mexico, population around 31,000. A famous dictum says that all politics is local. Not all jobs are local, when many can deliver a product or service from a remote location; however, almost all health-care jobs involving direct patient care are totally local. That’s one of the reasons they are growing even as many other jobs are being lost to overseas workers. But part of that job growth is in remote cities and towns that have trouble attracting new residents. I have never been to Alamogordo and cannot judge how good a place it is to live, but I can understand that its size and remote desert location might discourage some potential job applicants.

There are probably many other health-care jobs requiring advanced degrees that are going begging, so if you’re casting about for a career goal, give these occupations some consideration. And if you are an occupational therapist, enjoy small-city life, and are open to the idea of relocating to the Land of Enchantment, get in touch with me right away. I’ll forward to you the contact information for this job.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Careers in Advocacy

Is there something you feel strongly about? Instead of just getting worked up about it, maybe you could do something about it. Your chances for making a difference are particularly good if you are well informed about the issue through work experience or have work-related skills that can help advance your pet cause. Have you thought about parlaying that work experience into a career in which you advocate for your favorite cause?

One way people create change is by changing the laws. In our political system, legislators do this. Legislators usually have a thorough understanding of the existing laws, and at least in one area of expertise. (They have legislative staff and lobbyists to inform them about other areas.) Because politics is the art of the possible, legislators generally construct new laws in ways that will build a consensus among their fellow legislators and the voting public. Often they work out the details in committee meetings and hearings that enable these stakeholders and others to offer their suggestions and buy into the proposed legislation.

Of course, politicians must answer to the opinions of voters. Similarly, businesses must answer to the preferences of consumers. Many professionals work in public relations to shape the attitudes that drive voting and purchasing behaviors. Public relations workers may create campaigns that advocate for change in the law, in government policy, and in corporate actions. Campaigns can be aimed at many kinds of behaviors—think of Smokey the Bear. Public relations workers may raise funds for research, a candidate’s political advertising, a university, or a public facility such as a museum or monument. They may work as lobbyists, communicating their talking points directly to legislators.

Another way to achieve change is through existing laws. You can work to compel the enforcement of laws that are being neglected or are being enforced too narrowly. Or you can compel a person, company, or even a government agency to change its behavior by suing for damages. Our democracy allows any citizen to petition an agency or file a legal brief, but lawyers are the workers who make a career out of this kind of action. They are assisted by paralegals and law clerks.

Yet one more way to work for change is through the media. Journalists and news analysts often arouse public interest in political, social, cultural, and business issues. Recently, some bloggers have become as influential as workers in the more traditional media. Speechwriters also communicate opinions. Although someone else serves as the writer’s mouthpiece and usually has considerable control over the content, you can choose to work for someone whose outlook you share.

Advocates work under some pressure, but they make many independent decisions. Not all of their efforts succeed in advancing the causes they care about, and sometimes they confront people who disagree strongly. Nevertheless, they enjoy the rewards of at least trying to make a difference.

Politics and other advocacy careers offer many opportunities for gaining experience through volunteer work. Find a local organization that works for the cause that motivates you and offer your services. If no such organization exists, start one. Advocacy groups need all kinds of volunteer workers, but if you’re interested in a career in advocacy, you should play a role that gives you appropriate experience. For example, you could write position papers and press releases, research legal issues, speak at public meetings, arrange meetings with legislators, manage a fund drive, or canvass voters.

Many people who work in advocacy leverage the knowledge that they have acquired in a previous occupation. For example, President Barack Obama entered politics after working as a lawyer and law professor, but he was greatly influenced by his earlier work as a community organizer. That experience educated him about the needs of working people and how politics operates at the grassroots level. Former Representative Tom DeLay of Texas earned a bachelor’s degree in biology, worked for a pesticide manufacturer, and then started a highly successful extermination business. When the Environmental Protection Agency banned a pesticide that was in wide use, DeLay decided to advocate for reducing government regulation of businesses. He volunteered as a Republican precinct chairman and eventually ran for a seat in the Texas legislature, which was his springboard to Congress.

Because it is a way to use knowledge from a previous occupation, advocacy is one of the career fields I discuss in The Sequel: How to Change Your Career Without Starting Over. Is there some issue that you have become informed and opinionated about through your work? Maybe you can advocate for it.