Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Personality and Career: The “Bipolar” Occupations

Let me begin by explaining that in the title to this blog, I am not using the term “bipolar” in its clinical sense. That is, I’m not referring to people who have alternating periods of manic and depression. Instead, I’m using the term to refer to those occupations linked to personality types that are considered polar opposites. It’s interesting to consider why some occupations can bridge these divides.

The personality taxonomy on which I’m basing this analysis is the hexagon of types described by John S. Holland. Holland’s hexagonal scheme is based on the idea that certain personality types are similar and more likely to be shared by people and by occupations (adjacent angles on the hexagon), whereas others are more distinct (opposite angles). The O*NET database follows Holland’s practice of assigning occupations to one primary personality type and one or two secondary types—in other words, positioning them between two angles of the hexagon rather than at just one angle.

I thought it would be interesting to look at occupations in the O*NET database for which the primary type and the first secondary type are at opposite ends of the hexagon. In other words, they should appeal to people who have interests and other preferences that are supposed to overlap only rarely. (Maybe you are one of these people.)

By far the largest group of these “bipolar” occupations consists of those that combine the Realistic and Social personality types. In case you need to be reminded of how these types are defined, Realistic personalities prefer hands-on work, whereas Social personality types prefer work that helps other people. These RS and SR occupations consist mainly of health-care careers. Here are a few:

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (RSI)
Anesthesiologist Assistants (RSI)
Radiologic Technologists (RS)
Surgical Technologists (RSC)
Radiation Therapists (SRC)
Acupuncturists (SRI)
Dental Hygienists (SRC)
Respiratory Therapy Technicians (SRI)
Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses (SR)
Orthotists and Prosthetists (SRI)
Athletic Trainers (SRI)
Midwives (SR)
Home Health Aides (SR)
Psychiatric Aides (SRC)
Occupational Therapy Assistants (SR)

When you read stories about the projected shortage of health-care workers, especially for hands-on roles, understand that the most important reason is the expected demand caused by an aging population. But perhaps a secondary reason is a shortage of supply that happens because it is difficult to find workers who enjoy the combination of hands-on work and caring for others.

Not all of the RS and SR occupations are in health care. Some of the RS occupations are in protective services in roles where they do hands-on work—for example, Lifeguards, Ski Patrol, and Other Recreational Protective Service Workers (RS), Municipal Firefighters (RSE), Forest Firefighters (RS), and Animal Control Workers (RSC). The SR occupations not concerned with health care are an odd mixture such as Park Naturalists (SRA), Coaches and Scouts (SRE), and Food Servers, Nonrestaurant (SRE).

The Investigative personality type (solving problems mentally) and the Enterprising type (leading and persuading) overlap mostly in a group of IE occupations that use quantitative methods to solve business problems:

Management Analysts (IEC)
Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists (IEC)
Business Intelligence Analysts (IEC)
Industrial Ecologists (IE)
Environmental Economists (IEC)
Industrial-Organizational Psychologists (IEA)
Urban and Regional Planners (IEA)

Whereas the SR occupations employ very large (and increasing) numbers of workers, the IE occupations are both fewer in number and tend to have smaller workforces. They also tend to earn much higher pay because they demand a high level of academically-acquired skills and operate in business settings.

Some of the EI occupations are similar: Business Continuity Planners (EIC), Sustainability Specialists (EIA), Fraud Examiners, Investigators and Analysts (EIC), and Search Marketing Strategists (EIC). I also find two law occupations—Lawyers (EI) and Administrative Law Judges, Adjudicators, and Hearing Officers (EIS)—plus two occupations in inquisitive protective services—Police Detectives (EI) and Criminal Investigators and Special Agents (EI). I’ve long been puzzled by the presence of police and lawyers among the Enterprising occupations, but I suppose it is because of the persuasive aspects of the work.

The last axis within the Holland hexagon runs between the Artistic (creative, independent) and Conventional (systematic, orderly) personality types. It’s interesting to find that there are no AC occupations and only one CA occupation: Proofreaders and Copy Markers (CA). Evidently it is extremely difficult to find work that combines the unstructured setting of the Artistic type with the structured setting of the Conventional type.

However, the approach I used for this blog—looking for occupations with primary and secondary types at opposite poles—is only one way to look at the relationships between pairs of Holland types. Another way is to do statistical analysis—specifically, to find the correlations between the ratings of occupations on the various types. In next week’s blog, I’ll look at the hexagon through this lens.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Deal-Making Careers

Recently I was speaking with a cousin who is contemplating a career change after working in the same industry for more than 30 years. I suggested to him that in choosing a new direction, he might want to leverage the enormous fund of knowledge and contacts he has acquired in his work. Why throw all that away?

This is the central idea of my book The Sequel, in which I look at various ways to make a mid-career occupational change without starting from scratch. One of the sequel careers that I discuss is brokering.

A lot of buying and selling goes on in every industry. People who have a lot of work experience in an industry usually are well informed about how these deals get made. They know who the main sellers are, what they have to offer, how much they’re likely to ask in payment, and what makes the difference between and good deal and a bad one. They also know about the buyers: where they come from, what they’re looking for, what they’re able to pay, and what makes the difference between a good customer and a bad one. Old industry hands may also know about arrangements besides price that are commonly involved in the deal, such as warrantees and common modes of delivery.

People with these kinds of knowledge may be able to make a career of bringing buyers and sellers together and earning a commission on the sales. That is what brokers do.

Brokers act as matchmakers. For example, a freight broker finds a business that needs to ship some kind of cargo and matches it with a carrier that can provide the appropriate kind of shipping service at an acceptable price. The freight broker never takes possession of the cargo and merely arranges the deal. The company producing the cargo appreciates the broker’s ability to quickly identify a reliable and low-priced shipper. The shipper appreciates the added business, which may result in more trucks plying their routes with full loads.
Brokers often advise and inform buyers to help them make a wise choice and understand the necessary paperwork. For example, a mortgage broker may counsel a borrower on how to correct a situation that harms the borrower’s credit rating or may explain the pros and cons of different loan arrangements. An energy broker may explain to a commercial client the benefits and risks of entering a contract with an electric company that locks in a specific rate for electric power for a year.

Some brokers facilitate the sale of a division within a business or even the entire business. Working with a broker in a confidential arrangement keeps news of the planned sale off the street so customers of the business do not lose confidence in it.

Brokers spend much of their time making decisions. The decisions need to be correct and can have a large impact. The pressure of time and competition can add to the stress of this work. Although brokers have a lot of independence, the context in which they make their decisions tends to be structured and even repetitious. Brokering provides the satisfaction of helping clients achieve their goals. This can be especially rewarding when people can live better lives by achieving goals such as a college degree or the purchase of a home.

Here are some occupations that act as brokers:

  • Agents and Business Managers of Artists, Performers, and Athletes
  • Cargo and Freight Agents
  • Customs Brokers
  • Energy Brokers
  • Insurance Sales Agents
  • Investment Underwriters
  • Loan Officers
  • Purchasing Agents and Buyers, Farm Products
  • Purchasing Agents, Except Wholesale, Retail, and Farm Products
  • Real Estate Brokers
  • Sales Agents, Financial Services
  • Securities and Commodities Traders

Besides knowledge of an industry, brokers often need to carry insurance to protect their clients from loss. Sometimes they are also required to be bonded, an additional expense when you set up a brokerage.
Knowledge of applicable laws is important in many industries, so it may be necessary for you to take one or more classes to become fully informed and, in many cases, prepare for a licensure exam. (A college degree is rarely necessary, although it can be helpful.) The license assures clients that you know the laws and may also indicate that you possess appropriate insurance. In some industries, a criminal background check is a common requirement. Because there is so much variation, you should check the requirements for your industry and state.

Transportation brokers need to register with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

In many industries, a common entry route is to work first as an agent on the staff of a brokerage. Agents usually are not required to carry the level of responsibility, including legal liability, that a broker carries. Licensing and insurance requirements tend to be much lower. Real estate brokers usually begin as sales agents. In fact, work experience in sales is a requirement for a real estate broker’s license, although in some states it is waived for those with a bachelor’s degree in real estate.

It’s easier to set up a brokerage business in some industries, such as the highly regulated insurance industry, than in others where a few major players dominate.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Pros and Cons of Federal Jobs

In response to this week’s shutdown of the federal government, I thought it would be a good time to look at the advantages and disadvantages of working for this employer.

Compared to jobs in the private sector, jobs with the federal government have many advantages:
  • Federal jobs tend to be more secure. When agencies need to reduce their size, they usually do so by attrition (that is, not replacing people who leave). Employees can challenge termination or other personnel decisions through a formal appeals process.
  • Hiring and promotion in federal jobs are guided by a stronger commitment to diversity and inclusion than you’ll find in most private-sector worksites.
  • Federal jobs offer a wider selection of health-insurance plans than do private-sector employers. Retirees can continue their health-insurance coverage for the same fee they paid while working.
  • Federal jobs offer better retirement benefits than many jobs in the private sector.
  • Federal jobs offer 10 holidays per year.
  • Federal jobs offer 13 vacation days per year to beginning workers, 20 days after 3 years, and 26 days after 15 years. To this, add 13 days of sick leave per year.
  • Federal jobs often permit flexible work arrangements. For example, you may be able to work four 10-hour days per week or do some work from home. Workers are rarely required to work more than 40 hours. This can make a huge difference in some fields, such as law and accounting.
  • High-quality day care for children is often available at federal job sites or sometimes is subsidized at off-site centers.
  • Federal jobs can give you the satisfaction of serving the nation.

Federal employment is not a worker’s paradise, however:
  • Competition for some federal jobs is intense.
  • Contrary to what you may have heard about the growth of the federal workforce, it is not a fast-growing field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the federal workforce will shrink by 12.5 percent from 2010 to 2020, compared to 14.3 growth percent for all industries. If you don’t count Postal Service jobs, the federal workforce shrinks by “only” 8.2 percent, but that still compares quite poorly to the average across all career fields.
  • A few federal jobs require security clearance, which may require background investigations that can drag on for months.
  • The workplace structure tends to be more bureaucratic than in small private-sector businesses. In high-tech jobs, the workplace may be slower to adopt the newest technologies.
  • Sometimes political pressures prevent workers from doing their jobs as they see fit.
  • Although the many rules are designed to promote fairness, some workers find ways to manipulate the rules to gain an advantage.
What about pay? The answer depends on how you analyze the data. Federal workers earn more than private-sector workers, but they also are better educated. Most individual federal workers would earn more in an equivalent private-sector job. On the other hand, federal pay is extremely fair. In many private-sector jobs, you have to negotiate your salary and don’t know what other workers’ salaries are based on. The pay for federal jobs is supposed to be comparable to what is current in the private sector, with adjustments for local cost of living, and it is based on your salary grade.

The high level of competition for federal jobs, though listed here as a disadvantage, is an indication that work for the federal government is, on balance, very rewarding (when it’s not shut down by political blackmail).
You can read details about specific federal jobs in my book 150 Best Federal Jobs (JIST).