The Most Overrated Jobs

12 Oct

Have you ever thought how much better your life would have been had you climbed the corporate ladder to the senior executive level, or pushed through medical school and residency to become a surgeon? You’d command respect, you’d earn a handsome salary, you’d enjoy unmatched prestige.

Not so, says a new report from CareerCast.com, a three-year-old Carlsbad, Calif. job listing website. Corporate executive and surgeon take the number one and two slots on CareerCast’s list of America’s most overrated jobs. Though corporate executive pays an average of $161,000, and surgeon, a handsome $365,000, both careers involve intense stress, higher than average physical demands, and a weak or unsteady hiring and employment outlook, according to data gathered by CareerCast.

While the public may think that corporate executives lead a cushy life with fat paychecks, says Tony Lee, CareerCast’s publisher, “they work incredibly long hours, they are responsible for all the people who work at that company, if they make a misstep, people lose jobs.” Furthermore, he says, executives are under constant scrutiny by shareholders and investors, and they must sacrifice family time and personal health, in the name of their jobs. Surgeons also rate high on CareerCast’s stress measure, which scrutinizes 11 different factors, including hours worked and being responsible for another’s life. The number three and four slots on the list are also in the medical field: physician, with an average income of $192,000 and psychiatrist at $160,000. Airline pilot ranked fifth, with an income of $106,000.

In Pictures: The Most Overrated Jobs

Each January, CareerCast releases a list of America’s ten best and ten worst jobs after evaluating 200 professions using five core criteria: pay, hiring outlook, work environment, stress and physical demands. (My colleague Jacquelyn Smith covered the best and worst lists here.) CareerCast uses data come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Census Bureau, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and an array of private compensation surveys, trade association studies and state statistics.

This year, CareerCast decided to rework the data and produce two new lists, most underrated jobs, which we covered here, and now, its first list of the most overrated jobs.

Lee has been working on the best and worst jobs lists since 1995, when he, Wisconsin publisher Les Krantz and two statistics professors from the University of Wisconsin, started putting together the report for CareerJournal.com, a now-defunct site formerly run by The Wall Street Journal. After CareerJournal shut down, Lee teamed up with CareerCast and continued the project. (A link to the top jobs methodology is here.)

To produce the underrated and overrated lists, Lee says his team first looked at compensation levels and then started factoring in, and giving extra weight to, factors they deem important, like stress, physical demands and employment outlook. Lee concedes that the measures are subjective. “We said, ‘what do we, the researchers, think the most important criteria are, to make sure this job is as good as it seems.’”

While it appears that Lee and his team make a serious effort to rate particular job categories, using extensive empirical findings over a long period of time, the overrated list is sure to evoke controversy. For one thing, presumably it’s the rare surgeon or senior executive who endures the rigors of those demanding career paths absent a sincere desire to work in those fields. So while those jobs might seem overrated once Lee factors in his weighted measures of stress and employment outlook, an individual surgeon or executive could feel deeply rewarded in his or her profession, no matter what the data say.

Also, any report of this sort looks at multiple individual jobs to come up with rough averages. When I published the most underrated jobs list, which picked paralegal as the number one job because it supposedly pays well, has low stress and a low unemployment rate, I got comments from eight current or former paralegals, most of whom insisted their jobs were plenty stressful. Several commented that the compensation figure, $47,000, was way off (some said high, some said low). I also heard from a reader who runs a continuing legal education company that trains paralegals. She described the range of salaries, the varying stress levels, and the fact that CareerCast’s numbers reflect a national average. Higher-level paralegals earn as much as $200,000, she reports. Interesting, given the sixth most overrated job on CareerCast’s list: Attorney, with an average income of $113,000.

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