April 14, 2012


CareerCast has released the list of the Best Jobs Of 2012. Actuary is #2 (up from #3 in 2011). Oh no. Studies like this create interest in becoming a actuary, whether as a student or by switching careers. Picking a job based on a ranking may not be the best choice.

The Winners And Losers

Here are the 10 best and 10 worst jobs.

# The Best The Worst
1 Software Engineer Lumberjack
2 Actuary Dairy Farmer
3 Human Resources Manager Enlisted Military Soldier
4 Dental Hygienist Oil Rig Worker
5 Financial Planner Newspaper Reporter (new)
6 Audiologist Waiter/Waitress
7 Occupational Therapist Meter Reader
8 Online Advertising Manager Dishwasher
9 Computer Systems Analyst Butcher
10 Mathematician Broadcaster (new)

You’ll find the full official list here.


In any job, workers range in skills, with most close to average. You're not a "big fish in a small pond". You're a normal-size, normal-looking fish. What sets you apart? If you're studying or changing careers, years may pass before you're ready to work. There's no guarantee that you'll get a job ... or like the job.

Value comes from demand and demand comes from scarcity. Rather than becoming one-of-the-many, you want to be one-of-the-few. How? Develop portable skills and apply them where they're rare.
For example, an actuary in an insurance company Head Office is a commodity. An actuary outside of Head Office is a rarity. Guess which is worth more?

Where would your skills be valued more highly?


What's best for you needn't be best from the perspective of your clients. Financial planners are ranked #5. They're happy but customers have little trust in financial services. Win/lose. Since anyone can label themselves a "financial planner", buyer beware.

Job Security

There is no job security any more. Picking what's "best" today provides little assurance that demand will remain when you're trained to do that job. There are blips.

Y2K created high demand for programmers and that meant good money for them. That didn't mean companies kept them any longer than needed.

Ideal For You

The ideal job is easy to define but hard to find. The ideal job is a hobby for you and valuable for clients. Imagine working at something you'd do for free and getting paid well while you enjoy. How can you have competition when your motivation is the joy of doing and the pleasure of honing your skills.


If you're always learning, you're better able to adapt to what's next. Stay alert to what people might want and where they may need help. Be aware of trends.

By 2020, over half the US workforce may be self-employed. That creates opportunities. What will these people need to do to get jobs? Can you help them? If you’ll be competing with them, can you get started now to get ahead of them? Maybe you show your expertise by starting to blog. Stick with it and you'll build a huge lead over the laggards. Your advantage will grow word by word, post by post. Perhaps you start investing in additional learning now.

Case Study

I started as a conventional actuary working in the Head Office roles. By 1993, I saw that actuaries were virtually interchangeable. They thought in similar ways. If you can predict what someone will say, they are easier to ignore and replace.

I started looking for what actuaries would not do at all or could not do well. I saw that technical people are good at knowing how. That makes them easier to replace. I decided to become the one who knew why. That's more valuable. Soon start asking "why not". That's the most valuable if you can explore the opportunities without undue reliance on others.


Actuaries are trained to measure and manage risk using the tools of statistics and probabilities. Those skills are valuable inside multibillion dollar insurance companies. Since risk is everywhere, those skills are even more valuable outside where they're rarely applied.

Few actuaries have this perspective: actuarial science is a true science with hypotheses and results. A lab coat is optional.

In science, you experiment. You build prototypes and analyze. You get comfortable with ambiguity. You learn to separate the trend lines from the random deviations. You develop an intuitive sense of what might work, even if you can't explain why.

These skills are portable. In 2005, I left Head Office to help advisors make more money. In 2009, I left them to help you make better decisions about insurance. That's a nontraditional path.

Your Path

What can you do to build on your unique skills in ways that most others are overlooking?

If you've got one of the "best jobs", congratulate yourself but don't become complacent. If you're thinking about switching to one of these "best jobs", best wishes.


Podcast 164

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PS Where does your job rank? Do you agree with the positioning?


Patrick Odea said...

I don't know about you guys but working in the oil rig shouldn't have been classified under the worst category. If being exposed to flare pilot several hours a day is the only argument, then that should be offset by the number of months (at least 2) that we get in a year not to mention the pay we get which can be equivalent to a regular nurse or doctor in first world countries.

Grace Johnson said...

I think the dental and occupational hygienist was considered worst because it involves dirt and cleansing. Perhaps that's why it's considered that way.