Two years ago, I asked a college-bound 18-year-old what kind of job she’d like to have after earning her degree. "I don’t know," she told me, adding, "I don’t think it’s been invented yet."
Turns out, she was probably right. Though the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects health care and construction jobs to grow as baby boomers age in greater numbers and the economic rebound gives people the confidence to build new homes, the jobs of the future aren’t so easily defined.
According to a recent study by online job matching service TheLadders, the fastest growing jobs are in user experience design, iOS and Android development, and business intelligence—some of which didn’t exist before 2007.
The study, which gathered key word search data from among its 6 million members, also found that middle management jobs are being phased out. Among the top 10% of growing jobs, less than 2% of titles contain the word "manager" or "director," which points to a trend that you can still be a professional in a high-paying position, but the end game isn’t a gold plaque with a management title tacked to your name.
Mark Newman, CEO of digital interviewing service HireVue, says the company is witnessing similar trends as it helps place people with companies such as Hilton, GE, Chipotle, and others. "Overall, HireVue is seeing that jobs of the future are design and data scientist jobs," he says.
As it turns out, the path to these in-demand positions is as new as the jobs themselves. Though plenty of design jobs are filled by those with graphic design skills, Newman points out, "HireVue has seen that those with backgrounds in psychology and anthropology are also very successful, as they have skill sets that serve them very well in the field, including attention to detail, user empathy and visual design skills.
Kate Swann, the chief operating officer at Blue State Digital, a digital and technology agency that spearheaded digital efforts on the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012, is one who took an arts degree into an entirely different career. Swann says her masters in performance studies helped her look for the larger patterns in how cultures work.
It’s a good skill for her current position and one that’s allowed her to see a shift in how design agencies think about what makes a good candidate. "Looking for people who have made unexpected moves in their career or education is a good way to identify risk takers and lateral thinkers," she explains. "Companies such as Frog Design [where she also worked] and Blue State Digital understand that the best candidates aren't always the ones who move predictably from point A to point B."
Amanda Augustine, job expert at TheLadders, says that sometimes it helps to take a first job in something that appears to be unrelated. "If you enjoy branding and marketing and love connecting with people, then a role talent acquisition might be an interesting avenue to explore," she says noting the current trend where recruiters must also become marketers. "They not only have to be able to read people, but they need to build, manage, and advertise their organization's employer brand to promote their corporate culture and entice the right type of candidates to want to join their team," Augustine explains.
And while Apple and others are famous for starting out of a garage, your garage band might hold the key to employment in another industry. Steven Aliment, director of Engine Management at Boeing Commercial Airplanes was a musician for years before joining his employer.
"A band is like a small creative shop where you need to be both creative and commercially appealing under pressure," he explains, and teamwork is essential. "Listening, understanding each other, trying, failing, until you get it right," says Aliment. Not to mention learning how to engage an audience is like marketing to customers. "For me, showmanship in that context was a spring board to industrial showmanship in sales and marketing," he contends.
Some companies such as Facebook have even started recruiting high school students for their internship programs to stay ahead of the competition, notes Augustine. "We've found that more and more "entry-level" positions now require anywhere from one to three or even five years of experience," she says, making the internship the new entry-level position.
Augustine advises trying to get an internship in social media if it involves helping build and manage social media campaigns for the organization because it’s often behind a business’s marketing, recruiting, and customer service strategies.
"Having hands-on corporate experience learning the thought process behind a company's social media strategy will be valuable down the line," she says.
Such internships can also be used to learn "soft skills" such as teamwork, communication, problem solving, and professionalism.
Patty Pogemiller, director of talent acquisition and mobility, Deloitte Services LP has seen an increase in demand for leadership and soft skills. "We look for people who have a demonstrated track record of leadership roles, an ability to think analytically, as well as outstanding communication skills," she says, "We’re always looking for people who can collaborate and work effectively on diverse teams."
According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that administers AmeriCorps and other programs, volunteering for an organization can increase the chance of getting a paid job offer by as much as 27%.
Sarah Kunst, partner at Fortis Partners private equity firm, says millennials in particular are looking for something more fulfilling than a fast track to middle management. "They have seen the devastating effects of business run for greed and not greater good and they are inclined not to repeat those mistakes."
But times have changed and so have paths to working with purpose. "While giving back used to mean a few years with Peace Corps or working at a struggling nonprofit, college grads now often have both crippling student loans and entrepreneurial curiosity," Kunst observes.
To earn a living wage while being socially conscious, Kunst advises looking into organizations like Venture for America, a nonprofit that places grads in full-time startup jobs in cities like Detroit and New Orleans, or Hampton Creek, a food-tech startup that is reducing the carbon footprint needed to make protein.
It's also perfectly acceptable to come in with an unusual resume, says John Budd, Yolo Candy cofounder and CMO. "We hired someone who started her career as a circus barker at an amusement park, then became a circus ringmaster," he says. Not only did she have the soft skill of the right attitude, but she also has experience working in customer service, sales, event planning, and public relations/social media. "In this day and age, all companies need these disciplines and they just may find it all in the candidate who walked in smelling like cotton candy," says Budd.
Working for a startup could accelerate the spark to start your own company. According to World Bank data, 30% of the global population may be working for themselves, even in strong economies.
That’s where Budd says it’s important to do cross-functional training in a variety of jobs. "No matter what the job, roll-up your sleeves and learn everything you can about these different functions. You’ll never know when that knowledge will give you the edge to succeed in your business or in your next job interview," he says.
Donna Svei, executive search consultant believes the real key is to hone the skill of reinvention if they want to be a success. "Companies aren't explicitly shopping for that skill, but if they're part of inventing jobs that didn't exist five years ago, they're hiring people who know how to reinvent themselves," she says.
There was no such thing as a social media expert five to ten years ago, Svei observes, "Now there are thousands of them and, interestingly, very few of them were communications professionals in their last career." Svei believes the current crop of social media experts are people who saw the opportunity and reinvented themselves.
Finally, says Budd, no matter how new the type of job, one thing hasn’t changed: "Just please remember to show up on time and dress appropriately for the interview."