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Why "Best Jobs" Lists Can Do More Harm Than Good

Every year, magazines and companies release "best jobs" lists. Glassdoor, a jobs and recruiting site, has the popular 25 Best Jobs In America Report.

According to Glassdoor, these rankings are "determined by combining three key factors: Number of job openings, salary, and career opportunities rating."

I have nothing against Glassdoor, but I'm leary of lists like these. While they can tell us some useful indicators about a career choice or industry, "best jobs" lists do something pernicious that they likely don't intend to - they strike fear into the minds of college students, their parents, and college administrators.

How's that, you ask? 

Well, what's become obvious is that when making decisions about what kinds of jobs to pursue, many college students - along with their parents and university advisors - are driven by lists like this. Rather than finding motivation and inspiration from real-life interests or mentors, students seek out perceived safety in the form of allegedly in-demand careers (of course, no job is truly safe anymore).

I'm a leadership speaker and coach specializing in the millennial workplace. In 2015, I traveled over 175,000 miles across the country delivering keynotes at business conferences, corporate environments, trade association meetings, and on college campuses.

After my talks on university campuses, I love spending time with students learning about campus life, their career goals, and their interests as people. Last year, I spoke with thousands of students in person - and scores email me each month. At some point in our interaction, I usually ask students, "What type of career do you want to pursue after graduation?"

Surprisingly, the answers are similar - and they certainly aren't flighty or self-centered, the way millennial decisions are often characterized in the media. They're, above all else, very (very) practical.

I'll hear how they're pursuing careers in fields like healthcare, engineering, software, or supply chain management. These are exactly the types of in-demand positions you're likely to find on those "best jobs" lists and pushed in university career services offices. In fact, more than 80% of 2015 U.S. college graduates considered job availability before choosing their major.

So what's the problem with young people pursuing practical, in-demand careers? Nothing, of course - until you start to understand their motivations. When I follow up and ask why they decided to pursue a particular field, or when they became interested in a career path, I typically receive some version of this answer:

"I'm not really into it, but I was told that there would be jobs available in this field when I graduate."

When I push back a little and ask, "Are you at all interested in or excited by this field?" Eight times out of 10, the answer is "no."

So then I ask what types of careers they really would like to pursue. Their faces light up and the answers come quick. After they share, they'll explain why they think can't go after said "dream job." Most of these career paths are not on any "best jobs" type lists.

They want to be teachers, but with student loan debt, they're afraid of the low pay. They want to make social impact at a nonprofit organization, but their parents would "go crazy" if they chose that career path. They mention pursuing a career in the arts, but they've been told that the industry is too competitive and they'll never make it. They want to pursue a trade like carpentry, but are told that's not what they went to school for.

Is it a coincidence that employee engagement in the office is at an all-time low? We are developing a workforce that doesn't have a vested, real interest in the careers that they're pursuing. We're telling young people that things like taking pride in your work, building a satisfying career that lasts a lifetime, and feeling like you're making a tangible difference in the world are less worthy measures of success.

We have an opportunity - an opportunity to support students in pursuing careers that compel them to do good work, whether or not they show up on a list. Because having educators, community organizers, entrepreneurs and dreamers is as essential to our society and economy as data scientists, tax managers, and software engineers.

So let's remember to take these lists with a grain of salt and encourage students to ask themselves this important question about their careers: What would you do if you weren't afraid? (Tweet this) Because one day, they just might have the courage and resources to do it.

Antonio Neves is a nationally recognized millennial workplace speaker, award-winning journalist and the author of 50 Things Every College Student Should Know and 50 Ways To Excel In Your First Job (And In Life).

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