What careers might someone who's interested in interiewing people, fixing the world and making money look into?
September 15, 2010 11:05 AM   Subscribe

Figuring out a career path: I'm an undergrad student who has a passion for interviewing people and getting their stories. I also want my carer to help make the world a better place and feel that I would be happiest if I could see my impact directly. What careers or jobs might I look into?

Journalism is an obvious possibility but there are many types and I'm not sure which is suited to me. I often hear that I should get into broadcast journalism but I'm not sure how I feel about being in front of the camera for much of my living. Writing for newspapers is... alright, but I'm concerned that I wouldn't see my impact as directly as I'd like. Also, the future of journalism is difficult to forecast--newspapers and magazines seem increasingly marginalized--and that concerns me, since I don't envision myself living from paycheck to paycheck.

What I really like is interviewing people and finding out what makes them tick. Why is a successful person successful? What choices did they make? What is their philosophy and daily mindset? What about people who live modestly, simply and happily--what made them choose this path in a world that glamorizes public displays of excess? How did remarkable people become remarkable? How are "unremarkable" people remarkable and what can we learn from them? These are along the lines of questions I want to ask people.

Can you guys give me suggestions for careers in which I might be able to explore these questions?

Also, feeling that I'm making an impact on the world is important to me. This may sound overambitious but I genuinely want to help end world poverty--I'm particularly interested in the Congo, India, and China--and am generally interested in exploring social justice movements around the globe.

At the same time, I want to make significant money. I mean the kind of money where I can buy myself a home and spend on small luxuries without feeling guilt. $20 should not have me struggling. I should not be worrying about paying my rent/mortgage from month to month. I want to be able to freely pursue my life dreams and not worry about pinching pennies to do it. I don't think journalists are big moneymakers--is there any way I could make over $100K just...interviewing people?

Finally, a few things I'm hoping you'll include in your response: if you suggest journalism, can you suggest what kind in particular I might want to look at? Are there books or articles that you recommend? What grad school programs might you suggest? What internships or part-time jobs might you suggest? (I'm located in NYC so I have more options than most.) Does my undergraduate major really matter?

For reference, I'm thinking of doing an interdisciplinary major covering politics and literature with a minor in law. These cater to my general interests but don't necessarily translate into a career in interviewing, which is why I'm thinking of getting a grad school degree in something more specifically applicable to my future career. Is this wise, or would you advise that I find more focus in my undergraduate major?

Sorry this is so long, guys. I really appreciate your help!
posted by melancholyplay to Work & Money (17 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Jesse Thorn does this for a living. He's a MeFite. He posted such an intern opportunity on Jobs. Sounds up your alley....but it is in Los Angeles.
posted by inturnaround at 11:10 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Some people do very well in the field of journalism, but then, some do very well in the field of acting, but most aspiring actors have a very hard time of it. Journalism is a bit of a long shot - I think you would do better to keep a literary career as a sideline, rather than to depend upon it for the healthy income which you (understandably) wish to have.

Your interests sound to me more like a career in politics. Your interest in talking to people and getting to understand them could lend itself to the building of a political base. People like politicians who are interested in them personally and who understand their personal lives and situations. Politicians are usually quite well paid. Politicians are the ones who, more than anyone else, make the decisions that affect such things as world poverty and social justice.

The main question about your prospects in politics would be which level you should aspire to, municipal, state, or federal (or conceivably, international). Each has its own challenges. Getting elected to office is not easy at any level of government, but if you can do it, you will probably be able to achieve your career objectives. And of course, if you succeed in politics you can still write books about it, thereby fulfilling journalistic ambitions as well, and potentially making a big increase in your income as well. It's much easier to sell a book because you are a famous person, than it is to sell one because it is a good book. Of course, what works best of all is for a famous person to write a good book. Then you have the makings of a best seller.
posted by grizzled at 11:18 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, there are lots of people in NY who do this for a living (obviously).

I can only think of people on TV, such as Charlie Rose, who films at Bloomberg News' studios. But there must be other non-TV interviewers out there.

What about radio?
posted by dfriedman at 11:19 AM on September 15, 2010

I don't think journalists are big moneymakers--is there any way I could make over $100K just...interviewing people?

Probably not, no, unless you have a widely syndicated radio show and get many paid speaking engagements + book sales - like if you're Terry Gross, or Michelle Norris or someone like that.

Or unless you're a high-level interrogator for the government. But that's not really 'interviewing.'
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:20 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You can go into broadcast journalism and never get to be on camera. Sadly, the trend is that most people that want to be on camera just want to be a reader. It's an exhausting life and I got out of it (or the corporation got me out of it) this past spring. It's great when you are young and single and have the hunger and I'm really glad and proud that I was a part of something that big, but I couldn't sustain the ambition. There's more to TV than just news. There are lots of stories to tell and a thousands of channels to tell it on.

Off the top of my head, the only people I can think of that are rich and an interviewer and have serious chops are Charlie Rose and Gay Talese.

Have you thought about going into documentaries?
posted by spec80 at 11:26 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you have an entrepreneurial spirit? You could ghost write memoirs. You'll interview people and use your literature background. The "fixing the world" part is a bit more of a reach...but think of it this way, you're recording stories for future generations. You're transcribing oral history. That could be doing the world a service, right? The memoir writer whose page I linked to charges $100,000-$175,000 per memoir--and claims to take just 5 months.

I don't have anything to do with ghost writer I linked to. I had the idea to suggest ghost writing memoirs, then found the link after searching for an example.
posted by litnerd at 11:30 AM on September 15, 2010

Best answer: This is completely off the wall in terms of your stated interest in a field like journalism, but a career path that is highly profitable AND involves interviewing people to learn how people tick/live their lives/think about the world is user experience (UX) research. It helps to have an interest in technology for this kind of field, as most of the work in UX revolves around making software, hardware, tools and technology to help people do things.

A lot of big companies do this kind of work in third-world countries, which would definitely fit the bill in terms of making the world a better place. For example, a mobile device company like Motorola might do UX research in India to better understand how to make phones that are cheap, have a long battery life and are usable by people who have limited to no reading ability.
posted by joan_holloway at 11:34 AM on September 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

Three goals - doing what you love, helping people, making a decent income - that may not be easily compatible, at least at first.

Consider doing journalism as a sideline, while making your real income at some other job. I worked for a tiny, rural weekly when I was young enough that I didn't mind scraping by financially.

It was a very rewarding form of community service. We published the stories people needed to get into print: spreading the word about projects that needed workers, people who needed help, available services that were underused. A church that had put its internal conflicts behind it and was thriving. A man who had found his long-lost father. What it was like to volunteer for the ambulance service (and how the service depended on donations).

It was amazingly fun, and we got a lot of warm feedback from the people we helped.

Doing that would be a start and would let you see how you like it. Get yourself known as a writer, and who knows where it would go.
posted by wjm at 11:36 AM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Human resources consulting, in the wider field of management consulting. Part of the work involves talking to people about their professional lives and then doing some problem solving. Some firms specialize in working with non-profits or government agencies. Save the world, get paid.

There's also market research, but it doesn't have the public service aspect you are looking for.

Also, pose this question to your career center on campus. They can suggest jobs or industries that aren't journalism that involve the parts of interviewing that you enjoy. I found them very helpful- they suggested ways of thinking about my skills and interests that had never crossed my mind, and I felt much more settled with their help. They will also help you research and apply for internships so you can try industries out.

Actually, career consultant or job consultant in public service strikes me as something you might like- you get to talk to people about what they like to do and way and then help them get to work. Not as lucrative as private management consultant, but, man, would you be helping people.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:39 AM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There's a niche within foreign aid, usually at the interface of government and non-government funding, called program auditing. I'll simplify outrageously below:

It involves a whole lot of boring stuff like accounting, financial and social analysis, and report writing. But it also often involves extensive travel to remote areas, in-depth interviewing of folk who've benefited (or not) from a particular aid program, and hanging out with those folk for a while to get a handle on how well they're really going, and what they feel about the aid program of which they're a part. On big projects there's lots and lots of interviewing. In my experience it's not uncommon to hire dozens of local interns or foreign students as interviewers.

One then takes the information gathered back to Capital City X to compare to the program's own reports about it's success, and build into a report about whether the program in question is actually working or not.

Auditor's are frequently in a funny position in expat aid communities. Often they work freelance, because they tend to be highly skilled consultants and they just don't need the organizational ties on which everyone else is desperately dependent.

And they tend to have a role that leaves everyone else just a little bit scared. Auditor comes back and says they found hook worm in your freshly drilled tube wells, you're up shit creek. People lacking in mosquito nets in village Y because the local police chief stole them, your paddle's gone too.

But god do the good ones get paid well! Even the massive government and international orgs like USAID, or the UN, or the ICRC&RC do pay top dollar for independent assessments on whether their local partners are doing the right thing.

All in all, it sounds like it might fit some of your criteria. ;)
posted by Ahab at 1:09 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I very rarely recommend that people go to law school, but certain kinds of law practice, like employment law, let you spend all day interviewing people and figuring out their mindset. If you really like that, you may like being a lawyer. Of course, you'll be asking questions with a specific purpose (to tell a particular legal story) instead of just to find out what makes them tick. But it can be very fun and satisfying if you have the right kind of personality. Also, going to a good law school would give you opportunities to travel during the summer to Africa and Asia to explore social justice issues, even if you didn't end up making that your career focus.

Other ideas -- maybe a psychotherapist or some other kind of helping profession with a lot of direct client contact?
posted by yarly at 1:36 PM on September 15, 2010

Oh duh! Why don't you become a psychiatrist? You get to interview people, help people, and you make good money.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:13 PM on September 15, 2010

Best answer: Christ, that's quite a laundry list there. I admire your ambition, but I want to counsel you that such high expectations can sometimes leave people on foundering on the rocks of reality when you enter the workforce. Are you prepared to make the sacrifices required to have an awesome, well-paying job? People get paid money for jobs, because most jobs are hard work, even the ones that look great on paper. Don't forget that. Pursuing those goals successfully may mean that other aspects of your life you take for granted now - that are quite important to you, like family, spare time, living where you want, hobbies etc - have to fall by the wayside. You may not want to make that choice, and may prefer a job that lets you do a lot of things in your spare time, and is low-stress, etc etc.

Also, once you've locked into your choice, you need to start pursuing it now to separate yourself from the thousand million graduates with the same degree. You need extra, vocational stuff outside of university to stand out. And never ever think being smart and good will be enough to get you the job. Employers would rather hire a dumb person with experience than a smart person with none, every time. Experience is the route to success.

Anyway, I think you should look at counselling or psychology of some description. You will be essentially interviewing people about complex motivations every day, and it's difficult to think of a job where you would be helping people more through that kind of interaction. Not as romantic on the surface as journalism, I grant you, but there's a satisfaction that comes from making a difference that you can't put a price on. Also, you will be able to work in almost any developed country in the world.
posted by smoke at 5:23 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

(1) Interviewing people
(2) Fixing the world
(3) Making Money

Pick two--I'm having a really hard time imagining an entry-level job where you get all three of these. Fixing the world and making money, especially, usually don't go hand in hand right out of college... speaking of which, journalism and making money also don't go together unless you plan to get hired into a position requiring years of experience. On the other hand, it's fine to have these expectations when you're starting a search--kudos for taking the time to think about it!

I Interviewed at the Corporate Executive Board out of college, and while my guess is it wouldn't fit your definition of fixing the world, the money they offered wasn't bad, and as described to me a lot of the job involved interviewing business leaders. They then take the information they get, compile reports, and try to sell those... if you're business-inclined at all something like that might be worth checking out.
posted by _Silky_ at 8:18 PM on September 15, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you guys so much! As I suspected, journalism doesn't seem like it's for me. While I think it's worth a shot (perhaps in the form of an internship), I'm not passionate enough about reporting the news to do it without getting paid well.

I love what Charlie Rose does but realize that he's quite unusual. His experience is as rare as getting "discovered" as an actor, like someone said, but that's not to say I shouldn't aspire. I'm keeping it on the table but want to do so realistically.

I am going to look into UX Research. Thank you, joan_holloway (by the way, I'm a big fan of Joan too!).

Ahab--I am VERY interested in your suggestion. My mother is an auditor and while a lot of her work seems boring, she does get to get her hands dirty in whatever she is investigating at the time. I might enjoy the investigative aspect of the work, and if travel, human contact and money are part of the job... well, that sounds great. (Also, another shoutout--don't know if this is the Ahab you're referring to but if you meant CAPTAIN Ahab, I almost named my dog that!)

Yarly--I have been considering law school as I really like the critical thinking and thinking-on-your-feet aspects but am turned off by what may be the reality of practicing law: having to stick to the law and being unable to protect people that need it because the law doesn't cover them, or being in a law job that rarely puts me in court and thus keeps me pushing papers for most of the week. Again, it is not ruled out. I think that with the right job in the right specialty I might really love it. I plan on getting an internship or part-time job in this area to find out.

Smoke--great advice. I know I need to keep my high expectations in check and that there will be aspects that I don't like about any job I take. Still, it's nice to dream and try to build plans around my aspirations. One of the steps I'm taking is pursuing internships and part-time jobs in the fields I have interest in.

Counseling is not something I'm attracted to because I often think people have lame reasons for going into counseling. :/ That will probably be an unpopular opinion but it's my truth. I'm more interested in people who are trying to change the world in "macro" ways. In other words, I want to change systemic issues more so than individual ones, though the two can't be divorced.

Finally, I'm a big fan of my school's career counseling center! I'm meeting with my counselor again tomorrow and am going to ask her a bunch of questions pertaining to this. Your suggestions were extremely helpful. Thank you!
posted by melancholyplay at 8:27 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Grant writing.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:39 AM on September 17, 2010

but am turned off by what may be the reality of practicing law: having to stick to the law and being unable to protect people that need it because the law doesn't cover them, or being in a law job that rarely puts me in court and thus keeps me pushing papers for most of the week.

Yep, you definitely have to work hard to find an area of the law that lets you do what you want, and you won't be in court every day, but exciting areas do definitely exist. Think big -- imagine yourself an ACLU lawyer going to court on class actions to protect prisoners' rights or the rights of kids in foster care... Those kinds of jobs do exist; they're hard to get, but they're out there. And you may be well suited for a less traditional law school like Northeastern, where you get the chance to do a whole lot of internships.
posted by yarly at 8:57 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

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