What profession would suit me best?
May 3, 2012 12:09 AM   Subscribe

Should I go into nursing or human resources?

I graduated from college three years ago, and have been semi-drifting from job to job since. I have worked in bars and customer service jobs (which I liked), taught ESL to adults (loved) and teenagers (hated), and currently sell diamond engagement rings in a call center. The job is ok but I am a temp and far less enthused about it than I was at the start, plus it has zero to do with any of my interests. I do enjoy people-based interaction.

I am a pretty strong people-person and like working with people in a collaborative way. I don't have a problem working alone, but I definitely need a lot of interaction in my job. I have a B.A. in environmental studies, am very academic-minded, and would love to go back to school at some point.

I am fairly indecisive and not focused, and advice along the lines of "just do stuff and eventually you will fall into something" doesn't seem to be working very well. I want to start building a real career--I am 25 and I think it's time. I'd like a professional job that has room for advancement, a set wage, and benefits. I have two main ideas: the first is nursing and the second is human resources.

My mom is a nurse, and thinks the profession would be a good fit for me. I'd like a flexible job, I would love a job that would let me travel or live abroad at some point in the future (not immediately, but within the next five years or so), and I'd like to eventually make around 80-90k/year. Starting around 40k/yr would be fine with me. The only issue with nursing is that while I like biology and science, I am absolutely terrible at chemistry and math. Going back to school in these subjects would be torture for me, and I worry that the job itself might be too "sciency" and exacting for me.

My other idea is human relations, which I don't know much about. It appeals to me because it's people-oriented, there seems to be quite a bit of room for advancement, lots of organizations have a need for human resource professionals, and people around me seem to think I'd be good at it.

I like high-energy, adrenaline type jobs with time crunches and some pressure. I really like working with people as equals, meeting/interacting with a variety of new people every day, communicating in writing, and travel/change.

Which would you point me more towards? Are there any other professions that sound like they might be a good fit for me that I am missing?

posted by queens86 to Work & Money (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Nursing schools are packed right now and very competitive. It's also no joke--you need to be focused and academically strong to be able to manage all the material. It is not a good choice if you're indecisive, unfocused, or unsure.

If you are thinking along the healthcare professions route, you might look into becoming a Physical Therapy Assistant or something similar. Generally it's a two-year certification you can do through a community college, and the hardest science stuff will be anatomy and physiology memorization. There is a high demand for rehab professionals given the aging population. I have a friend who works as a PTA in a nursing home and loves interacting with and helping his patients. It is not high-energy or high adrenaline though (but human resources wouldn't be either).

I'm not sure if HR is so much "interacting with people" as it is "finding ways to cover your company's ass and navigating legalese".
posted by Anonymous at 12:30 AM on May 3, 2012

If you're not good at math, then Human Resources is not for you. The reason is that without extremely strong math, project management, and computer skills, you'll never stand out of the crowd and will end up in a generalist role, which won't pay the salary you're aiming for. If by people skills you mean you've good at hiding that dagger behind your back, then ya, HR for the win.
posted by Yowser at 12:48 AM on May 3, 2012

If you are truly a "people person," you likely won't be happy in HR for long. You'll probably get really cynical really quickly, if that's what you're looking for. It's also not exactly a high-energy job as most specialties in HR require a lot of paperwork and wading through legal and company regulations.

There are, however, a lot of different disciplines within HR and Training & Development might be an option for you, as trainers need to be fairly high energy. Depending on the company and role there may be significant travel opportunities. There's still a lot of (often tedious) back-end work, though.
posted by ThatSomething at 12:49 AM on May 3, 2012

I should also mention, HR attracts introverts, not extroverts... there's this bizarre impression both inside and outside the profession that being an extrovert is a good thing, but I've NEVER seen an extroverted person in HR who wasn't actively trying to get out.
posted by Yowser at 12:53 AM on May 3, 2012

If you want a job that will allow you to be more mobile, then nursing is a better bet. You will probably struggle with certain parts of the curriculum and may have to take some basic courses even before you can get a place and to show you are serious about improving some of your science skills. But - and I say this as a math phobic person - it is possible to find out as a 25year old that struggling with a subject when you were younger does mt automatically mean the same is true when you're older. Maybe you could pick up a gentle introduction to chemistry or math and see if it makes more sense or is less overwhelming now?
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:57 AM on May 3, 2012

Also, as someone who knows several people who have travelled and worked internationally as nurses, it seems that it's a lot easier to get visas with a nursing degree than with other qualifications such as PT.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 1:00 AM on May 3, 2012

Best answer: I'd like a flexible job, I would love a job that would let me travel or live abroad at some point in the future (not immediately, but within the next five years or so), and I'd like to eventually make around 80-90k/year. Starting around 40k/yr would be fine with me.

And you have a bachelor's in environmental science? If you want to start something right now and not go back to school, you could go into environmental consulting. It's not as flexible as you might want, especially at first, but at many companies there's a ton of travel (even abroad if you're at the right firm). Your salary expectations are a bit high initially (only a bit), but if you stuck with it I think you could eventually work your way to 80-90K in a more senior position.

I like high-energy, adrenaline type jobs with time crunches and some pressure. I really like working with people as equals, meeting/interacting with a variety of new people every day, communicating in writing, and travel/change.

Environmental consulting sounds like a very, very good fit for this set of goals. Seriously. Especially the high-energy and time crunch bits.

Plus, the field is finally hiring after a several-year slowdown -- people might think your job history a bit odd, but they know nobody has been hiring for entry-level positions the past three years.
posted by pie ninja at 4:28 AM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Have you considered human resource development with environmental firms? In that role, you can start out creating and delivering training to staff that helps them meet their performance goals/objectives, which ties together your existing degree with your experience and interest in teaching adults, and your love for communication, and your people skills. If you want to return to school, you can get a Masters degree in HRD.
posted by Houstonian at 5:09 AM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

My husband was a nurse and after 10 years he hated it. It's a very demanding and stressful job. If you have the temperment though, it can be great. Also, there are so many different nursing jobs, even nursing/HR, that if one thing doesn't work for you, another will.

While the nursing cirriculum can be exacting (I took some courses back in the day) after the first year you move on to the actual Practicals, where you learn the skill of nursing by doing.

There are also different degrees, Registered Nurse is a bit more demanding than Licenced Practical Nurse. The RN opens more doors.

My husband did Telemetry, Med/Surg, Geriatric, Asthma Care Nurse for an Insurance Company, and something administrative. So as he floated around the profession, he was able to find different things at different times, it just so happened that NONE of them was right for him, although everyone who has ever worked with him said he was a brilliant nurse. The stress and responsibility are what he hated.

As for HR, run, don't walk away from that. It's just horrible.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:03 AM on May 3, 2012

I don't want to be the pessimist here, but I have a friend who was a travel nurse and she absolutely hated it. You are always the "new" person who gets the worst patients. People are reluctant to make friends with you because in 6 months to a year you will be moving on. It's a tough row to hoe that is emotionally draining. Talk to some nurses who have done the travel route and see if you would be compatible with that job.
posted by sybarite09 at 6:23 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have two good friends who are nurses (one at a children's hospital and one at a VA hospital) and they both love their jobs. They love the flexible hours, they love working with people and they both have 'nurturing' personalities. Obviously there are crappy parts to it, like the bureaucracy you have to deal with from insurance companies, hospital administrations, etc, or the doctors who have bad attitudes and look down on you (honestly I can't believe people still behave this way, but apparently some do), but no job is perfect right?

Nursing is very competitive these days though, so it isn't something you can just walk into without a strong academic background. The pay can be quite good though. Maybe you could try shadowing a nurse at a hospital or a doctor's office for a little while -- a few weeks or so?-- before you decide?
posted by blue_bicycle at 11:01 AM on May 3, 2012

Response by poster: Does environmental consulting always require a lot of math and hard science background?
posted by queens86 at 12:33 PM on May 3, 2012

Not a lot, no. There are a lot of different areas of environmental consulting, but if you're doing Phase Is (the initial environmental assessments for people purchasing property -- this is a lot of the entry-level workload, and a good way to get your foot in the door and get up to speed) there is very little math and there basically isn't any hard science. You'd be visiting the site and talking with the people who run it, and then researching the history of the property to find out if there's anything problematic with it (gas stations, dry cleaners, etc.).

If you were doing remediation or Phase IIs, where you actually look at levels of contamination at the property, you'd need to be able to do basic geometry, convert units, recognize chemical names on a list, and compare levels of those chemicals to the published State or Federal regulatory standards. It would get more complicated if you started doing remedial work, but not hugely so.

Writing skills and people skills and common sense are a lot more necessary than math and hard science, at least in my experience. Look for a mid-sized firm with clients from all over the country -- that'll give you the maximum travel opportunities, since they will need you to travel to cover sites where they have no local offices. They will also be the most likely to need you to cover different types of assessments and learn lots of new skills, which is the best way to get promoted quickly and figure out which areas of environmental consulting you really enjoy.
posted by pie ninja at 1:03 PM on May 3, 2012

I can only speak to Human Resources info. I worked in HR for about 10 years, up to HR Manager of a medium sized company. I no longer work in HR by choice.

HR encompasses wide range of disciplines. It includes compensation, benefits, employee relations, recruitment, staffing, employee development and diversity. Some businesses/individuals also include ethics, safety, security, and on and on with it.

You can make excellent money in HR if you continue in the career. You might start in the thirties and then just gradually move up. Career path could be starting as a receptionist or clerk, then a representative, an an entry level position, a generalist who handles a little bit of everything and a specialist with expertise in a particular area of HR, such as a Benefit Specialist or a Employee Relations Specialist. I would recommend someone to start out with a goal to be a generalist and determine where their interest lies.

For individuals who work in compensation, there is a lot of time spent in researching current market levels, some math, lots of spreadsheets, etc. Benefits Specialist have to understand healthcare coverage. Often compensation and benefits are grouped together as a specialty.

For individuals who work in employee relations, this is a people person position. However, people are usually upset, angry or dissatisfied when they talk to you. Remember, employees rarely come to HR because they are happy. It is kind of like the complaint department for everyone else. You spend a lot of time with employee relations listening to others explain why they are unhappy and determining if it is 1) has anything to do with the company or if it is personal, and 2) what is a fair way to move forward, while being sure not to let your personal feelings become involved.
Recruiting is another area. HR folks tend to love it or hate it.
However, HR is the farthest thing from flexible, and you mentioned you like flexible. HR is the enforcer of rules and policies and procedures. In fact, HR writes the policies and procedures, doles out the punishments (terminations, suspnesions, write-ups), hands out the rewards (raises, recognitions, improvements). HR has many, many hats but is generally seen as the moderator/mediator between management and staff. However, IMHO, it is not an objective role, because the HR employee is also an employee of the company so usually the company wins. One of HR's most important roles is to help the company stay legally definsible in case of being sued. This makes it hard to see things individually.

If you are detail-oriented, a rule follower, and like strategic planning, HR can be for you.
posted by Kitty Cornered at 1:42 PM on May 3, 2012

Although it's also competitive to get into programs, and if you're willing to do a one year post-baccalaureate program (a.k.a. "post-bac"), you might want to consider speech-language pathology.

(I don't know if you're in the US, but the links here are for US-based, so if you're in a different country, hit the Google! Regulations vary greatly from one country to another.)

In the US, if you do the post-bac program, you can often apply to be an SLP-A (depending on your state). Some community colleges have programs for this, some universities do. Coursework usually focuses on typical language development, hearing, and human development. Science ability a strong plus, but you won't be doing calculus or anything like that. Then you can work providing therapy (usually in schools, sometimes in private clinics) under the direction of an SLP. This would allow you to try it on, see how you like it, and get some experience that you can use in your application essay should you decide to get your master's degree.

But it sounds like maybe you'd like being an SLP that works in the medical side of things, such as in a hospital or outpatient clinic where things are go go go, and usually those environments can't use SLP-As due to regulations. But, at least you can try and see how you like it, if you're willing to spend a year taking courses (or talk to SLPs to get a feel for it.)

If you decide to become an SLP and get into a program, you'll have your pick of job environments when you're done: from education and public schools, to large hospitals on neurological and surgical teams, to working with patients to help them with swallowing, to working with children in early intervention, to adults who've had strokes and have aphasia: you can decide what you like best and specialize by virtue of the jobs you choose.

Salaries are in line with what you're looking for but do vary based on location and environment.

There are travel companies that will give you the travel opportunities you might want. I've known several people who have done it and loved it (and, well, some who didn't, but YMMV.)

All this to say that maybe speech-language pathology would be worth a thought: fast or slow paced, an opportunity for advancement, and real human interaction (both good and bad!) to keep things interesting. MeMail me if you'd like to chat.
posted by absquatulate at 2:17 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ooops, SLPA link should go here.
posted by absquatulate at 2:38 PM on May 3, 2012

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