Best jobs survey is flawed

Careercast.com’s latest survey says mathematicians have the best jobs. Too bad the survey is poorly designed.

A recent survey by Careercost.com compared 200 jobs according to 5 vital criteria: Stress, Work Environment, Physical Demands, Income and Outlook. And the Number One job – the best of the lot – is Mathematician. (Which is itself a joke considering the rampant innumeracy in the USA.)

The other top nine jobs reported are, in descending order, Actuary, Statistician, Biologist, Software Engineer, Computer System Analyst, Historian, Sociologist, Industrial Designer, and Accountant. I hope you’re as surprised as I am by this list.

For those of you who are wondering, the worst job, according to the survey, is Lumberjack (which bodes poorly for Michael Palin).

And also relevant is the list of top 10 jobs in 2005, the last time the survey was carried out: Accountant, Actuary, Bank Officer, Biologist, Financial Planner, Parole Officer, Software Engineer, Statistician, and Website Manager.

Here’s what’s worth noticing: the differences in the top jobs over the 2 surveys. Remember, this isn’t a list of which are the easiest jobs to get, or the jobs with the greatest growth potential, or anything that might be relevant to people looking for work, or prospective students deciding on what to study. All it tells us that the people surveyed (and therefore most people, likely) think some jobs are better than others.

And it changes with every survey. All it tells us is that people’s sense of what a good job depends on… well, pretty much everything else.

And once you read about how they carried out the survey, you should worry even more. There’s a number of comments posted at the end of the methodology that highlight some of the flaws. The biggest flaws – which are completely missed – are:

  1. Who actually performed the work? The report is largely written in the passive voice, so we have no way of knowing if we can trust the individuals involved.
  2. What’s the point? What’s the research question that’s being answered by this survey?

Any work that cannot directly state the condition it seeks to address is poorly designed. So, with all due respect to the people who (probably) developed and executed the survey in good conscience, what’s the point?

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