Five Careers That Make a Difference

By Tag and Catherine Goulet,

You're not a casual observer in life -- you like to get involved and make things better. So it's no wonder you want a career that will allow you to make a difference in people's lives.

You may already have considered careers that are widely recognized for making a difference, such as teaching, firefighting and healthcare. Here are five other careers that allow you to see the results of your work impact people's lives for the better:

1. Activist

Activists work for causes that are important to them in order to make the world a better place -- socially, politically or environmentally.

While their job may sometimes involve typical office tasks such as stuffing envelopes or making phone calls, activists may also organize awareness events, work with the media and fundraise. Some also travel to remote and dangerous parts of the world.

Many activists who work in paid positions began their careers by joining the organizations as volunteers or interns. "Good Works: A Guide to Careers in Social Change" by Donna Colvin provides more than 1000 activist organizations that have job opportunities for those interested in social change.

While activism is a career you can enter regardless of your educational background, some activists develop their skills through courses like those offered by the Institute for Policy Studies' Social Action and Leadership School for Activists in Washington, D.C.

Annual salaries start in the $20,000 to mid-$30,000 range.

2. Inventor

Inventorsmake things better by making better things. Many contestants on the television show American Inventor say they were motivated to become inventors by the opportunity to make a difference in the world.

While some inventors are employed by companies to develop new products, most work independently. They not only come up with ideas for new products, but they must also sell these ideas to investors, manufacturers, or the public. Inventors also build prototypes, apply for patents and research market demand and production costs.

Many successful inventors have a background in product design and development. Others become inventors simply by inventing. You may be able to train yourself to think like an inventor by studying major inventions of the past and following the path from idea to market. Visit science centers, trade shows or online forums that focus on inventing.

Entry-level design engineers (inventors who work for a particular company) typically earn a salary of about $53,000, while private inventors can sell their inventions for a flat fee or earn a licensing fee for every unit sold.

3. Ethics Officer

Ethics Officer are the moral watchdogs of a company. It is their job to help ensure that corporations are socially responsible.

An ethics officer works to ensure that everyone in a company is on the same page about what are right and wrong business practices, and that the actions of the company reflect its ethical code. Ethics offers may help develop and write a company's code of ethics, implement ethics training for executives and employees, offer ongoing ethics consultations, and report on progress to company leaders.

Although this is a relatively new career, an increasing number of colleges are offering ethics programs. For example, Colorado State University College of Business offers online business ethics courses, and The Institute for Global Ethics offers seminars and a free newsletter at

Ethics officers can typically make an annual salary of $40,000 to $90,000, depending on experience and responsibilities.

4. Congressional Aide

As a congressional aide you will work for a member of the House of Representatives or Senate at the federal or state level of government.

"Being a congressional aide is one of the most rewarding careers around for people who want to make a difference, not just for themselves but for generations to come," says Stephanie D. Vance, author of "Government for the People."

Congressional aides may field phone calls and e-mails from constituents, attend meetings, compile information for their congressperson, communicate with the press, meet with lobbyists and assist in researching and writing bills.

Members of the U.S. Congress have staff in at least two offices: one in Washington, DC, and one or more in their district or state. You may be able to get your foot in the door as a volunteer or intern.

The most junior position, staff assistant, provides office support to members of congress and may earn a starting salary below $20,000 annually. Congressional aides with more legislative responsibility have starting salaries in the range of $25,000 to $30,000.

5. Mediator

Mediators help people resolve conflicts without going to court. Some mediators help people to get divorced amicably, while others specialize in business disputes, landlord/tenant issues or other types of disagreements.

Disputes that are brought before judges can be time consuming, emotionally draining and expensive. Unlike a judge, a mediator does not pass judgment, but facilitates communication so people who are having disagreements can come to a mutually acceptable solution. Mediators assist the parties in breaking down disputes into manageable issues, explaining their positions, ensuring they understand each other, and helping them reach agreement.

While some mediators are former lawyers, it doesn't take a law degree to be a mediator. You can take continuing education or certificate programs in mediation or conflict resolution. The Association for Conflict Resolution ( is very helpful for the beginning mediator.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual wage for mediation and related careers is $60,480.

Many more careers will give you the opportunity to make a difference. As Martin Luther King said, "Make a career of humanity... and you will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in."

Copyright 2007

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