The wages often aren't all that great, but for many people it's the nature of the work that takes priority. The second edition of the Ralph Nader-sponsored Good Works: A Guide To Social-Change Careers has just been published. It details job-hunting information of 451 public-interest organizations throughout the country pursuing such causes as consumer protection, ecology, women's rights and consumer cooperatives. More than 100 are headquartered in Washington.

"Today, faced with a challenge from Washington," writes Nader in the preface, "groups all around the country are redoubling their efforts to defend the fundamental rights of citizens and to work for competitive markets, safe products, healthy environments and workplaces, civil liberties and civil rights."

Included in the resource information: staff size of each organization, salary, average number of job openings a year, annual budget, opportunities for volunteers and interns.

The latest volume, 193 pages, contains 240 more listings than appeared in the first edition, published in 1980. The price, $25, is hefty, but the book is available for use in many high-school and college libraries and career-resource centers.

To purchase a copy: "Good Works," Dept. A, Center for Study of Responsive Law, Box 19367, Washington, D.C. 20036. Make check payable to the center. High Marks

The best managers? Women, suggests a national career-testing firm,based on 40 years of evaluating job aptitudes of 250,000 men and women.

Of 21 inherent aptitudes surveyed by the Johnson O'Connor Research Foundation, men and women showed no discernible sex difference in 14, including such abilities as number memory, rhythm and tonal memory, analytical reasoning, foresight and "objective personality": the ability to deal with a wide variety of people and situations in an even-handed manner.

Nor was there any difference in vocabulary knowledge (an acquired skill, as opposed to an inherent one).

But sex differences did appear in eight aptitudes, and in six of the eight women appeared to excel. These include accounting aptitude; rate-of-idea flow; observation of details; finger dexterity; the ability to learn languages and professional terminology, and "abstract visualization": the ability to deal with ideas.

Men, as might be expected, excelled in grip -- the strength to handle muscle work. Men also were tops in "structural visualization," which includes the ability to solve three-dimensional problems (useful in engineering, architecture, surgery, mechanics, building).

Of the 22 tests ($330 for the 9-hour series), three indicate potential success as a manager, says Jon J. Durkin of the firm's Washington office. Both sexes scored about equally in two: vocabulary and objective personality. But women excelled in the third: abstract visualization. This involves handling human-relations problems, says Durkin, "the kind managers are likely to find."

The firm's conclusion: "Women make better managers than men." It adds, however, that "there is no field which can, with absolute assurance, claim to be the exclusive domain of either sex." School Daze

Representatives from about 200 graduate schools across the country will be at George Washington University (Marvin Center, 21st and H streets NW) Oct. 26-27 to answer questions on curriculum, admissions requirements and financial costs. This will be the fifth annual Graduate and Professional School Days program sponsored by a consortium of nine Washington-area colleges. Law students, 2-6 p.m. Oct. 26; business and other students, 2-6 p.m. Oct. 27. No advance registration required.

For more information: 454-4582. When the Ax Falls

In the past four years, the Washington area's largest employers increasingly have begun to provide outplacement service to discharged workers.

Back in 1978, only 3 percent offered such career-counseling and job-finding assistance. But in a recent survey taken by Minker-O'Connell Associates, a Tysons Corner career-development and outplacement firm, that figure has grown to 50 percent.

The firm surveyed banking, utility, retailing and industrial companies with more than 1,000 employes. Of the 46 contacted, 35 responded in telephone interviews. In many cases, outplacement programs are conducted by staff personnel.

Two of the firms without outplacement programs indicated they found the results unsatisfactory, 11 said they had full employment and didn't need it; one reported offering other severance compensation and three found the programs contrary to organization norms.

Among the survey's other findings:

* Outplacement service is trickling down "from the executive suite to middle-management levels."

* The large majority of firms offering the service do so "out of a desire to be fair to the employe."

Says Ralph Minker: "More and more people are thinking of their job as a kind of property, like a house or a car, and when they lose it, they now expect to be compensated -- not just in the form of severance pay, but in the professional help required to find another one."