The Best Jobs of 2012

The year's hottest jobs are hiring in droves, paying well, and providing room to grow.

Two successful business people shaking hands and exchanging business cards at office
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Telecommuting and flex-time privileges might have made the world of work more comfortable, but they've also made the lines between our work life and the rest of our life less visible. This isn't an open letter of complaint, however. The truth is that we're a society that lives, and loves, to work.

So it's important to be a society that loves the work it does.

Each year, U.S. News compiles a list of the Best Careers based on the Labor Department's employment projections. And this year, we continue to base our picks for the Best Jobs of 2012 on professions that should hire abundantly over the next several years. To better help you make a smart career choice, we've also started ranking our selections.

[See The Best 25 Jobs of 2012 Rankings.]

Jobs from quick-to-hire industries made our list: business, creative services, healthcare, science & technology, and social services. John Challenger, CEO of the outplacement company Challenger, Gray & Christmas predicts many of these sectors will overlap, with one industry standing the tallest. "Healthcare has become the core industry in this country, just like manufacturing in another era," he says. "It's a confluence of forces causing this, including the science involved in uncovering new frontiers, the aging of the population, and government's commitment to providing healthcare to a broader generation of people. That causes job growth in several sectors."

Growth might be one of the reasons to interview for one of these positions, but our rankings give you some context as to why you'd want to stick around. We use a formula that compares projected growth for the future to employment rates of the present. We then weigh in average salaries from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and job satisfaction, as determined by the job review website Glassdoor. According to company spokeswoman Samantha Zupan, it's crucial to include professional fulfillment as a measure of a good or bad occupation, particularly as Glassdoor's scores are pulled from the actual reviews of those who currently work or have previously worked one of our Best Jobs. "Who better to ask and learn from than someone who has held the job?" Zupan says. "Job satisfaction ratings ... can give perspective on what you might expect before saying 'yes' to a job offer or before you pursue a particular career path."

The outcome is a diverse set of occupations which rank in ways that might surprise you. For example, the No. 4 job, medical assistant, requires no extensive training and has a median salary that's well below $40,000 a year. But it beat out several high-profile, high-paying positions (like lawyer and financial manager) that didn't make the top 25. Our No. 6 pick, Web developer, can expect reasonable growth and offers a competitive salary, but it got the biggest boost to our top 10 for having the strongest job satisfaction scores of any other profession.

[In Pictures: The 10 Best Jobs.]

Here's a summary of the rest of our top 10 jobs:

10. Occupational Therapist

Salary Range: $48,920-$102,520

The term "occupational therapist" is purposely vague, because the purview for which these highly trained professionals could provide therapy is exhaustive. Patients with mental, physical, developmental, and emotional disabilities might see an occupational therapist to learn to function independently. There is no "typical" day, and therapists' specific—yet varied—skills will particularly be in demand as a large chunk of our population ages. This is one of fastest growing occupations this decade, but to land one of the 36,400 positions available before 2020, you'll have needed a headstart. Certified therapists must earn at least a master's degree from an accredited university.

9. Computer Programmer

Salary Range: $40,820-$114,180

Unlike some of the others on the list, computer programmers might be able to enter the field with a two-year degree instead of a four-year bachelor's. But if you're going to advance, it's best to think of yourself as a perpetual student who's always staying just ahead of the latest programming language, says 30-year industry veteran Barry Warsaw. Computer programmers eeked out a spot on our top 10 thanks to strong job satisfaction numbers, competitive salaries, and excellent job prospects.