If you did a poll on the street, asking people what constitutes a "great job," most would probably mention pay. There are a few problems with salary being an exclusive component, though. One: Plenty of people who make hefty salaries are miserable in their jobs. And two: Plenty of people who adore their jobs don't earn much money.
When compiling and ranking The Best Jobs of 2012, U.S. News used a methodology that weighed salary as well as other statistical data, such as employment rate. Still, the components that raise a good job to a great one are somewhat abstract. Here are four qualities that several of our top jobs share:
Flexibility. Does your job offer the chance to telecommute? Or can you map your schedule around your kids' soccer games and your spouse's doctor's appointments? A key ingredient that buoyed some of our Best Jobs to a different stratosphere was whether they offered workers the flexibility to better balance work and life.
That's definitely one of the attributes that Robert Miller, a New York City-based financial adviser, appreciates about his profession. "You get the opportunity to be an independent businessperson, so you have the freedom to practice your profession in the way your desires take you, to control your own hours, and to be active within your community," he says. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about one-fourth of all personal financial advisers are self-employed.
Flexibility is also one of the positives that Brent Braveman, an occupational therapist who serves as director of rehabilitation services at MD Anderson Cancer Center, mentions about his profession. Occupational therapy is "a great job for moms and dads," he says, "because there are lots of both part-time and full-time opportunities, so you can find a work schedule that fits your life."
Other flexible jobs: About 17 percent of Web developers, our No. 6 job, are self-employed. And about 29 percent of those working our No. 8 job, physical therapist, do so part-time.
Variety. Are your responsibilities varied? Or is your 9-to-5 beginning to feel a little like Groundhog Day? This could be what's keeping your OK job from being outstanding. "It's really hard to get bored as an occupational therapist," Braveman says. "There's variability in the job opportunities in the population that you work with—from pediatric care to geriatric care—and in your specialization, be it mental health, social health, and more."
Asha Asher is an occupational therapist who works in Cincinnati's Sycamore Community Schools. She, too, appreciates her profession's scope. "I work with kids once they enter school all the way up to age of 22," she says. "And at different times in their lives they may be experiencing different issues. At each stage we're hoping to develop an environment where the child can have maximum independence."
Miller, who also serves as president of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, has 30 years of experience. "When I first started, it was a pretty small industry," he says. "But financial services has now changed. The technology has changed as well, and the problems people are facing have changed. Now, you can go into many different areas [of financial advising]. It's like snowflakes—no two cases are 100 percent alike."
Other jobs that offer variety: Change of pace is one of the perks of our No. 11 job, maintenance and repair worker. You could fix a leaky faucet indoors one day, and paint shingles outdoors the next. Paramedics (the No. 15 job) also face different challenges daily.
Community. The career and company review website CareerBliss recently released a list of the 20 Happiest Jobs in America. Several professions that made the site's list also appear on U.S. News' 25 Best Jobs list, including customer service representative, accountant, and human resources professional. What common thread weaves through these occupations? "What we found was that people are happier in jobs where they have the opportunity to help others," says Heidi Golledge, the site's chief happiness officer and co-founder. "This is particularly true for those in HR management roles and in customer service roles, but it also affects accountants, who work with people directly, helping them with their taxes."