We have certain standards when it comes to our work. Of course we're concerned with how much a job pays, but we also want work that provides fulfillment. We want to know whether the job is hiring in the first place. And we can't forget about security—once hired, are we going to have the chance to find our footing and establish ourselves, or are we going to find that our role has become obsolete?
In the later months of 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor released a series of reports that showed steady, modest growth month over month in job numbers as well as a declining unemployment rate. But when assessing job creation versus employment over a lengthier span, it's troubling to note that this country is still stumbling to offer jobs that workers are qualified to fill. "Employment in the United States is only about 2 percent higher than it was in January of 2000. In that period of time, our work-eligible population has grown by 15 percent. When you look at it that way, there's something awry," says Patrick O'Keefe, the director of economic research at the firm CohnReznick and the former deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Labor.
In other words, it will take both careful research and preparation to enter any job worth having these days. This is why every year U.S. News gathers a list of the Best Jobs, so that you can assess which occupation could be a good fit, then plan properly to make sure you're qualified to enter it. We base our selections on the Labor Department's predictions of the occupations that should hire abundantly for the next several years. What we've found are 100 jobs spread across six industries where significant hiring is anticipated, either to address the need to expand (such as healthcare) or the need to recoup (such as construction).
Within our 100 best are occupations where the possibility of employment is greater. There are ones where the salary is more competitive, and others where the pay doesn't compare well to the amount of stress you'll face and hours you'll work. That's why we also rank our selections both overall and by industry, to help you better weigh your options.
For each job, we also provide a comprehensive overview that covers the average pay, the training involved, the skills and qualities necessary to have staying power, and the general work environment. Here's a snapshot of what we found.
Money is almost as important or—in some cases and for some people—more important than a job's responsibilities and purpose. Even those job hunters more concerned about serving the greater good than they are about earning a greater paycheck are still occupied with how to pay bills and meet needs. Salary is such a crucial factor in how we choose a profession that at U.S. News, we gave it a higher weighting this year than it previously had for our 2012 rankings. The difference shows: The average median salary for the 10 jobs that crown our list is $97,403.
All of our picks aren't cash cows, but some of the lower-paying occupations have other important qualities. For instance, a janitor's median salary is $22,370, a telemarketer's is $22,520, and a sports coach earns around $28,370. All three are relatively low-stress positions with flexible schedules that many choose to work part-time.
Our analysis of a job's pay also unveiled a few other interesting trends that could impact your search, like determining what parts of the country pay best. Of course, the Labor Department has found that big cities like San Francisco, New York City, and Washington, D.C., compensate employees well, as does the California metro area of San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara—better known as Silicon Valley. But there are some sleeper cities that also pay top dollar for occupations across industries. Sheboygan, Wis., is one of the top-paying cities for mechanical engineers and insurance agents. Sioux City, Iowa hosts some very well-paid physical therapists and software developers. Approximately an hour north of San Francisco, Vallejo is a top-paying city for bus drivers, registered nurses, and electricians.