[Read: Where the Jobs Will Be in 2020.]
Skills & Training
The "skills gap" is more than a catch phrase. Increasingly, the most coveted positions have a steep learning curve that's coupled with strenuous education requirements before you can even get your first shot at an interview. Our Best Jobs for 2013 are no different. Even those jobs on our list that don't require an associate's, bachelor's, or advanced degree usually make apprenticeship hours and the appropriate licensure a prerequisite.
Take our No. 1 job, dentist, as an example. Starting in high school and continuing on into an undergrad program, a prospective dentist should take science courses like biology and chemistry. They'll need to study hard to pass the Dental Acceptance Test their junior year in college. Admission to an accredited dental school is very competitive, and once they're accepted, they'll spend approximately two years receiving basic technical education plus two years of clinical training. Choosing a specialty like periodontology could tack additional years in a residency program onto training, and then they'll also have to pass a licensing exam.
Conversely, our No. 98 job, general construction worker, has a short on-the-job training period. But those who are choosing to stretch that occupation into a full-fledged career and trade, like as a licensed plumber (No. 73 on this year's list), will need to enter an apprenticeship that could last for up to five years before taking a licensing exam. Or maybe you want to be the one running the construction site? Many construction managers doing just that have a bachelor's degree in building science, architecture, engineering, or a related field. Their occupation is the No. 50 job on our list.
How to Get a Job ... And Keep It
Training is only the half of it. By talking to people who actually work in our top jobs, we were able to specify some of the qualities and characteristics that are also needed to get your foot in the door. Once you're there, those same qualities will also help you excel.
Robert Salinger, a marriage and family therapist (our No. 33 pick), vouches for the importance of having empathy, patience, flexibility, and curiosity in his field. Rachel Gogel, the art director of GQ Advertising, stresses how important it is for other art directors (No. 76) to establish their own brand and develop their own voice/style, to be good networkers, and to remember that learning continues throughout a career. Strong leadership and communication skills plus business acumen could help a budding pharmacist (No. 3), while discipline and focus are paramount to working as a loan officer (No. 65).
What to Expect
A potential occupation's responsibilities, salary, opportunity, and training are clutch in a job search. But then there are other crucial components that keep us coming to work every day. Are the job's tasks what you expected? Do you have room to broaden your skills and build a career? Are you having trouble setting boundaries between your personal time and professional life? You don't want to accept a job that sounded good in the listing and in the interview, but that then starts to smell funny once you're up close and in the office.
Our tastes in what we like to do and how we like to work are all distinctive, so it's tough to quantify them to determine the better occupations. Still, this year's picks and rankings do take into account the day-to-day of a profession. As an example, Nelly Yusupova, the chief technology officer of Webgrrls International, says workplaces for Web developers run the gamut "from a very flexible, hands on, nimble, 'fly by the seat of your pants' environment of a startup and [being] very involved with every aspect of a project, to a very structured environment with more levels of approval and a more bureaucratic approach with siloed responsibilities." When a Web developer's sometimes fluid, sometimes chaotic work environment was weighed along with the job's competitive salary, unemployment rate, excellent job prospects, and projected growth, the occupation placed ninth on our list of Best Jobs.