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.
[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.
By comparison, a restaurant cook (our No. 81 pick) has to consider the tense and hot atmosphere of a commercial kitchen, plus the number of hours and weekends devoted to the work. But on the plus side, they'll also find it's a job with good prospects, plus a decent growth and employment rate.
Here are the top 10 jobs of 2013:
2. Registered Nurse
4. Computer Systems Analyst
6. Database Administrator
7. Software Developer
8. Physical Therapist
9. Web Developer
10. Dental Hygienist
[See the entire list of The Best Jobs of 2013.]
More From US News & World Report
- The Best Jobs Rankings
- About the U.S. News Best Jobs Rankings Methodology
- Video: The Best Jobs of 2013
- Employment & Career
- Unemployment Issues