The Best Jobs In America

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best jobs in America 2012

It's still a tough job market out there, so when CNNMoney set out to find America's Best Jobs this year, first and foremost we looked for professions that offer great growth opportunities. Another big factor: how well the job pays, since being able to make a good living is especially important now. We also considered softer issues, like how satisfying, flexible, or low stress a job is.

CNNMoney also incorporated data from compensation experts PayScale.com's survey of more than 120,000 workers. Employees ranked their jobs on quality-of-life factors such as stress, flexibility, satisfaction and how they feel their job affects the world. Ease of entering the field also was considered.

Without further ado, here's the 2012 list of the Best Jobs in America:

1. Biomedical Engineer
  • Median pay: $79,500
  • Top pay: $124,000
  • 10-year job growth: 61.7%
  • Total jobs*: 15,700

What do they do all day? Science fiction is a little less fictional in the day-to-day work of biomedical engineers, who design prosthetic limbs and artificial organs or regenerate tissue. They also create drug formulations, develop pharmaceuticals or collect and analyze biological data, among other work. In this field lies the intersection of biology and engineering skills, which helps crack tough problems in medicine and health.

How to get the job? A bachelor's, master's or Ph.D. in biological engineering will get prospects in the door, but engineers with more traditional degrees -- such as electrical, mechanical and chemical -- are also a good fit.

What makes it great? Not only is it one of the highest-paid engineering jobs, it's a career that gives back to society by helping to improve world health. It's also highly flexible, with positions in universities, hospitals, labs, industry and regulatory agencies. What's the catch? Rapid technological changes mean engineers have to work hard to stay abreast of new developments -- so this isn't the field for those looking to coast through their careers. --Kate Ashford


2. Marketing Consultant
  • Median pay: $92,100
  • Top pay: $208,000
  • 10-year job growth: 41.2%
  • Total jobs*: 282,700

What do they do all day? Many business owners with great products have no idea how to get them out there. Enter the marketing consultant. Companies hire them to set up a plan that generates the right kind of buzz to attract the right kind of customers.

How to get the job? A flair for creative promotion runs side by side with a head for analyzing customer data. Expertise in the latest marketing technologies -- web ads, SEO and Google Adwords -- is also key. And most importantly: A savvy consultant needs to be well-versed across a wide range of industries to understand different clients' needs.

What makes it great? That wide range of expertise is what makes the job so exciting. Unlike an in-house marketer, a consultant isn't tied to one field. A variety of knowhow creates more opportunities for new accounts. What's the catch? Hustle is mandatory. Whether one works independently or for a consultancy, there is no such thing as job security, and regular income is never a sure bet. --Tom Ziegler

More: 10 Fastest-Growing Industries For Jobs


3. Software Architect
  • Median pay: $119,000
  • Top pay: $162,000
  • 10-year job growth: 24.6%
  • Total jobs*: 3,426,000

What do they do all day? Great software architects are designers and diplomats. They create innovative and valuable programs, but they also translate highly technical plans into a vision the C-suite can understand. They are a crucial link between a company's tech unit and management.

How to get the job? Unless one's last name is Gates or Zuckerberg, a computer-related degree is strongly advised. A high-level position, it requires lots of experience, technical smarts and fluid communication skills.

What makes it great? It's an opportunity to create and shape a company's computer strategy. More responsibility also brings higher pay for a designer who wants to trade a PC screen for the conference room. What's the catch? Tech teams and management often speak very different languages that can lead to misunderstandings and even flare-ups. Putting out fires on both sides is crucial. --T.Z.


4. Clinical Research Associate
  • Median pay: $90,700
  • Top pay: $129,000
  • 10-year job growth: 36.4%
  • Total jobs*: 100,000

What do they do all day? Where there's a clinical trial, clinical research associates are making sure it's going the way it should. That means monitoring procedures and results and making sure that researchers are following proper protocols at every step.

How to get the job? A bachelor's in science, sociology or psychology is a good foundation, as is experience in a clinical trial environment or in health sciences. Some employers look for a CRA certification, such as the one offered by the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP).

What makes it great? Since there are so many different types of clinical trials, the work environment can be dynamic with tasks varying from day to day. CRAs can specialize in a particular subject area, or go for a broad base of knowledge and hop from topic to topic. And growth potential is strong: As personalized medicine becomes more common, clinical trials will increasingly be needed to make sure drugs and devices work properly. What's the catch? Most CRA jobs require at least some travel regionally, if not nationally or internationally, which can mean long hours and lots of time away from family. --K.A.


5. Database Administrator
  • Median pay: $87,200
  • Top pay: $122,000
  • 10-year job growth: 30.6%
  • Total jobs*: 110,800

What do they do all day? It's no understatement to say that corporate America is in the middle of an information explosion. Somebody has to keep track of it all. A database administrator (DBA) minds all the data in a company's storehouse, keeps it safe and makes sure it's easily accessible.

How to get the job? A degree in computer science is recommended, followed by years of experience. Many employers require certification in the most widely used programs, including MySQL, Oracle and DB2. And since the technology is always changing, re-training is a constant.

What makes it great? More data means more opportunities - DBAs are among the top-growing jobs on our list. They also command high paychecks, compared even to other tech jobs. What's the catch? The job requires long periods in front of the computer -- especially during crunch times for big projects. And computers crash. Be prepared to come in late at night or on weekends when things go wrong. --T.Z.


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Who's Hiring For The Holidays
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The Best Jobs In America

Seasonal job openings: 5,200

A staple of many shopping malls across the nation, the gourmet gift basket retailer relies heavily on holiday sales to add to its profits. A privately held company, Hickory Farms perennially hires as many as 6,000 seasonal workers to work at its stores, which it calls "Holiday Gift Centers." Though many jobs involve interacting with customers, the company also needs additional workers to fill stock and labor positions, which may include driving in some locations, it says.

Looking for a job at Hickory Farms? Click here to get started.

Seasonal job openings: 50,000+

Though it has no bricks-and-mortar stores to staff, Amazon.com Inc.'s seasonal hiring plans  are nonetheless robust. It needs plenty of additional workers to help fill orders and keep products moving through its warehouses nationwide. The Seattle-based company, which is unveiling a new line of Kindle-brand electronic readers and tablets, also plans to add 2,000 new jobs at three new distribution centers to help deal with demand driven by the new devices.

Looking for a job at Amazon? Click here to get started.

Seasonal job openings: 52,700

The department store operator announced it September that it would ramp up holiday hiring by more than 10 percent from last year to support its business in stores and online. Wisconsin-based Kohl's Corp., which operates 1,134 stores in 49 states, plans to hire an average of 41 workers at each store, a 4 percent increase from last year. The company also expects to add about 5,700 seasonal positions at distribution centers and more than 30 seasonal credit operations jobs.

Looking for a job at Kohl's? Click here to get started.

Seasonal job openings: 45,000

The former No. 1 seller of toys in the U.S., Toys R Us Inc. credits a gradually improving economy and an increase in consumer spending for its decision to hire 11 percent more seasonal workers than the 40,000 it did in 2011. Of those it hired last year, Toys R Us says roughly 15 percent of them were kept on after the holiday sales season ended.

Looking for a job at Toys R Us? Click here to get started.

Seasonal job openings: 50,000+

The holidays are the busiest time of year for the world's largest retailer and the company plans to hire more than 50,000 temporary workers to help keep store shelves and move customers through checkout lines as the 2012 holiday season approaches. Walmart Stores Inc. also plans to give existing employees the chance to work more hours during the season, acknowledging complaints among some workers who said they weren't able to work as many hours as they would have liked.

Looking for a job at Walmart? Click here to get started.

Seasonal job openings: up to 90,000

Though far smaller than rival Walmart, the nation's No. 2 retailer nonetheless plans to hire plenty of holiday season workers in 2012. The Minnesota-based company plans to add 80,000 to 90,000 seasonal jobs, down a bit from the 92,000 it hired last year. Hiring forecasts are likely be held in check by Target's expectations of an "ultracompetitive" holiday sales season. Target Corp., along with Walmart, is keeping an eye on expenses, which of course includes labor costs, so as to lower prices and stimulate sales.

Looking for a job at Target? Click here to get started.

Seasonal job openings: 80,000

The king of all department stores, Cincinnati-based Macy's Inc. said it's hiring nearly 3 percent more seasonal staff than it did last year, in anticipation of higher holidays sales. Sales associates and call center employees are among the positions Macy's is looking to fill, which also include those in its distribution and fulfillment centers, to support the department store operator's growing online business

Looking for a job at Macy's? Click here to get started.

Seasonal Job Openings: 24,000

Best Buy Co. plans to hire about 9,000 more seasonal workers as it did last year, though this year's number is still below the 29,000 it hired in 2010. In July, the world's largest consumer electronics chain cut 600 of its "Geek Squad" employees in response to weak sales. The boost in seasonal hiring is helping to contribute to what analysts say is the best year of seasonal-job creation that the U.S. has seen in five years.

Looking for a job at Best Buy? Click here to get started.

Seasonal Job Openings: 17,000

Much like Best Buy, GameStop has seen its sales erode as more and more consumers turn to buying online. Faced with strong competitors such as Amazon, GameStop has nonetheless managed to hold its own in terms of sales and profits. As with most retailers, the Grapevine, Texas-based company derives much of its sales during the all-important holiday sales season -- and its more than 4,400 stores in the U.S. need more staff to help keep those cash registers ringing.

Looking for a job at GameStop? Click here to get started.

Seasonal Job Openings: 40,000

J.C. Penney Co. has struggled to remake its namesake JCPenney stores into a retail business that's more modern and less reliant on discounts to draw customers. And the coming holiday shopping season will be an important test of whether the signs of improvement that Plano, Texas-based company has lately been showing are real or not. Sales are expected to be tepid this holiday season, but at least one company representative says that won't affect the need for seasonal workers. "[It] looks like there will be another increase this year over last year's hiring," said, Bob Parker, a site manager for JCPenney in Sarasota, Fla., "probably by as much as 10 to 20 percent in some cases."

Looking for a job at JCPenney? Click here to get started.

Seasonal Job Openings: 20,000

The fall is prime season for privately held Party City Holdings Inc., which is perhaps best known as a seller of Halloween costumes. But the retailer also sells party supplies and seasonal decorations, which result in a steady flow of customers this time of year. The Rockaway, N.J.-based company has 600 stores nationwide. In addition to its namesake Party City stores, it also operates The Paper Factory, Halloween City and Factory Card & Party Outlet shops.

Looking for a job at Party City? Click here to get started.

Seasonal job openings: 20,000

It takes a lot more workers to help move the millions of boxes and packages Americans send to each other each holiday season. And though FedEx Corp. expects shipping volume will be up 13 percent, it's hiring about as many workers as it did last holiday season. The company says it can stick with the same number of seasonal workers as last year because it has been hiring staff throughout 2012.

The Memphis, Tenn.-based company, which is closely watched as an indicator of consumer demand and economic health, anticipates handling more than 280 million shipments during the holiday season from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Competitor UPS added about 55,000 workers for the holidays last year, 10 percent more than it hired in 2010.

Looking for a job at FedEx? Click here to get started.

Seasonal job openings: 55,000

With expectations of delivering 527 million packages this holiday season, UPS Inc. is adding 55,000 workers to sort, load and deliver packages, the same number it hired last year, but 10 percent higher than in 2010. Based on the company's forecast, it appears those and full-time UPS workers will be busiest during the final week before the Christmas holiday. UPS says 28 million, or 5 percent of packages, will be delivered Thursday, Dec. 20 -- projected to be the busiest of the year.

Looking for a job at UPS? Click here to get started.

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6. Financial Adviser
  • Median pay: $90,200
  • Top pay: $206,000
  • 10-year job growth: 32.1%
  • Total jobs*: 206,800
What do they do all day? You can DIY a lot of things, but big money decisions are sometimes best left to professionals. Financial advisers step in where many people fear to tread, offering advice on investments, savings, taxes and insurance decisions.

How to get the job? Although the profession isn't regulated, employers are more likely to hire prospects with letters after their names, such as CFP (Certified Financial Planner), CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) or CPA (Certified Public Accountant). Once they pass their test of choice, advisers may have to work for a certain number of hours before the certification is official.

What makes it great? Advisers help clients achieve financial success, which feels pretty warm and fuzzy. And they can hang a shingle for themselves, work as part of a larger firm or even work virtually if their clients are comfortable with it. What's the catch? In an up market, financial advisers can be heroes. In a down market, they can be scapegoats. Handling someone else's life savings can be daunting, especially when things are headed south. --K.A.


7. Market Research Analyst
  • Median pay: $63,100
  • Top pay: $97,700
  • 10-year job growth: 41.2%
  • Total jobs*: 282,700

What do they do all day? Coke or Pepsi? Android or iPhone? Chevy or Toyota? You know what you like. It's the job of market research analysts to find out why. From direct surveys to dissecting buckets of data, they track what consumers want -- and what it would take to change their minds.

How to get the job? A head for numbers with a background in statistics, computer science and economics are essential to being more, um, marketable, as it were. The ability to distill those numbers into useful reports is a must.

What makes it great? An analyst is a key member of the team that develops great new products. The position runs across all industries that need research. And it's got the second-highest growth rate of all the jobs on our list. What's the catch? Analysts who don't need glasses yet, will soon enough. They spend hours poring over facts, figures and numbers. It's a detail-driven field that operates under tight deadlines and has potential for long hours. --T.Z.


8. Physical Therapist
  • Median pay: $76,700
  • Top pay: $99,000
  • 10-year job growth: 39.0%
  • Total jobs*: 198,600

What do they do all day? For people suffering from injuries or illness, physical therapists can be key to their recovery. They design tailored exercise and prevention programs, teach patients how to perform them safely, and help them regain movement and function.

How to get the job? A doctoral degree in physical therapy is usually required - and it typically takes two to three years to get one. Candidates without a strong background in math and science may have to take some prerequisite courses first. PTs also generally need a license. Patience and a sense of humor are pluses.

What makes it great? The workday is filled with small triumphs - a patient with a brain injury who learns to hold his head up again, an athlete whose range of motion improves after rotator cuff surgery. What's the catch? There's paperwork aplenty, thanks to federal guidelines and the home health aspect of this job. Therapists who do in-home visits may deal with a couple of hours of documentation each night. --K.A.

More: Report: Top 10 U.S. Cities For Job Growth


9. Software Developer
  • Median pay: $84,200
  • Top pay: $121,000
  • 10-year job growth: 24.6%
  • Total jobs*: 3,426,000

What do they do all day? From the games in a smartphone to the tools that map a genome, software developers write the programs that run our lives. The work runs across all levels of the process -- research, design, writing and testing -- and all the way to the final product.

How to get the job? Most developers have some sort of degree in computer science, but it's a field that welcomes self-starters with practical experience and the right certifications. Check with local colleges to get going.

What makes it great? A developer can fly solo as a freelancer or work for a company as part of a team. And with a technology boom that sees no end in sight, firms are having a hard time filling positions. What's the catch? Those positions aren't always in the U.S. In the search for talent (and to cut costs), more companies are heading overseas for their development needs. It's also an ever-evolving field that requires a constant keeping up on what's new. --T.Z.


10. Occupational Therapist
  • Median pay: $74,900
  • Top pay: $102,000
  • 10-year job growth: 33.5%
  • Total jobs*: 108,800

What do they do all day? If it involves helping people perform daily activities on their own, occupational therapists have done it. While physical therapists might help someone with a hip injury learn to walk safely again, OTs would work on everyday tasks, such as getting out of bed or putting on shoes. They might also work with a child with OCD who has trouble at school, or help a patient with schizophrenia communicate more effectively.

How to get the job? Recruits must have a master's degree in occupational therapy, and most programs take two to three years. They also need a license.

What makes it great? OTs can help people and develop strong relationships with clients without the rigmarole of becoming a doctor. OTs can work a flexible or part-time schedule and still earn decent money. What's the catch? It's not always the most glamorous job. Occupational therapists might have to help someone learn how to shower or use the bathroom again, and that's not everyone's cup of tea. --K.A.


See the rest of the list on CNNMoney.


All pay data from PayScale.com. Median pay is for an experienced worker (at least five or seven years in the field). Top pay represents the 90th percentile. Job growth is estimated for 2010-20, and based on people working in broader 'job family' from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. *Total jobs is estimated number of people working in broader BLS 'job family.'

Sources: PayScale.com, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and CNNMoney research




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