Meghan McCallum has an enviable commute. The 30-year-old starts her morning with a leisurely cup of coffee at home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, then takes a few steps to the office set up in her spare bedroom. There, she pores over emails from clients in France and Quebec before diving into her work translating documents from French into English.
As a self-employed translator, McCallum enjoys the flexibility that comes with her career, which requires only an internet connection, the right software and a love of the written word.
"It's so far from the traditional 9-to-5," she says. "I feel more of a work-life balance now that I'm working for myself."
She's not alone in valuing that freedom. Millennials rank work-life balance second only to salary when it comes to making career decisions, according to the U.S. News 2017 Best Jobs for Millennials rankings, which identifies the jobs that best match the priorities of today's young professionals. Web developer, dental hygienist and software developer top the list.
This is the antithesis of a desk job. While many modern professions require workers to spend hours in front of a computer screen, massage therapists use their bodies to treat clients dealing with pain, stress and injury. They must be physically strong, good listeners and knowledgeable about anatomy and physiology. Massage therapists typically work in spas, gyms and health care facilities. Some travel to work in offices and private homes, while others see clients in their own residences. This career requires a license rather than an academic degree, which may make it attractive to young people looking for alternatives to traditional higher education.
Checked Google Maps lately? Thank a cartographer. Like their ancient predecessors, these professionals make maps, but these days you'll find very few working with ink quills and parchment. Instead, they use satellite images, land surveys that account for the curvature of the planet and light-imaging detection and ranging (LIDAR) technology to turn geographic information into useful guides for getting around. Cartographers need strong math, computer and geography knowledge. They tend to work for architecture and engineering companies, science organizations or government entities. They may have opportunities to travel to places they're mapping.
Insurance sales agents contact clients to sell policies of all kinds: heath, home, car, property damage and life insurance. Many professionals set their own schedules, often working in the evening or on weekends for the convenience of clients, and this flexibility may appeal to millennials. The job doesn't always require an advanced degree, although in many states, it does require coursework and a special license. Successful agents are confident, strong communicators, self-motivated and able to analyze the needs of various clients.
Providing medical care to cancer patients in their most vulnerable moments is the specialty of radiation therapists. They use CAT scans and X-rays to determine precisely where to target radiation treatment, administer radiation doses and keep detailed records of their work. Radiation therapists work closely with doctors and nurses to carry out treatment plans, and they communicate with clients and their families. They need to be able to operate machinery and have the empathy to listen to and work with people suffering from cancer. Millennials hoping to make a direct difference in people's lives may be drawn to this career.
Communication is key for translators, who convey written information from one language to another. Interpreters do the same with spoken language. These careers require fluency in at least two languages, plus strong reading and writing or listening and speaking skills. The work interpreters and translators do can vary day by day, which makes for many opportunities to learn. About 20 percent of people who do these jobs are self-employed, which affords them the flexibility many millennials crave. Others work for agencies, or in courtrooms, schools and hospitals.
Mechanical engineers design, build and test tools and machines. In their jobs at manufacturing companies and engineering firms, they need to be good at math, problem-solving and mechanics. Creativity helps them imagine solutions to complex problems, while strong communication skills and the ability to work in teams allow them to collaborate on projects. Millennials who like to see tangible results from their labor may enjoy working as mechanical engineers. It may also appeal to those who like to work with innovative technology, such as 3-D printers.
The essential responsibilities of computer systems analysts are understanding clients' business needs and how technology can meet them. They also help install new and upgraded digital systems and train other employees how to use them. These information science specialists must be able to analyze problems, devise solutions and communicate with both business managers and technology workers. They also often develop expertise in a particular topic, such as health care or finance. Computer systems analysts can work directly for companies or as consultants who take on projects for different clients.
Many of the conveniences of modern life – and the entertaining applications that run on smartphones – stem from the innovations software developers create. They may design custom programs for clients or fix bugs in extant software. This career demands computer coding prowess, attention to detail, creativity and the ability to solve problems. It often involves teamwork and sometimes remote work, both of which may be attractive to millennials. Some software developers have become successful technology entrepreneurs, a possibility that holds allure for many young coders hoping to launch the next Snapchat.
When you head to the dentist's office, you likely spend the majority of your appointment with a dental hygienist. These health care professionals clean teeth, take mouth X-rays and provide preventive services such as screening for cavities and oral cancers. They educate patients about proper brushing and flossing techniques and suggest products to use. Dental hygienists should be good communicators able to engage with all kinds of personalities, and they must pay close attention to detail, since they are responsible for keeping track of dental records. About half of dental hygienists work part time, which may suit the flexible lifestyle some millennials are seeking.
Some millennials are native to the digital era, having never experienced life before email and the internet. Their tech savvy makes the job of web developer a natural fit for many of them. The career demands technical skills, such as computer coding and an understanding of web traffic analytics. It also requires an artistic sensibility and graphic design knowledge, since the internet is a highly visual medium. Strong communication skills help web developers translate client demands into a functional, attractive finished product. Web developers may work as independent contractors or as employees at corporations or other organizations. Web developers often are able to work remotely – a benefit that appeals to many millennials.
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Also included are professions that often offer workers the ability to set their own schedules: interpreter/translator, insurance sales agent and massage therapist.
The results make sense to careers experts, who have observed that, in the workplace, millennials crave flexibility, learning opportunities, teamwork and projects that contribute to the greater good.
"In these careers, you have that opportunity to really become an expert in a less siloed way," says Jenn DeWall, a career coach who works with millennials. "They dovetail meaning and connection."
Millennials now make up the largest segment of the U.S. workforce. As they flood the job market, these workers, ages 20 to 34, often look for job opportunities that provide benefits different from the ones their predecessors sought.
Some young professionals are even "willing to forgo money- and title-related promotions to maintain that lifestyle balance that feels comfortable for them," says Dan Ryan, principal at Ryan Search and Consulting, a firm that helps businesses recruit and train employees.
To determine what career characteristics matter most to millennials, U.S. News sent a survey asking people ages 20 to 34 to rank nine job traits.
Not surprisingly, salary topped the list for the more than 1,000 respondents. After all, this is a generation saddled with student loan debt: 68 percent of the people who graduated college in 2015 had student loans, at an average amount of $30,100, according to the Project on Student Debt at The Institute for College Access & Success.
But respondents also prioritized work-life balance and low stress levels, suggesting they're looking for jobs that allow them to maintain their preferred way of life. That's true for McCallum.
"I'm the kind of person who will buckle down and work as much as I need to to get things done, but I feel free to work around personal events," she says. "I feel really passionate about both. It's important to stick to your own interests and hobbies."
To identify the top 10 jobs for millennials, U.S. News used the results of its survey on top job traits to weight data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015) and the U.S. News Best Jobs rankings. The new list reflects the priorities of salary, work-life balance and low stress level, and takes into account the percentage of people ages 20 through 34 who work in the field as well as the degree to which each job offers upward mobility to young professionals. None of the jobs requires more than a bachelor's degree.