When Long Dang graduated from college in 2015, he looked for jobs that would allow him to give back to society. He spent one year working for the nonprofit City Year, teaching fifth graders in Washington, D.C., and another for the nonprofit Bottom Line, helping Boston teenagers apply to college.
He believed in the missions of these organizations and enjoyed working with students. But Dang, now 25, is making a career shift: He recently accepted a job at a Boston software startup.
"It was just financially unsustainable," he says of his nonprofit work. "Giving back isn't necessarily congruent with the idea of prospering financially. For me to be able to make decisions, make a significant impact in any type of way, I need to be financially OK myself."
Salary is the No. 1 career priority for millennials, according to the U.S. News 2017 Best-Paying Jobs for Millennials rankings, which identify the most lucrative jobs that align with the interests of today's young professionals. Among the best-paying positions: financial advisor, actuary and software developer.
Working for banks, mortgage companies and other financial institutions, loan officers determine whether to approve loans for individuals and businesses. They collect financial information to assess whether applicants need money and how easily they will be able to repay those funds. Officers often specialize in the fields of consumer (given to individuals), commercial (given to businesses) and mortgage (given to purchase property) loans. They need to have strong instincts for sales and customer service. Some officers travel outside of office settings to meet with clients off site.
Sticklers for detail and deadlines, accountants prepare and assess financial documents. Most individuals come into contact with these professionals in the early spring around tax time, but accountants work year-round for companies and other institutions, keeping records up to date and ensuring compliance with reporting requirements. In addition to completing college coursework, many accountants take licensing exams to become certified. Depending on their specialties, they may have busy seasons, such as the end of a company's fiscal year. Organization and timeliness are essential to success in this field.
People who love to solve puzzles and devise more efficient ways of working may thrive as operations research analysts. They use math and analytical tools to help businesses streamline their work and devise solutions to challenges. They may also conduct interviews with workers to gain a fuller understanding of how systems work. Operations research analysts often labor in teams with people who have expertise complementary to their own, so the ability to collaborate is important to the job. They also must be confident in their ability to make solid recommendations, since most business problems have many possible solutions.
If the health care world interests you, but the prospect of completing medical school seems daunting, a career in radiation therapy could be a good option. These therapists work closely with patients to provide treatment for cancer. Using CT scans and X-rays and working closely with doctors and nurses, they discern where to target radiation and administer doses. They're responsible for keeping detailed records of their work. Being able to communicate compassionately with patients and their families is important to this role, which may appeal to millennials who want to aid others.
For the nature-lover with a scientific bent, environmental engineering could be an attractive career path. People who work in this field apply biology, chemistry and engineering principles to design and build better systems for recycling, water use and pollution control. Their work affects not only the natural world but also public health and government policies. Although many environmental engineers spend time in office settings, they may have opportunities to travel to and work from outdoor locations where projects are underway. Beyond scientific training, environmental engineers should have strong communication skills.
Love to see physical results from your hard work? You may appreciate the world of mechanical engineers, who dream up, construct and assess tools and machines. They develop and use cutting-edge technology at manufacturing companies and engineering firms, working on turbines, batteries, generators and engines. Mechanical engineers should be good at math, working in teams and applying creative thinking to solving real-world problems. Although they help produce tangible products, they use computer systems frequently in their work, so technical skills are important, too.
Technology jobs don't have to be solitary. Computer systems analysts combine digital knowledge with customer service, working closely with business professionals to learn the ins and outs of their company needs and the technological possibilities that can address them. After selecting appropriate solutions, computer systems analysts help install digital systems and train other workers how to use them. These information science specialists often develop expertise in topics like health care or finance and may work directly for corporations or as consultants.
The games on your smartphone, the computer programs essential to your job, the systems you use to edit photos and stream movies: These are all examples of software, technology that has built much of the contemporary world. Software developers are the architects of that technology, which makes their work exciting to some millennials. The profession requires computer coding skills, creativity and a tolerance for trial and error. The work can sometimes be done remotely, making it a good fit for a young worker hoping to establish a good work-life balance.
In antiquity, the Greeks had oracles and the Chinese had fortunetellers. Today, businesses rely on actuaries to discern probable outcomes. Actuaries don't actually predict the future, of course, but they use statistics and financial theory to assess the likelihood that specific events will come to pass. They identify risks and create policies designed to minimize the costs of those risks. Actuaries often work for insurance companies, where their expertise helps set profitable rates for various insurance plans. In addition to strong math skills, actuaries need a solid understanding of computer science and databases.
From assessing stock options to reviewing taxes to making recommendations about retirement savings, financial advisors help clients make the most of their resources. They often have backgrounds in business, economics or psychology and should be good listeners who can explain complex systems clearly. When not directly advising clients, many financial advisors have to market their services through networking and making presentations. About a fifth of financial advisors are self-employed, and many work during the evenings and on weekends, which may appeal to millennials who want to set their own schedules and preserve a good work-life balance.
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Even though many millennials (people ages 20 through 34) entered the workforce determined to start careers that improve the world, more and more are recognizing the appeal of practical jobs that pay the bills, says Dan Schawbel, research director at Future Workplace, an executive development firm. "Overall what we're seeing is young people are trying to work for more stable companies and industries," he explains.
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. Salary topped the list for the more than 1,000 respondents, followed by work-life balance and stress level.
That makes sense for a generation that came of age amid economic uncertainty. Most millennials entered the workforce during or in the wake of the Great Recession of 2007 through 2009, which forced them to build the foundations of their careers on shaky ground.
Additionally, education debt has skyrocketed. Sixty-eight percent of the people who graduated college in 2015 have student loans, at an average amount of $30,100, according to the Project on Student Debt at The Institute for College Access & Success.
"The economy has absolutely shaped this generation because of the recession and student loan debt," Schawbel says. "More are saying they want stable jobs and are looking to save money, get out of their parents' basements and be more financially stable."
U.S. News used the results of the survey to weight 2015 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the 2017 U.S. News Best Jobs rankings. The new list identifies jobs with average salaries of above $75,000 that reflect the priorities of good work-life balance and low stress level. The rankings also take into account the percentage of people ages 20 through 34 who work in the field and the degree to which each job offers upward mobility to young professionals. None of the jobs requires more than a bachelor's degree. But they all are STEM careers that require training in science, technology, engineering and math – and sometimes all four.