2012 Best Jobs in America

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

ThinkstockMedian 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
3. Software Architect

ThinkstockMedian 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.

*Total jobs is estimated number of people working in broader BLS 'job family.'

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

ThinkstockMedian 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.

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

 

ThinkstockMedian 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.

9. Software Developer

ThinkstockMedian 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.

NOTE: 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.'  





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