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Is Your Job One of the Best in America?


In a recent project with CNN/Money Magazine, we looked at all the factors, not just pay, that go into making the 100 Best Jobs in America. Is there a lot of growth in the field? Is the job low stress? Does it offer scheduling flexibility? And how many positions are even available?

The set of jobs is a mix: some require extensive medical training (e.g. Anesthesiologist); others offer a lot of schedule flexibility (e.g. Software Product Manager), and still others are sworn to secrecy about their day-to-day activities (e.g. Intelligence Analyst).

In this post, I will discuss the methodology used to determine the Best Jobs in America, and pull out some of the most interesting points from the data.

Is your job a "Best Job" and you are wondering if you are earning top dollar? Find out with a free PayScale salary report.

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Best Jobs: How Were They Determined?

We started with a list of over 7,000 job titles from the PayScale system. First we whittled down the list by focusing on jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects will grow 10% or more over the next decade.

The next step was to only consider jobs that  generally require at least a bachelor's degree. This did cut out some desirable jobs, such as Registered Nurse, where people doing the job have an Associate's or High School Degree.

We then used PayScale's proprietary compensation data to screen out any jobs where the median pay fell below $65,000/year for an experienced worker (at least two to seven years of experience in the field, depending on the job). Lastly, we eliminated any job where there are fewer than 10,000 positions nationwide and eliminated senior executive positions (e.g. CEO). These cuts brought the list to 260 jobs.

To determine the top 100, we then eliminated "cyclical" jobs that did poorly during the recent recession (based on Conference Board data showing growth in on-line help-wanted ads in 2009) and grouped jobs with similar responsibilities and skills (e.g. Business Analyst, IT and Programmer Analyst).

In order to determine the top 50 jobs, we factored in various quality-of-life characteristics such as scheduling flexibility, stress level, job satisfaction, etc, which we determined by a Magazine Job Satisfaction survey of over 35,000 workers.

Finally, together with, we ranked the top 50 jobs using a score calculated as follows: current employment, long-term growth, median pay (determined by a PayScale survey of millions of workers), and security (60% of score); projected job openings provided by the BLS (15% of score); and quality-of-life factors (25%).

This methodology meant pay was not the only factor considered when determining the "best" jobs.

Best Jobs: Who's on Top?

It pays to be in Healthcare or IT: 6 of the top 10 jobs, 22 of the top 50, and 39 of the top 100 are in these two industries alone. This is a result of several factors. Generally, median pay in Bachelor's or higher jobs in Healthcare is relatively high and sometimes extravagant; e.g. Physician Assistant: $90,900, Nurse Practitioner: $85,200, Anesthesiologist: $292,000, etc. The pay for IT jobs is also good: median pay ranges from $68,000 to over $140,000 per year.

In addition, Healthcare jobs hold up well during a recession as people always get sick regardless of economic conditions. For example, 6 of top 10 jobs with the highest level of job security, as determined by survey participants, are in the Healthcare sector. Although IT jobs are not necessarily recession proof, they are projected to have good 10-year growth by the BLS. Of the top 10 jobs for growth, 5 are in the IT sector.

Best Jobs: Interesting Tidbits

  • Being a Best job is not all about technology and healthcare. One can work in an artistic field and still be in a top job, even if the pay runs a little lower than other top jobs. This is due to other features such as growth prospects, job satisfaction, stress level, etc. Examples include 3D Artists, Senior Web Designers, Creative Directors, Director of Communications, and TV/Cable Broadcast Producer-Directors.
  • The rankings favored jobs that did not suffer badly during the recent recession – this lowered the ranking of many good paying construction and manufacturing jobs. Only 5 of the top 100 are directly in these sectors: Quality Control Engineers, Quality Assurance Managers, Architects, Construction Project Managers, and Civil Engineers.
  • Jobs related to large government projects like bridges, tunnels, roads, and water treatment plants did better than other construction jobs: Civil Engineers, Environmental Project Managers, and Senior Geologists (who do both oil exploration and soils analysis) are in the top list. 
  • According to the PayScale College Salary Report, engineering is a top paying college major, but it is not necessarily a top job. Very few of the top jobs included on the list are in the engineering field. Only Civil Engineers and Quality Control Engineers make the list of 100. This is mostly due to limited 10-year growth projected by the BLS, and the cyclical nature (layoffs in recessions) of typical engineering employers like manufacturing and construction.
  • Even though Investment Banking has been hit hard in the current recession, Associates in Investment Banking are optimistic, with over 80% thinking jobs like theirs will grow in the future.
  • Of the top 10 jobs where workers feel their jobs provide a benefit to society, 7 are in Healthcare. These include General/Family Practice Physicians, OB/GYNs, Clinical Psychologists, Physician Assistants, Anesthesiologists, Nurse Practitioners, and Speech-Language Pathologist. Also included on the list at #4 are Veterinarians.
  • Intelligence Analysts are #3 on the top 10 jobs that provide a benefit to society. Intelligence Analysts play a key role in national security, international policy, and military strategy. They gather and analyze data related to these things and work for the government or defense contractors.
  • Several of the top paying jobs were MDs and Lawyers (#1 was Anesthesiologist with a median salary of $292,000). However, the rest of the 10 highest paid jobs only required masters or bachelors level education: Nurse Anesthetist: $157,000, Sales Director: $140,000, Actuary: $129,000, Finance Director: $121,000, Software Architect: $117,000, and Insurance Broker: $114,000.
  • Sales Directors have the most flexible schedules of all the jobs in the top 100, where ~45% say they can decide whether to work or take time off on any given day.
  • Maybe it is the laughing gas, or maybe it is the money: the #1 and #2 jobs with the most satisfied workers are Nurse Anesthetist (4th highest paid at $157,000) and Anesthesiologist (1st highest paid at $292,000).

What type of pay can you expect with your job? When you want powerful salary data and comparisons customized for your exact position or job offer, be sure to build a complete profile by taking PayScale's full salary survey.


Katie Bardaro
Research Analyst, PayScale, Inc.

Katie Bardaro
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