From CNN Money and the compensation experts at Salary.com
MONEY Magazine and Salary.com have unveiled an exclusive list of the 50 Best Jobs in America. MONEY and Salary.com started by analyzing government and private data on industry growth and compensation levels. But in an improving employment market in which workers are looking for more than just a paycheck, MONEY and Salary.com dug deeper, surveying 26,000 workers about their job satisfaction and grading careers based on factors such as stress level, flexibility, creativity and ease of entry into and advancement within the field. These careers ranked highest:
The Top 10
Rank Career Job growth (10-yr forecast) Base pay ($s) 1 Software engineer 46.07% Base Pay 2 College professor 31.39% Base Pay 3 Financial advisor 25.92% Base Pay 4 Human resources manager 23.47% Base Pay 5 Physician's assistant 49.65% Base Pay 6 Market research analyst 20.19% Base Pay 7 Computer/IT analyst 36.10% Base Pay 8 Real estate appraiser 22.78% Base Pay 9 Pharmacist 24.57% Base Pay 10 Psychologist 19.14% Base Pay Source: Salary.com / CNN Money April 2006
Click here for the full list of the Top 50 Best Jobs
More Jobs: Stats on 166 Titles
About the Top 10 Jobs
1. Software Engineer
Why it's great Software engineers are needed in virtually every part of the economy, making this one of the fastest-growing job titles in the U.S. Even so, it's not for everybody. Designing, developing and testing computer programs requires some pretty advanced math skills and creative problem-solving ability. If you've got them, though, you can work and live where you want: Telecommuting is quickly becoming widespread. The profession skews young -- the up-all-night-coding thing gets tired -- but consulting and management positions aren't hard to come by once you're experienced.
What's cool Cutting-edge projects, like designing a new video game or tweaking that military laser. Extra cash from freelance gigs. Plus, nothing says cool like great prospects.
What's not Jobs at the biggest companies tend to be less creative (think Neo, pre-Matrix). Outsourcing is a worry. Eyestrain and back, hand and wrist problems are common.
Top-paying job Release engineers, who are responsible for the final version of any software product, earn six figures.
Education Bachelor's degree, but moving up the ladder often requires a master's.
2. College professor
Why it's great While competition for tenure-track jobs will always be stiff, enrollment is rising in professional programs, community colleges and technical schools -- which means higher demand for faculty. It's easier to break in at this level, and often you can teach with a master's and professional experience. Demand is especially strong in fields that compete with the private sector (health science and business, for example). The category includes moonlighting adjuncts, graduate TAs and college administrators.
What's cool Professors have near-total flexibility in their schedules. Creative thinking is the coin of the realm. No dress code!
What's not The tick-tick-tick of the tenure clock; grading papers; salaries at the low end are indeed low.
Top-paying job University presidents' pay can hit $550,000 or more, but most make about half that.
Education Master's or professional degree; Ph.D. for most tenured jobs.
3. Financial adviser
Why it's great Twenty years ago, no one ever said, "I want to be a financial adviser when I grow up." Now there are nearly 300 college programs for financial planning, and M.B.A.s, lawyers and accountants are jumping to this lucrative but more people-friendly profession. As company pensions die out and Americans increasingly have to manage their own retirement savings, financial planning is no longer just for the rich. And with Gen X-ers entering their peak earning years and boomers nearing retirement, business will get better still.
What's cool If you have a knack for numbers and a way with people, you can use Wall Street skills without selling your soul. You can work for yourself, for a small shop or for a giant financial services firm.
What's not Compliance rules mean lots of paperwork. Stress? You have to build a practice from the ground up.
Top-paying job Advisers who manage client portfolios earn $200,000-plus.
Education A college degree, plus certification and continuing education.
4. Human Resources Manager
Why it's great At more and more companies, HR is no longer about benefits administration and the employee newsletter. Those tasks are increasingly outsourced, and directors and v.p.s are considered strategic planners. Even lower-level managers are expected to design employee programs that also benefit the bottom line. International HR and compliance are especially hot. There's a wide variety of work, from self-employed benefits specialists to corporate recruiters and HR generalists.
What's cool The mission: to make work more rewarding for workers. You help shape corporate culture and strategy.
What's not Fighting the "fluffy HR" stereotype; firing people.
Top-paying job Senior HR directors make around $285,000; at the C-suite level, it's more like $1 million-plus.
Education Bachelor's degree, often followed by master's level work or professional certification.
5. Physician's assistant
Why it's great For most doctors, the worst part of their job is filling out paperwork and battling insurers. Physician's assistants get to skip all that. Under a doctor's supervision, they provide routine health care -- conducting physical exams, ordering lab tests, prescribing medications, treating illnesses. PAs can specialize, from the E.R. to pediatrics to orthopedics, and they can switch fields. Thanks to an aging population and demand for more cost-effective care, this job offers a level of security other professions can't match.
What's cool Doctors' work, bankers' hours. PAs average 35 to 40 hours a week, and they can work part time and in a variety of settings.
What's not You're not the ultimate decision maker on patient treatment; there's little room for advancement.
Top-paying job Specialists in cardiothoracic surgery earn over $100,000.
Education Four years of college, two to three years of training in an accredited program, plus national exam for certification.