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What makes a job a great job? Obviously, different people will give different answers. It's impossible to account for everyone's personal taste and personality traits — including foibles — and how they might fit into a particular job. What makes a great job opportunity is much easier to gauge. How much do you get paid? What kind of professional development opportunities are available? How much room for innovation does a role offer?
Fast Company based this year's index of the top jobs on four categories: job growth, salary potential, education level, and room for innovation. Relying heavily on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the work of Dr. Kevin Stolarick, a lecturer at Carnegie Mellon University and an expert on the creative class, Fast Company has assembled a list of the 25 Top Jobs for 2005.
What We Considered
Clearly, you want to pick a career that's in high demand. Because job growth is so important, we weighted our index 35% toward the Bureau of Labor Statistic's projected job growth data through 2012.
Money also matters. We based our salary range — an indication of the opportunity for salary growth — on the difference between the 10th percentile earnings and the 90th percentile earnings for a given job, also based on BLS data. This gives a picture of where you might end up in relation to where you started. The greater the divide, the better the score. Salary range was also given a 35% share of the total index score.
A great job, in our opinion, also requires a good deal of investment in education. Our education score is based on what percentage of those working in the field hold a college degree according to BLS data. We weighted this 20%.
Finally, a great job needs to give you room to run. How innovative and creative can you be? How open to new ideas are people in your profession? We turned to Dr. Kevin Stolarick to help determine how creative workers can be in a given field. We weighted this 10%.
Doing the Job
In addition to the rankings and some brief job descriptions, we've profiled 10 leaders actually working in some of these exciting positions. Among them, we've got a Harvard stem cell researcher, a Wal-Mart systems analyst, a personal financial advisor to the nouveau riche, and an actuary who doesn't think his job is boring. Though they come from a wide range of fields and backgrounds, there are some common threads running through them — besides the fact that they love their jobs. Most find themselves working at the intersection of business and technology, which keeps things fresh. They all give the same advice about being successful at work, too: Stay flexible. These jobs aren't for the rigid of mind, and you need to accept that they might take you places you don't expect to go. That's part of the fun — and what makes these jobs the best.
- Personal finance adviser
- Medical scientist
- Computer software engineer
- Environmental engineer
- Biochemist and biophysicist
- Sales manager
- Computer system analyst
- Agent and business manager for artists, performers, and athletes
- Marketing manager
- Producer and director
- Advertising and promotions manager
- Management analyst
- Postsecondary education administrator
- Financial manager
- Airline pilot, copilot, and flight engineer
- Market research analyst
- Securities sales agent
- Medical and health services manager
- Ron Gong, personal finance adviser, Harris MyCFO
- George Q. Daley, stem cell researcher, Harvard University
- Colonel Casey Wardynski, project originator and director, "America's Army"
- Michael Bell, chief of the special pathogens branch of the CDC's epidemiology unit
- Rolita Cook, software development manager, Wal-Mart's domestic distribution client server development group
- Lisa Tanzi, IP attorney, Microsoft
- Mary Watanabe, senior licensing associate, office of technology licensing, Stanford University
- Robin Harbage, manager of product development, Progressive Insurance
- Jacqueline Parkes, vice president of advertising and marketing, Major League Baseball
- Terry Kuzman, administrator, Parkway Pavilion nursing center
What they do: Work and business are about more than money, but money still matters. Just like your career, you need to manage your money. Financial advisers do what the job says: advise people on their personal financial matters. That definition isn't helpful? OK. They review how risk averse clients are and strive to establish an investment strategy, including estate planning, that meets their needs. Some even sell insurance.
Why it's hot: Because retirement is quickly approaching for many baby boomers, more and more people are taking a hard look at their nest egg to see if they can stop working sooner rather than later. The complexity and wide range of financial and investing options makes a little personal attention from a professional very attractive. All of this adds up to very strong job growth — almost 35% through 2012. A college degree is a must, and salary prospects are among the very best, ranging between $28,330 and $145,600. And that's just as high as the BLS data goes; a personal finance advisor could earn millions.
Job Growth Index: 58.71
Education Index: 82.31
Salary Range Index: 87.95
Innovation Index: 0
Profile: Ron Gong, personal finance adviser, Harris MyCFO
What they do: It's a broad category, but think lab coats and microscopes. Many work within an academic setting, while others can find employment in the government, biotech, and pharmaceutical industries.
Why the job is hot: This job rates especially high for innovation because of the creativity and problem solving needed for medical research. Future job prospects are strong because spending on research for diseases such as cancer, AIDS, and Parkinson's Disease is expected to increase. The job normally requires a doctorate. Most research is funded by grants, which means that the pay can be less than spectacular — even if it can exceed $100,000.
Job Growth Index: 45.68
Education Index: 98.28
Salary Range Index: 60
Innovation Index: 96
Profile: George Q. Daley, stem cell researcher, Harvard University
What they do: The applications you use on your computer didn't write themselves, you know. That's where these guys — and gals — come in. Software engineers not only write programs; they also help companies adopt and integrate new technologies smoothly.
Why the job is hot: It looks like computers are here to stay and that they might have a significant role in the future, so job growth is strong to say the least. In fact, the software industry grew 6% in 2004 alone. Normally, a bachelor's degree in computer engineering or science is sufficient to get a good position, meaning the job ranks high on the education index, but not quite at the top. The profession is well paying, but only a gold mine for those with unique, specialized skills.
Job Growth Index: 61.24
Education Index: 70.80
Salary Range Index: 69.67
Innovation Index: 38
Profile: Colonel Casey Wardynski, project originator and director, "America's Army"
What they do: With software engineering — a largely sedentary role — being such a hot job, it should be no surprise that the people who treat bad backs are also in demand. Chiropractors diagnose and treat problems related to a person's muscular, nervous, and skeletal systems, with special emphasis on the spine.
Why the job is hot: Despite the practice's sometimes shady reputation, it takes a lot of education to crack a back: two to four years of undergraduate coursework, completion of a four-year chiropractic college course, and national and state certification. Job growth looks solid, especially because people are becoming more interested in alternative, holistic healthcare such as acupuncture and massage therapy. Health insurance companies are also beginning to recognize the benefits, which bodes well for the practice's respect and reputation.
Job Growth Index: 39.53
Education Index: 98.48
Salary Range Index: 84.93
Innovation Index: 0
What they do: Environmental engineers help design, build, and operate systems for water supply and waste disposal. Additionally, they help with pollution control, recycling efforts, and other public health projects. They gather a lot of data for analysis. Employers include private consulting firms, universities, research firms, laboratories, the government, and private and public companies. According to the American Academy of Environmental Engineers, expect to spend about three-quarters of your time indoors — and a quarter on site.
Why the job is hot: Environmental engineers get to do a lot of serious thinking and data analysis, which helped them score well in the innovation and creativity aspect of our study. Job prospects are also excellent, as increased environmental regulations are expected to create strong demand for their services. It's probably going to take at least a bachelor's degree to get the job. That said, salary potential leaves something to be desired, ranging from $38,950 to $92,940.
Job Growth Index: 64.91
Education Index: 86.39
Salary Range Index: 37.19
Innovation Index: 87
What they do: Biochemists study the chemical composition of living things. Biophysicists, then, apply the principles of physics to those same living things and their cells to do to understand how the mechanisms of biological systems work. Many researchers can expect to find work at colleges and universities. Jobs are also available in fields such as biotechnology, drug development, and food processing. Lastly, the government employs biochemists and biophysicists to deal with environmental and health issues.
Why the job is hot: You won't get very far in these careers without a doctorate, so that earns the practice an A+ in the education index. Because the goal of the job is to break new ground, the job rates high in the innovation and creativity aspect. But because basic research is often funded by the government, competition for that money is fierce. That means that job growth is low and compensation average.
Job Growth Index: 38.82
Education Index: 96.48
Salary Range Index: 49.35
Innovation Index: 93
What they do: Salespeople are important. But your sales force isn't going to manage itself, so most companies need at least one sales manager to set goals, organize training, and assign sales territories. They keep tabs on who is selling well, what is selling, who is buying — and who isn't. Depending on where they are in the supply chain, sales managers can work with dealers and distributors.
Why the job is hot: As global markets continue to open and create more product competition, job growth looks strong, as does salary growth. Expect the required education levels to creep up as more workers vie for these well paying jobs.
Job Growth Index: 51.74
Education Index: 67.57
Salary Range Index: 78.93
Innovation Index: 0
What they do: Epidemiologists are scientists that study health and illness within populations. That could be in a city, a hospital, or a whole country. They can spend their lives in a lab or travel the world as a "virus hunter" for the government's Center for Disease Control. Most, however, work for the government with hopes of isolating and preventing diseases, including anthrax outbreaks related to bioterrorist attacks.
Why the job is hot: This is another group of scientists, so they're extremely innovative. Expect strong job growth, because, as populations grow and barriers to travel go down, virus outbreaks will likely increase. You won't go very far in the field without at least a Master's degree. However, because most jobs are with the government, the pay is poor compared to others on the list.
Job Growth Index: 55.16
Education Index: 98.28
Salary Range Index: 33.57
Innovation Index: 85
Profile: Michael Bell, chief of the special pathogens branch of the CDC's epidemiology unit
What they do: The technological needs of business are constantly expanding. Sometimes those needs require updating a system — and sometimes they require replacing it entirely. A computer system analyst helps analyze the situation and determine what needs to be done.
Why the job is hot: A job that involves new technology and problem solving does well in the creativity portion of the ranking system. Job growth looks very strong. The job receives only a moderate education score because a bachelor's is sufficient to land it. And because an analyst position is only a midlevel job, salary is weaker than in other related careers.
Job Growth Index: 66.82
Education Index: 62.82
Salary Range Index: 37.35
Innovation Index: 100
Profile: Rolita Cook, software development manager, Wal-Mart's domestic distribution client server development group
What they do: You know the drill. The job requires running around a diamond, running up and down a field, running up and down a court, running side to side on a court, skating up and down a rink, or walking around a lush golf course. Competition is fierce, and teamwork is usually required.
Why the job is hot: Being a professional athlete seems like a darn good job. Fun, physical. Rumor has it that it pays OK.
Job Growth Index: 32.58
Education Index: 60.11
Salary Range Index: 100
Innovation Index: 0
What they do: Just as chiropractors might naturally follow software engineers, agents are where the athletes are. Even outside the realm of professional sports, agents represent and market their clients. Think of it as outsourcing your career management. Duties can involve negotiating contracts and getting people front row seats to Lakers' games.
Why the job is hot: As entertainment media continues to change — and as actors and athletes continue to be hot prospects — agents are going to be in high demand. Competition will hinge on how creatively they draw up contracts. Job growth looks particularly promising because — thanks to the reality TV craze, perhaps — practically everybody is getting their 15 minutes of fame and needs representation. By taking roughly 10% of their clients' gross earnings, salary isn't too shabby.
Job Growth Index: 47.23
Education Index: 65.98
Salary Range Index: 68.76
Innovation Index: 45
What they do: Marketing managers target where a company is going to sell its product, to whom, and at what price. They work extensively with sales managers, market research managers, and product development managers. Primarily, their main task is to attract new customers — and keep them. They also identify market opportunities for new products.
Why the job is hot: Marketing managers determine what their customers need and how to best meet those needs. It can be an extremely creative job. Marketplace competition is expected to heat up, so experienced marketing managers will be in high demand. Most in the field have a college degree, but an advanced degree like an MBA can help land a better job. Salaries vary greatly depending on the industry, management level, and experience.
Job Growth Index: 36.23
Education Index: 67.57
Salary Range Index: 76.74
Innovation Index: 47
What they do: Producers are the financial and business managers for movies, television programs, and stage shows. They select scripts, develop budgets, arrange financing, and help hire directors and actors. News producers, whether for TV or radio, help develop individual pieces and decide which ones see the light of day. Directors handle the creative side of a production and make decisions about a film or program's setting, costumes, music, and acting.
Why the job is hot: They make a lot of decisions and the best ones are innovative ones. There are more media outlets than ever, and it is going to take more directors and producers to fill the airtime. So job prospects are solid. There are no education requirements, although most producers and directors have completed some college coursework. A business degree is a plus for a producer, while a director would probably benefit from some time in film school. Salaries depend on how much work you get, so earnings are uneven.
Job Growth Index: 30.98
Education Index: 73.72
Salary Range Index: 78.57
Innovation Index: 42
What they do: Being an actor involves acting on stage, on TV, or on the silver screen. Sometimes — OK, many times — you don't even have to be particularly good at it to be successful. Being an actor often requires being very good looking.
Why the job is hot: See Athletes, above.
Job Growth Index: 30.08
Education Index: 66.77
Salary Range Index: 79.58
Innovation Index: 46
What they do: Lawyers take many forms. There are lawyers that never see the inside of a court room. There are defensive attorneys, plaintiff attorneys, criminal lawyers, and civil lawyers. The common thread is that they are responsible for applying the law.
Why the job is hot: Though it seems like the last thing we need is another lawyer, job growth looks to be relatively strong through 2012. You aren't going far in the profession without a law degree, so lawyers are near the top of the education index. Lawyers are also known for having well-lined pockets, with salary ranging to $145,000. As above, this is just as high as the BLS data reports; lawyers can earn much, much more.
Job Growth Index: 28.78
Education Index: 98.37
Salary Range Index: 74.27
Innovation Index: 0
Profile: Lisa Tanzi, IP attorney, Microsoft
What they do: These guys are responsible for getting a company's name out and stimulating sales by planning and directing advertising programs and promotional activities such as giveaways, contests, and coupons.
Why the job is hot: The opening of world markets and increased product competition should promote job and salary growth, much like the sales manager position, above.
Job Growth Index: 42.4
Education Index: 70.29
Salary Range Index: 76.29
Innovation Index: 0
What they do: Management analysts can go by a couple of other names: efficiency consultant and management consultant. The "consultant" replaces "analyst" because nearly 30% are self-employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These guys tell you what you are doing wrong and how to do it better. They'll help you reorganize your business and deal with extreme growth or even unexpected losses. Management analysts will take a look at a company from top to bottom and isolate where to trim the fat and where to add some muscle.
Why the job is hot: Rapid job growth is expected in the industry, but so is intense competition. To make yourself attractive, an MBA is probably going to be in order. Financial rewards go to those that win jobs.
Job Growth Index: 51.65
Education Index: 77.3
Salary Range Index: 62.63
Innovation Index: 0
What they do: This category includes jobs such as dean, president, provost, student affairs head, registrar, admissions director, and athletic director. They make faculty appointments, set up academic policies, spearhead fundraising efforts, set budgets, and basically run a college or a university department.
Why the job is hot: Education is a highly competitive field and, to lead an institution, you better have a vision, which is why our experts awarded the job innovation points. Student enrollment is expected to increase considerably, creating a need for more administrators. Most administrators have a college degree. While academic deans like the heads of business schools enjoy considerable salaries, others are subjected to the constraints of tight budgets.
Job Growth Index: 43.92
Education Index: 73.98
Salary Range Index: 60.28
Innovation Index: 39
Profile: Mary Watanabe, senior licensing associate, office of technology licensing, Stanford University
What they do: This category encompasses bean counters that come under such intimidating names as controller, treasurer, credit manager, and chief financial officer. They handle things like putting together income statements, balance sheets, and financial projections. They are also instrumental in developing forward-looking business development strategies.
Why the job is hot: Financial managers score well in the innovation category because of their involvement in long-term strategy, not because of their creative accounting. The job growth outlook is not spectacular, but new jobs should be produced as the economy grows. A bachelor's degree in finance or accounting is the standard requirement, but an MBA or even a CPA isn't a bad idea. Financial managers do quite well on payday. Maybe it's because they manage the finances?
Job Growth Index: 31.02
Education Index: 61.68
Salary Range Index: 54.56
Innovation Index: 41
What they do: An actuary, in short, is a risk assessor, which means most of them work in the insurance industry. There are three primary fields: property and casualty, life and health, and pensions. There's a long series of examinations to become a full-fledged actuary. Non-analytical minds and those averse to handling vast amounts of data need not apply.
Why the job is hot: Job growth is solid because companies always need numbers people, the insurance industry looks primed to keep growing, and risk management is increasingly important. You'll probably need a degree in math. A background in business wouldn't hurt. Because of strong demand and relatively few qualified people, actuaries earn a nice living.
Job Growth Index: 25.25
Education Index: 88.9
Salary Range Index: 77.84
Innovation Index: 0
Profile: Robin Harbage, manager of product development, Progressive Insurance
What they do: Pilots and copilots, well, fly airplanes and related vehicles. On some larger aircraft, flight engineers provide additional assistance, but their job monitoring instruments and systems and such is being handled more and more by computers. That means their days are numbered.
Why the job is hot: Given the state of the airline industry, job growth is average. Travel demand should increase along with the population and economy. As seen in recent years, employment is particularly sensitive to a turbulent economy. While airline pilots traditionally have come from the military, many new pilots are receiving training in civilian flight schools and have college degrees, giving the occupation a boost in the education index. Airline jobs pay in the six figures.
Job Growth Index: 31.46
Education Index: 76.58
Salary Range Index: 78.16
Innovation Index: 0
What they do: Geoscientists study the earth. They split into many specialties, including oceanography, paleontology, seismology, and geology.
Why the job is hot: Innovation is a necessary trait of scientific discovery. Geoscience therefore earns some innovation points. Job growth, because the term "geoscientist" encompasses so many different professions, is uneven. Engineering geologists who aid with building highways and other infrastructure projects should fare well. Petroleum geologists may also see increased demand in order to locate new sources of oil. The job usually requires a master's degree. Salary prospects regardless of the specific profession are above average.
Job Growth Index: 19.48
Education Index: 92.82
Salary Range Index: 70.18
Innovation Index: 36
What they do: Before a product hits the streets, a lot of research goes into just which streets it should hit — and how. Market research analysts gather data on the local, regional, and national levels to determine the potential sales of a product or service. They also structure and conduct surveys and focus groups. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions about what you think about Fast Company?
Why the job is hot: Putting together the right questions and getting people to answer them well are no small tasks, so market research analysts get some innovation points. Launching a product is a very expensive process, so information about its probable success or failure is a high priority, making this a growth field. Competition for jobs is intense ,and turnover is high because the job is normally a stepping stone into other positions. That tends to keep salaries down a bit.
Job Growth Index: 39.7
Education Index: 79.52
Salary Range Index: 51.71
Innovation Index: 48
What they do: It's a stockbroker. You probably have one. Maybe you should call her up and ask what exactly she does.
Why the job is hot: Job growth is average at best, in part hindered by the growth of online trading, but mostly because of high turnover for new brokers. This is more of a early- to mid-level job. Establishing a client base is difficult and the dreaded "cold calling" process does a good job of weeding out those with weak stomach. Brokers normally have a bachelor's degree. The biggest upside is that there is no limit on salary.
Job Growth Index: 22.08
Education Index: 67.5
Salary Range Index: 89.36
Innovation Index: 0
What they do: If the nurses are handling the patients and the doctors are off playing golf , who is minding the store? These people are. This group can range from small, private practice office managers to hospital administrators. On either level, they handle a wide range of responsibilities including budgeting, insurance claims, and medical records administration.
Why the job is hot: The health industry is going to grow, and so will the complexities of managing it, so demand for highly qualified managers will be strong. Education requirements aren't that stringent, which keeps wages down.
Job Growth Index: 49.71
Education Index: 61.4
Salary Range Index: 53.5
Innovation Index: 40