If you did a poll on the street, asking people what constitutes a "great job," most would probably mention pay. There are a few problems with salary being an exclusive component, though. One: Plenty of people who make hefty salaries are miserable in their jobs. And two: Plenty of people who adore their jobs don't earn much money.
When compiling and ranking The Best Jobs of 2012, U.S. News used a methodology that weighed salary as well as other statistical data, such as employment rate. Still, the components that raise a good job to a great one are somewhat abstract. Here are four qualities that several of our top jobs share:
Flexibility. Does your job offer the chance to telecommute? Or can you map your schedule around your kids' soccer games and your spouse's doctor's appointments? A key ingredient that buoyed some of our Best Jobs to a different stratosphere was whether they offered workers the flexibility to better balance work and life.
That's definitely one of the attributes that Robert Miller, a New York City-based financial adviser, appreciates about his profession. "You get the opportunity to be an independent businessperson, so you have the freedom to practice your profession in the way your desires take you, to control your own hours, and to be active within your community," he says. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about one-fourth of all personal financial advisers are self-employed.
Flexibility is also one of the positives that Brent Braveman, an occupational therapist who serves as director of rehabilitation services at MD Anderson Cancer Center, mentions about his profession. Occupational therapy is "a great job for moms and dads," he says, "because there are lots of both part-time and full-time opportunities, so you can find a work schedule that fits your life."
Other flexible jobs: About 17 percent of Web developers, our No. 6 job, are self-employed. And about 29 percent of those working our No. 8 job, physical therapist, do so part-time.
Variety. Are your responsibilities varied? Or is your 9-to-5 beginning to feel a little like Groundhog Day? This could be what's keeping your OK job from being outstanding. "It's really hard to get bored as an occupational therapist," Braveman says. "There's variability in the job opportunities in the population that you work with--from pediatric care to geriatric care--and in your specialization, be it mental health, social health, and more."
Asha Asher is an occupational therapist who works in Cincinnati's Sycamore Community Schools. She, too, appreciates her profession's scope. "I work with kids once they enter school all the way up to age of 22," she says. "And at different times in their lives they may be experiencing different issues. At each stage we're hoping to develop an environment where the child can have maximum independence."
Miller, who also serves as president of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, has 30 years of experience. "When I first started, it was a pretty small industry," he says. "But financial services has now changed. The technology has changed as well, and the problems people are facing have changed. Now, you can go into many different areas [of financial advising]. It's like snowflakes--no two cases are 100 percent alike."
Other jobs that offer variety: Change of pace is one of the perks of our No. 11 job, maintenance and repair worker. You could fix a leaky faucet indoors one day, and paint shingles outdoors the next. Paramedics (the No. 15 job) also face different challenges daily.
Community. The career and company review website CareerBliss recently released a list of the 20 Happiest Jobs in America. Several professions that made the site's list also appear on U.S. News' 25 Best Jobs list, including customer service representative, accountant, and human resources professional. What common thread weaves through these occupations? "What we found was that people are happier in jobs where they have the opportunity to help others," says Heidi Golledge, the site's chief happiness officer and co-founder. "This is particularly true for those in HR management roles and in customer service roles, but it also affects accountants, who work with people directly, helping them with their taxes."
Miller says helping others is a plus within his profession, too. "I'm in a relationship business," he explains. "I spend a lot of my day dealing with people. You're helping people financially plan for the future, sometimes through unhappy circumstances, like the loss of a job, or the loss of a spouse and [income]."
There's an obvious correlation between therapy and helping others. Asher says: "As an [occupational therapist], you see people with disabling conditions that have interrupted their lives. Every client is someone unique who brings out the creativity of a therapist. It's satisfying to help people live life to the fullest."
Community could also translate into how much you enjoy working with your peers. Many accountants wrote on CareerBliss' site with appreciation for their intelligent co-workers. "It's a misconception that all accountants care about is math," Golledge says. "They also like having competent people around them to bounce ideas off of, to make the work experience better. People like to feel good about the people across the cubicle from them."
Other jobs that involve helping others: Several jobs on our list afford you the chance to help others, including top healthcare posts like registered nurse and physical therapist, as well as social services occupations like social workers and elementary and high school teachers.
Opportunity. Are you slaving away in a dead-end job with no realistic prospects for advancement? Then you probably aren't working as a financial adviser. Miller says "the ability to control your own destiny is ultimately one of the most attractive parts" of his profession. "There's no ceiling to what you can earn, or to your potential to grow," he notes.
Job competition is high for financial advisers, but their profession is still expected to hire considerably in coming years. The BLS predicts employment will swell 32 percent (much faster than the average for all occupations) from 2010 to 2020. The number of occupational therapists should increase by 33 percent by the year 2020. Also, "it's not a bad career in terms of financial rewards," Braveman says, adding that new graduates hired at Houston's MD Anderson Cancer Center have starting salaries in the mid-60s. The BLS reports that the best-compensated OTs earn six-figure salaries, work in home health care services, and live in the metropolitan areas of Elizabethtown, Ky., Las Vegas, and Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
The occupations of accountant, human resources specialist, and customer service rep also have good job prospects to the year 2020, even though their respective salaries aren't always as lucrative as other top jobs. Still, "people are less focused on having a BMW and are interested in having true career happiness," says Golledge. "A lot of times that has to do with company culture, with the opportunity to excel within your skill set, and to get the chance to do what you really like to do."
Other jobs with good opportunity: Some of the fastest-growing occupations for the next few years include meeting planners (43.7 percent employment growth by 2020) and physical therapists (39 percent).
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