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Top best job in America

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America's best jobs offer great pay, work that's satisfying, and big growth opportunities. Here are the 9 with the best prospects in the years ahead.
  From the November 2010 issue
  Bureau of Labor Statistics, and MONEY research.
1. Software Architect
Top 100 rank: 1

Sector: Information Technology
What they do: Like architects who design buildings, they create the blueprints for software engineers to follow -- and pitch in with programming too. Plus, architects are often called on to work with customers and product managers, and they serve as a link between a company's tech and business staffs.
What's to like: The job is creatively challenging, and engineers with go
od people skills are liberated from their screens. Salaries are generally higher than for programmers, and a typical day has more variety.
"Some days I'll focus on product strategy, and other days I'll be coding down in the guts of the system," says David Chaiken, 46, of Yahoo in Sunnyvale, Calif., whose cur
rent projects include helping the web giant customize content for its 600 million users. Even though programming jobs are moving overseas, the face-to-face aspect of this position helps cement local demand.
What's not to like: You are often outside the management chain of command, making it hard to get things done.
Requirements: Bachelor's degree, and either a master's or considerable work experience to demonstrate your ability to design software and work collaboratively.

2. Physician Assistant
Top 100 rank: 2
Sector: Health Care
What they do: Act as Robin to a doctor's Batman, performing routine care such as physicals and tests, counseling patients, and even prescribing medication, all under a doctor's supervision. Today's doctor shortage will only worsen as boomers age and health care reform brings more patients into the system, creating a huge need for PAs.
What's to like: No med school, no grueling internship, more freedom to move from one specialty to another -- yet all the satisfaction of delivering care. "No day is exactly the same, and I love that variety," says Wayne VonSeggen, 61, of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.? "It's also very challenging intellectually to work with doctors to try to help solve problems."
What's not to like: High stress and considerably lower pay than what doctors make. In such a supportive role, you can't be an entrepreneur.
Requirements: Complete an accredited PA program (average length: 26 months). The typical applicant has a bachelor's degree and four years of health care experience.

3. Management Consultant
Top 100 rank: 3
Sector: Consulting
What they do: Advise companies on how to grow the business or battle a problem. Economic upheaval is forcing many firms to rethink strategies, creating a need for advisers on everything from pricing and operations to cost-cutting and sales growth. Information technology consulting is one of the fastest-growing areas, as is helping companies explore international markets.
What's to like: Teamwork, project variety, and the satisfaction that comes from solving tough problems. "I love the challenge of a company saying, ‘We want to grow revenues by 20%. How can we do that?' " says Sukanya Soderland, 32, of Oliver Wyman in Boston.
Michael Sherman, 37, of The Boston Consulting Group in Dallas likes that "you get training in a couple years that would take a decade in a corporate setting." Big consulting firms such as McKinsey & Co. may offer higher salaries, boutique firms tend to be more specialized.
What's not to like: Grueling travel schedules, late hours, and punishing deadlines.
Requirements: Just about anybody can claim the title (nearly a third are self-employed), but an MBA coupled with experience inside firms in your field gives you an edge. Nowadays many laid-off managers are finding that their industry knowledge and access to insiders translates well to consulting.

4. Physical Therapist
Top 100 rank: 4
Sector: Health Care
What they do: Assess and treat people with physical conditions that limit their movements or ability to perform daily activities. Help with pain management and surgical rehab. Longer life spans and a wave of aging boomers have already created a PT shortage.
What's to like: Few jobs are so rewarding: A stroke patient begins to walk and talk. A tennis player with a sprained wrist gets back on the court. "I love helping patients enjoy life again," says Alison Lichy, 34, who specializes in neurological conditions such as spinal cord injuries at her practice in Alexandria, Va. Entrepreneurial types like Lichy can set their own hours.
What's not to like: The job can be emotionally and physically draining. Practitioners fear that health care reform's emphasis on cost cutting may jeopardize insurance reimbursements.
Requirements: Three-year graduate degree and a state license.

5. Environmental Engineer
    Top 100 rank: 5
Sector: Consulting
What they do: Use engineering skills to protect the environment and human health. Environmental engineers work on air-pollution control, water treatment, waste management, alternative energy, and conservation, in both the private sector and government agencies.
What's to like: Businesses are realizing that environmental stewardship not only burnishes the brand, but it can also boost the bottom line. "Even waste is a resource, and I enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to reuse it," says John Bradburn, 53, an environmental engineer in Warren, Mich., who heads up a General Motors program that repurposes scrap cardboard to make sound-absorption material for its cars.
What's not to like: Coming up with solutions is easier than getting them approved by corporate bureaucracies resistant to any change that may not pay dividends immediately.
Requirements: An undergraduate degree in any engineering specialty can be enough, and a state license is not always required. But you'll fare better with a graduate degree in environmental engineering.

6. Civil Engineer
Top 100 rank: 6
Sector: Construction, Architecture, Engineering
What they do: Design and supervise the creation of highways, bridges, sewer and water systems, power plants, and the like. Huge projects in countries like China and India are creating a shortage of qualified local engineers, bolstering demand for U.S. talent. America's own infrastructure is in desperate need of an overhaul.
What's to like: What's perhaps most satisfying for engineers is the tangible legacy they leave. "My son and grandson will be able to see how I left my mark on the world," says Tajudeen Bakare, 52, of CT Consultants, who has designed major bridge and highway improvements in the Columbus area. You can find jobs no matter what kind of community you prefer, from big cities to small towns.
What's not to like: The maze of permits and regulations can be maddening. Writing detailed proposals and speaking at local government hearings are not every engineer's idea of nirvana.
Requirements: A bachelor's in civil engineering and a state license. Specialty jobs like structural engineer often require a master's.

7. Database Administrator
Top 100 rank: 7
Sector: Information Technology
What they do: Organize and manage data, update software, and troubleshoot when problems arise.
What's to like: As businesses accumulate more and more data, DBAs are in demand everywhere. "If you are concerned about having a job that will be around for a while, database administration is the way to go," says Patt Patterson Jones, 52, a DBA for 17 years, including six years with Baltimore fund manager T. Rowe Price. This job gives you the satisfaction of solving problems and seeing how your work benefits your firm.
What's not to like: Be prepared for middle-of-the-night tech meltdowns to set off your pager. The technology also changes rapidly. DBAs typically need to master new programs every six to nine months. And as with many tech jobs, outsourcing is a risk. But Boon Lim, 37, a senior database administrator with MGM Studios in Los Angeles, notes that high turnover at outsourcing firms can make that option unattractive to employers.
Requirements: Many DBAs start out elsewhere in IT, usually as developers or programmers. Database certification isn't mandatory -- classes alone may be enough -- but if you're starting out, the credential can help you land a job. Lim recommends certifying in SQL Server, Oracle, or DB2 database management systems.
8. Sales Director
Top 100 rank: 8
Sector: Other
What they do: Manage a company's sales strategy and sales staff. During the recession, companies focused on cutting costs and staying the course. Now the goal is growth.
What's to like: Mar Brandt, a 36-year-old regional sales director for e-mail marketing company Experian CheetahMail in Oakland, likes that no two days are the same, as she moves between trolling for prospects and coaching and supporting her team. "I don't think I'd be in this job if I didn't think it was exciting," she says. Plus, this is a position that's poised to grow across all industries, and good sales skills are generally transferable.
What's not to like: The demands of drumming up new business and meeting sales goals are constant, and compensation can fluctuate severely. "You feel like you can't afford to be off," says Brandt. "It's high stress and very busy."
Requirements: Climb the ladder. You'll need to prove yourself as a high performer on the sales staff to be promoted to this role. You can also move into the job from another management position, says Bob Kelly, chairman of the Sales Management Association.

9. Certified Public Accountant
Top 100 rank: 9
Sector: Business Services
What they do: Maintain financial records and analyze the numbers. Especially in this time of economic turmoil, CPAs are needed to make sense of increasingly complex financial transactions -- from buyouts to businesses grappling with changing tax laws.
What's to like: "I really like learning what makes a business run and helping the client understand and have confidence in the financial information I'm presenting," says Spiceda Davis, 34, who worked for big accounting firms before launching her own company, eXFinancial, in Atlanta in 2009.
CPAs are in demand in all sectors -- public accounting firms, corporations, government agencies, nonprofits. University accounting programs are also experiencing a faculty shortage.
What's not to like: The deadlines can be stressful. Corporate life offers more regular hours, but those jobs tend to give you less variety.
Requirements: You'll need a bachelor's degree in accounting -- some CPAs also complete a one-year master's program -- and at least two years of on-the-job experience to get a license in most states.

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