Five Brilliant Careers

by: LAN NGUYEN

The unemployment rate hit 8.5 percent in March, the highest in 25 years, and the misery shows no signs of abating. But it’s not doom and gloom across every sector of the economy. Some industries are actually rife with openings: The health care sector, for example, added an average of 17,000 new jobs each month in the first quarter of 2009 alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Similarly, jobs in education and certain areas of technology are still growing at a healthy clip. Here are five of the hottest jobs right now.

Nurse Practitioner

Estimated number of current job openings: 4,500

Where the jobs are: Baltimore; Las Vegas; El Paso, Texas; Cleveland; and New York

Midcareer salary range: $77,000 to $94,000

Education: Master’s or doctorate from a nursing college

Best jobs to transition from: Biologist, chemist, psychologist, and teacher

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for nurses is expected to grow by almost 25 percent between 2006 and 2016. And nurse practitioners are needed most of all because of their more advanced training and ability to write prescriptions. Nurse practitioners can typically perform about 75 percent of the tasks that doctors can. And demand will continue to grow as more medical students opt for specialties like plastic surgery and orthopedics instead of primary care or internal medicine, says Joan Stanley, senior director of education policy at the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Rural areas also use nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants to compensate for the shortage of doctors, says Beth Schramm, director of medical recruiting at the Forum Group, a Manhattan executive recruiting firm. That suggests that the job growth in this profession won’t slow soon.

Science Teacher

Estimated number of current job openings: 2,700

Where the jobs are: Every state

Midcareer salary range: $50,000 to $90,000

Education: Bachelor of science and a teacher’s certification

Best jobs to transition from: Engineer, chemist, scientist, and physician

According to the American Federation of Teachers, schools throughout the U.S. will need 200,000 new teachers every year for the next 10 years to fill upocoming vacancies and shortages, now that the baby boomers are close to retirement age. So it’s no surprise that schools are on a hiring binge. The greatest demand is for qualified science and math teachers, with special education a close third. Factor in tenure and — assuming that the school district is reasonably healthy economically — being a teacher can be pretty secure. While average salaries are not sky-high, some teachers in wealthy school districts can make as much as $100,000. As careers go, shaping the minds of future generations could well be a lot more fulfilling than what you’re doing now. And if it’s not — well, at least you get the summers off.

Search Engine Optimization Strategist

Estimated number of current job openings: 2,700

Where the jobs are: Media centers like New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles

Midcareer salary range: $75,000 to $100,000

Education: BS in IT or marketing

Best jobs to transition from: Web designer/developer, blogger, and other content or social media people

The way to be found online is not to build a fabulous brand or to run expensive ads during the Super Bowl. That doesn’t work. All that works is search. As a result, ad agencies, marketing firms, and businesses are snapping up people who can think strategically about search engine optimization (SEO) — the art of making your content seem more relevant than the next guy’s to search engines like Google. This job is so hot that the number of SEO specialists hired has increased eightfold in the past three years, according to job aggregator Indeed.com. To be an SEO strategist, you need to know how Web pages are structured and how search engines examine those pages to calculate page ranks. And you need to have a firm grasp of marketing, e-commerce, and how people use the Web. As of yet, you can’t learn this in school. So if you’re interested in making the leap to this career, you’ll be competing on the basis of experience and willingness to learn, not on academic credentials. (Depending on who you are, that may or may not be a good thing.)

Commissioning Agent

Estimated number of current job openings: 4,000

Where the jobs are: Cities with a strong federal government presence, like Washington, New York, and San Francisco

Midcareer salary range: $65,000 to $130,000

Education: BS in mechanical or electrical engineering

Best jobs to transition from: Engineer, contractor, and architect

Even in the blasted wasteland of the building industry, one small pocket of jobs is growing, thanks to high energy costs and a huge boost from President Obama’s fiscal stimulus package. That pocket includes anything related to green construction. One of the most desirable jobs in the field: commissioning agent, the person responsible for checking systems in both new and old buildings to make them energy efficient, says Peter Templeton, president of the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI). A typical commissioning agent is an engineer with extra certification from an organization like the National Environmental Balancing Bureau (NEBB), the Building Commissioning Association, or the Association of Energy Engineers. He or she works with mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems as a designer, contractor, and facilities engineer, according to NEBB. Considering that some 5 million commercial buildings in the U.S. could use a green update, there is a lot of work to be had. Factor in the federal government’s support for the adoption of energy-saving technology, including new tax credits for businesses, and there will be many opportunities for commissioning work.

Financial Restructuring Specialist

Estimated number of current job openings: 2,500

Where the jobs are: Financial centers like New York; Chicago; Los Angeles; Charlotte, N.C.; and Dallas

Midcareer salary range: $100,000 to $300,000 plus bonus

Education: BA in a field like economics or math

Best jobs to transition from: Investment banker, accountant, and lawyer

In 2008, more than a million companies filed for bankruptcy. That number will be even higher in 2009, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute. So it’s no surprise that someone with experience in helping companies avoid (or emerge from) such a fate would be in high demand. Restructuring firms and investment banks that have turnaround practices are looking for a few good people with auditing or banking backgrounds, according to Anthony Sandrik, a consultant at executive recruiting firm Michael Page. “A turnaround professional needs strong modeling skills, the ability to construct 13-week cash flows, and a deep understanding of financial statements,” he says. While the work can be exciting and challenging, it can also be tough on your home life, since the job demands you join the frequent-flier club. “If you’re concerned about hours, you’re not cut out for this,” warns Sandrik.


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Max De Paola
Michael Page
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