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Careers

How to Profit in Today's Economy: New Jobs, New Skills

The best route to a rewarding career is to pick a growing field and stay flexible.

What it's all about. Jobs will trickle into the labor market over the next several months, but don't expect significant improvement until late next year. We'll recoup the eight million jobs lost in the recession by late 2013 or early 2014. But new workers will be entering the labor force, so achieving a full-employment economy -- an unemployment rate of about 5% to 5.5% -- could take much longer.

How it's different this time. Even profitable companies with plenty of cash aren't hiring until confidence in the economy improves. Nevertheless, job openings have risen 26% since July 2009. Why not a bigger dent in unemployment? Partly it's a mismatch between what employers are looking for and what workers have to offer. Success now depends less on years of experience in a particular industry or finely honed expertise, and more on flexibility and a knack for adapting a set of transferable skills (see Retool Your Career).

How you can profit. New grads will find the highest demand for degrees in accounting, business administration, computer science, engineering and math. An occupational certificate or associate's degree might help snag a lucrative job. But consider the number of job openings in the field. Employment in biomedical engineering is projected to grow 72% from 2008 through 2018 -- but that works out to just 1,400 openings per year.

The fastest-growing occupations with a lot of openings have a familiar ring, says occupational expert Laurence Shatkin. Over ten years (beginning in 2008), the number of computer network systems and database administrator openings could grow by 46,000 a year on average. Registered nurses could see 104,000 job openings per year. There will be a huge need for accountants and auditors, with about 50,000 openings per year.

Have a job already? Look for a raise of 3% or less, on average, but superstars might see 4.5%. Cover four bases to show you've added value: quantity (more output); quality (reduced errors); cost (on budget or below); and timeliness (deadlines beaten). Ask for a raise immediately after a big success.