One Word: Accounting
The economy may not seem so hot, but plenty of good work is out there--for those with the right skills
By Donna Rosato

(MONEY Magazine) – Job seekers hoping 2005 would bring better news than 2004 haven't had much to celebrate so far. Yes, the unemployment rate is down to 5.2%, the lowest in more than three years. But a big reason is that the number of people who've simply given up looking for work is almost 20% higher than a year ago. Corporate cutbacks continue as the latest merger boom does its downsizing thing. And the number of new jobs created has dropped in recent months. The broader economic outlook includes big government deficits, high fuel prices and brutal competition from low-wage locales like China and India, none of which is good for jobs in the U.S. of A.

But for all that, some sectors of the job market are actually hot. Ask Erin Meradith, 24. She's getting a master's in accounting from Louisiana State University this May, but by last December she had three job offers--each with a signing bonus. This summer she'll join KPMG in Fort Lauderdale as an internal auditor, earning $50,000 a year with five weeks vacation. "Everyone in my program," she notes, "has gotten a job."

There are other bright spots too. The jobless rate for middle managers? Under 3% at last count. Sectors like health care and business services are booming. And with uncertainty about the U.S. and Iraq elections out of the way, recruiters say their phones are ringing more than at any time since 2000. In fact, two-thirds of executives surveyed say they'll increase hiring for professional and managerial jobs in the first half of 2005, reports Management Recruiters International. "Companies have reached the limits of what they can do with their work forces," explains Nigel Gault, an economist with research firm Global Insight. "They have to hire more workers."

What's driving the new job growth? Some forces, like the real estate boom, may not last. Others are here to stay. There are going to be lots of old folks in America for a long time, meaning lots of money to be made taking care of them. Areas where help will be most wanted:

• AUDITING Thanks to the post-Enron Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which makes executives sign off on financial statements, more and more number crunchers are joining corporate payrolls. Few are more sought after than internal auditors, whose starting salaries are up about 10% over a year ago. "They can write their own ticket," says Dave Richards, head of the Institute of Internal Auditors.

• CORPORATE LAW Sarbanes-Oxley and merger mania are fueling demand here too. Lawyers who specialize in securities and corporate transactions are getting signing bonuses for the first time since the dotcom days, says Marcia Newell, CEO of Washington, D.C. legal search firm NewinCo. She just helped a Houston law firm recruit a 28-year-old attorney who specializes in technology outsourcing; a $20,000 signing bonus and a faster track to partnership sealed the deal for the whiz kid.

• CONSTRUCTION Still-low interest rates continue to fire up the home-building industry, but a commercial building boom is further igniting competition for architects, engineers and contractors. San Francisco recruiter Mary Breuer says most of the heat is in hospitals and health-care facilities, colleges and universities, and high-end hotels both in the U.S. and overseas.

• HEALTH CARE As the nation's 76 million baby boomers age, the number of health-care jobs grows. Nearly a million will be added in the next three years, predicts Global Insight. Most in demand: nurses, pharmacists and physical therapists. Say ahhh, indeed.