Here's where the best job opportunities are

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Key Points
  • Even after the longest U.S. government shutdown in history, the labor market is thriving.
  • For those determined to make the most of today's employment opportunities, here are the hot jobs and the skills required to land these positions.

Even on the heels of the longest U.S. government shutdown in history, the labor market is thriving.

"The job market is extremely competitive right now," said Michelle Armer, chief people officer at CareerBuilder.

In fact, last year there were more openings than there were people looking for jobs. And employment in the private sector increased by a better-than-expected 213,000 jobs in January alone, despite the partial shutdown, according to ADP and Moody's.

The unemployment rate ticked up to 4 percent in January, but still not far from its lowest point in five decades, according to the Labor Department.

But more people are also looking for work. The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits surged to near a 1½-year high last week, which raises some concerns that the labor market will slow.

"We have to acknowledge that we are in the late innings of the economic expansion," said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at "But it's a little like a party when the lights haven't turned off yet; we have to enjoy it while we can."

Until then, there are still many job opportunities out there, although not necessarily across the board — or across the nation.

"For most, it is a great time to look for work, particularly for those who have in-demand skills and work in locations where the regional economies are robust," Hamrick said.

To make the most of today's market, CareerBuilder identified the top three jobs in each state by wage category and the skills required to land those positions. (See the chart below.)

Among in-demand positions going forward, most are in health care, according to a separate report from jobs site CareerCast.

Other sectors that are faring well include leisure, hospitality and travel, which reflect today's consumer preferences and where landing a job — such as yoga and fitness instructors or massage therapists — often doesn't even require having a college degree.

Tech jobs, particularly software developers, also made the cut and come with the highest salary on the list of jobs that are hardest to fill, CareerCast found. (In addition to low unemployment and high salaries, job growth among software developers is projected to increase much faster than the average for all occupations.)

Even in terms of landing a high-paying tech job, the increasing popularity of coding programs and boot camps makes it easier for anyone to get up to speed on the latest technology without traditional schooling.

"A lot of companies that used to require a degree have changed their minds," Armer said. "Job seekers need to make an effort to educate themselves, there might be free courses online or ways to adapt the skills you do have."

"That will make them more marketable."

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