Highest Paying Jobs In California
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California is home to many large corporations and small businesses and is a hub for innovation and technology. This results in a diverse labor market that includes a wide range of industries and occupations.
The state's economy is driven by a variety of sectors, including agriculture, tourism, manufacturing and the service industries. The largest by employment include trade, transportation, and utilities; government; education and health services; and professional and business services. And the job market is going strong, outpacing the national growth rate of 3.3%.
Overall, the labor market in California is competitive, which makes it doubly important for job seekers to be proactive and continually update their skills and knowledge. Bear in mind that while salaries may be high — ZipRecruiter recently calculated the state’s average annual wage at $62,029 — so is the cost of living.
Our Top 7 Picks for the Highest Paying Jobs in California
- Flight engineer
- Nurse anesthetist
- Airline pilot
- Internal medicine physician
- Computer hardware engineer
- Psychiatric nurse practitioner
- Architectural and engineering manager
Flight engineers are highly skilled professionals who are responsible for ensuring the safety of any flight. They carry out checks and testing on aircraft to determine whether it’s safe for travel — including monitoring and controlling engines, electrical systems, hydraulics and other systems or components. They also complete repairs of mechanical issues, help interpret gauges and instruments, and aid in pre-flight navigation prep work.
With the rise of computerized systems on commercial aircraft, the typical three-person flight team of pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer has stopped being a necessity. However, employment opportunities exist in military and defense, as well as cargo aviation companies. In California, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest report from May 2021 puts the mean flight engineer wage at $227,870 per year.
To become a flight engineer, you’ll typically need to have a bachelor’s degree in fields such as Aircraft Engineering with Pilot Studies, Aviation Engineering or Aeronautical Technology. You must also have a commercial pilot’s license and have completed 1,500 hours of flying experience.
Nurse anesthetists, also known as certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNA), are a type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who specializes in administering anesthesia to patients. They’re responsible for managing the administration of anesthetics during surgical, obstetrical and other medical procedures, as well as monitoring patients while recovering from anesthesia. They work closely with anesthesiologists and other healthcare professionals to develop and implement a patient's anesthesia care plan.
CRNAs may work completely autonomously, depending on the state, or they may work in team models with anesthesiologists, dentists, surgeons and others. Typically, nurse anesthetists work in hospital operating rooms, emergency rooms, intensive care units, cardiac care units or outpatient surgical clinics. The hours can be intense, depending on the workplace — while most scheduled surgical procedures take place in the early morning, emergencies can occur at any time. CRNAs who work in hospitals may work evenings, nights, weekends and holidays, as is common with many medical professionals.
CRNAs are among the most highly paid nursing jobs, with an average annual wage of $195,610 nationwide, which goes up to $232,540 in California, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLN).
To become a nurse anesthetist, you must first be a registered nurse, and then complete at least a doctorate degree in anesthesia, extensive clinical training and pass a certification exam by the National Boards of Certification and Recertification of Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA).
Airline pilots are responsible for the safe and efficient operation of an aircraft during flights. That includes pre-flight prep, navigation, communicating with traffic control and monitoring aircraft systems. They’re also responsible for flight planning, preparing and submitting flight plans to traffic control, ensuring the aircraft is balanced and below the weight limit, and checking that fuel supplies are adequate.
Airline pilots work for airlines, transporting passengers or cargo on a fixed schedule. The captain or pilot in command must supervise other crew members, including the co-pilot, and is the main person responsible for the flight.
Piloting an airline requires the ability to remain cool under pressure and think quickly as you respond to changing conditions, such as emergencies or weather events. You must also maintain a certain level of physical fitness, and be comfortable with working in close proximity with your second officer for long periods of time, as flight decks are often sealed.
To become an airline pilot, you’ll typically need a bachelor’s degree in a field such as transportation, engineering or business. You must also complete flight training and have extensive flight experience to work with a commercial airline. Finally, you must have certain certificates and ratings from the Federal Aviation Administration. The annual mean wage of an airline pilot in California is $227,870, per the BLS.
Internal medicine physician
Internal medicine physicians, sometimes called internists or doctors of internal medicine, specialize in adult medicine. They’re trained to solve diagnostic problems, manage severe and long-term illnesses, and treat complex, chronic conditions. Often called the “doctor’s doctor”, internists are trained in the entire human body and its organ systems, and they’re often called in to consult on cases, due to their ability to make unexpected connections.
Internal medicine physicians often work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics and private practices. They may also work in specialized areas such as geriatric medicine or sports medicine.
To become an internal medicine physician, you must complete medical school and a residency in internal medicine. You’ll spend at least three of your seven or more years in medical school and postgraduate training studying how to prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases that affect adults. The annual mean wage for internists in California is $242,260, according to the BLS.
Computer hardware engineer
A computer hardware engineer researches, designs, develops and tests computer hardware components and systems like circuit boards, memory devices, processors, routers and networks.
They often create new hardware and schematics, then test and analyze test results and modify their design as needed, which may also require updating existing equipment. They must often work hand in hand with software developers, since they must ensure that the new hardware plays well with the latest software. Finally, computer hardware engineers can also oversee the manufacturing process.
As computer hardware continues to find new uses across different industries, computer hardware engineers may find themselves working on cars, mobile phones, home appliances, or medical devices, to name a few practical applications.
Entry-level positions will typically require a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering or a related field, and a solid background in math and science. Some employers may prefer applicants from an engineering program accredited by a professional association, such as ABET. Some familiarity with computer programming is often expected as well. Some specialized positions may also require a master’s degree in computer engineering or business administration. BLS data has the annual mean wage for a computer hardware engineer in California at $169,970.
Psychiatric nurse practitioner
A psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) is a type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who is trained to provide mental health care services to individuals of all ages. They’re responsible for assessing their patient’s mental health status by analyzing their medical history, performing psychiatric evaluations and determining risk factors. Based on that assessment, PMHNPs make diagnoses and determine a care plan, in collaboration with doctors and other professionals.
PMHNPs must have knowledge of psychopharmacology and psychotherapy modalities, advanced analytical and problem-solving skills, and the ability to deal with high-pressure environments. Their job is mentally and emotionally demanding, and requires superb stress and workload management skills while providing a high standard of care and professionalism.
To become a PMHNP, you must be a registered nurse, and have a two-year associate’s degree in nursing, a three-year hospital-based nursing diploma, or a four-year bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. You may then specialize in mental health via a master’s or post-master’s certificate program. Many positions also require accredited certifications from organizations such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the Psychiatric–Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Board Certification (PMHNP-BC).
Per BLS data, the annual mean wage for a nurse practitioner in California is $151,830.
Architectural and engineering manager
Architectural and engineering managers strategize, design and manage projects at every stage through detailed plans and set technical goals, ensuring that these are completed efficiently, correctly and on schedule. That may mean directing or coordinating building activities at a construction site — or it may relate to production, operations, quality assurance, testing or maintenance.
A lot of an architectural and engineering manager’s time is taken up by coordinating their staff’s activities with that of other departments, such as production, marketing and finance. Other typical managerial responsibilities include creating and managing budgets, hiring staff, setting timelines, and creating administrative procedures. Though some architectural and engineering managers may work in research laboratories and industrial production plants or at construction sites, most work in offices.
Architectural and engineering managers typically have a bachelor’s degree in architecture or engineering, and a master’s degree in engineering management (MEM or MsEM) or technology management (MSTM), or a master’s degree in business administration (MBA). People that are more interested in general management may opt for an MBA, while MEM, MsEM and MTSM degrees are more suited to technical matters. According to the BLS, the average wage for an architectural and engineering manager in California is $187,770.
Highest paying jobs in California guide
On its own, the Golden State’s economy is the 4th largest in the world, surpassing both Germany or the United Kingdom, according to the California Budget and Policy Center. It’s also the most populated state in the US, a hub for cutting-edge technology and home to companies such as Google, Apple and Meta. Some might say it’s also the most popular state in the country, judging by its almost 260M visitors in 2022.
While many job postings may feature attractive salary benefits when you’re browsing job search sites, consider that the cost of living is high, and it’s a high-tax state.
What jobs are unique to California?
In California, there are certain industries that offer unique opportunities compared to other states. There are plenty of jobs available for computer engineers, software developers, data scientists, web designers and other tech-related roles, for instance.
Healthcare is also a major industry in California. It represents a significant part of the state's booming economy with healthcare-related occupations accounting for more than 7% of the state's total employment.
To keep up with the demand, there are numerous employment opportunities for health-related roles, including pediatricians, nurse practitioners, internists, physical therapists, occupational therapists and home health aides. A quick look at job search sites like ZipRecruiter reveals thousands of opportunities in health care in California.
Types of jobs in California
While the first places that come to mind when you think of California may be Hollywood and Silicon Valley, in truth those are both only a tiny fraction of the labor market of the country’s third-largest state. Prospective job seekers can find positions in many industries, including construction, manufacturing, trade, transportation and utilities, professional and business services, education, healthcare, social assistance, leisure and hospitality.
Each of the state’s 58 counties will also have different needs and job opportunities, which can be accessed and studied through California’s Employment of Development Department website. Its handy profiles are in a searchable database, where you can discover employment percentages by industry, the occupations with the fastest growth, and the highest-paying ones.
Requirements for a California job
Specific requirements for each job in California will depend on the position. Professional and technical roles will usually call for an undergraduate or graduate degree from an accredited college or university. Some may also require industry-specific certifications or licenses, or a certain amount of job experience.
If you're eyeing a state job, you'll need to pass a California State job exam relevant to your desired job specification. Hiring for a state job is merit-based to ensure that the state hires and promotes individuals based on their qualifications and job performance.
How to find the highest-paying jobs in California
Finding the highest-paying jobs in California requires research, networking and the skills and experience to stand out in a competitive market. Here are a few ways to find your dream job in California.
One of the main reasons for leaving a job is low job satisfaction. When looking to transition into a new role, and maybe even a new industry, make sure you research the state of the industry, the jobs that are available and whether those jobs align with your interests, qualifications and career aspirations. Doing this will help ensure that you've chosen the right job and industry for you.
Start your research on California job search engines, such as CalJOBS and CalCareers, to find the latest job openings. You can also use California Career Zone to find jobs that match your skills and experience. Research how much a job pays so that you go into the job search with realistic expectations.
Build up the necessary skills and experience
Start building up your resume with the necessary job skills and experience. There are many career colleges in California that offer role-specific job training programs in a number of different fields. You can also check if you're eligible for Job Corps, which provides free education and training to help you learn crucial job-related skills.
Networking may be one of the best ways to find your dream job. Talk to friends, family and acquaintances who may know of job openings in California. LinkedIn is also a great platform for networking. The platform allows you to connect with professionals in your industry, search job postings in specific areas and even apply for jobs.
Prepare a standout cover letter and resume
An effective job application should have an attention-grabbing cover letter. Knowing how to write a cover letter is an important skill when hunting for a new job. Your cover letter and resume should highlight your experience, passions, job qualifications and specific milestones in your career.
Ace the interview
Knowing how to prepare for an interview can mean the difference between getting the job and having to return to the job boards. Get to know the company you're interviewing for, analyze your strengths and weaknesses and be prepared with your own set of questions. A good way to prepare yourself is to do a few mock interviews with a friend or family member.
Highest-paying jobs in California FAQ
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How We Chose the Highest-Paying Jobs in California
To find the job positions that offer the highest salaries in California, we looked at data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This reliable data source reports average salaries for most jobs available in California.