Job seekers often hear that despite the continuing rise in unemployment, the bleak hiring outlook, and the uncertainty of a drawn-out economic recovery, they shouldn’t worry because “there are still jobs out there!”

They’re meant as words of encouragement, of course, but at a certain point, an exasperated job hunter can’t be blamed for wanting to yell “Oh yeah? Where?”

Where, indeed. Since the mid-90s, there has been plenty of research to go around about the best careers for each new year, and the rise of the Internet has only increased the number of outlets putting the job market under a microscope. At a certain point, in fact, the problem becomes too much information. It can be difficult to get any practical job-search wisdom without looking at a cross-section of the most reliable sources and looking for trends.

The best place to start in any given year is U.S. News & World Report’s annual list of the 50 best careers. Among their top choices for 2010 are: computer software engineer, x-ray technician, firefighter and financial advisor. The magazine’s list is useful because it divides the careers into categories, and one of those categories in particular—health care—has been a fixture on most lists of rapidly expanding job opportunities for several years running now.

Some may consider many of the careers they cover simply too specialized to be useful. However, they do make an interesting point about the field of science and technology:

This category includes the fastest-growing occupation—with a 72 percent growth rate that far outstrips the 10 percent average across careers — of biomedical engineer. Biomedical engineers help develop the equipment and devices that improve or enable the preservation of health. They’re working to grow cardiac tissue or develop tomorrow’s MRI machines, asthma inhalers, and artificial hearts.

Of particular note are two careers that are popping up on a lot of these lists: physical therapist and actuary. The former was also the number two choice for Jessica Hanley in her Yahoo! Hotjobs look at the most “surprising paths to fortune and fulfillment.” One of the biggest selling points for a physical therapy career, besides the fact that many such businesses are expanding into idle commercial space while the overall job market shrinks, is that it generally takes only two years to get the associate’s degree in physical therapy necessary to become a physical therapist assistant. There is expected to be a 33 percent growth in the field over the next eight years. Elementary school teacher, graphic designer and registered nurse also topped Hanley’s list.

Payscale.com’s Carol Tice also discusses physical therapy assistants—along with occupational therapy, sales positions, green jobs, repair technicians and computer security specialists–in her list of growing jobs in the small-business sector for 2010. Tice writes:

If you’ve been focusing your job search on major corporations, you may be missing out on the hottest hiring spot in our slowly dawning economic recovery: small business. Small businesses employ just over half of all private-sector workers, according to the Small Business Administration, and they generated 64 percent of all net new jobs over the past 15 years. Historically, as businesses start to hire again coming out of a downturn, small businesses lead the way.

Then there’s careercast.com’s list of the 10 best jobs for 2010, led by the aforementioned actuary. Computer fields take the next two spots—software analyst and computer systems analyst, respectively—while the rankings of mathematician, statistician and accountant show math skills are always in demand. Incredibly, only one health care field made the top ten: dental hygienist. Perhaps the biggest surprise is historian, at number five, which earned points for a strong hiring outlook, low stress level and healthy income.

Of course, the flip side of these bright spots on the job landscape is that there are plenty of careers in freefall, which anyone looking to transition might want to avoid. We’ll take a look at those next.

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