Best Cities to Start a Career

Ask any recent grad if he'd move for a job, and chances are he'd say yes. After all, with unemployment at 9.5%, many would rather cross state lines than move in with mom and dad.

First-time job seekers would be wise to consider San Jose, Calif., Cambridge, Mass., and Houston, Texas, among the nation's best places to begin a career. These metros are home to America's strongest big and small companies, and attract the country's most talented professionals, based on our analysis.

Recent grads desiring an equally dynamic area with fewer than one million people might head to Bridgeport, Conn., or Madison, Wisc. Looking for less than 500,000 residents? Ann Arbor, Mich., Boulder, Colo., and Santa Barbara, Calif., are strong options.

Click here to learn about the best places to begin a career at our partner site,

Behind The Numbers

In compiling this list, we considered 350 of the country's metropolitan statistical areas (MSA), and in cases where they were not available, Metropolitan Divisions (MDs); both are geographic entities defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OBM) for use by federal agencies in collecting, tabulating and publishing federal statistics to form our list. For some of the country's largest metros (such as New York, the Bay Area and Chicagoland), the OBM breaks combined MSAs into MDs. That allows us to track San Jose (metro population 1.8 million) as not simply a part of San Francisco, and Newark, N.J. (metro population 2.1 million) as something separate than New York City.

No two places overlapped, and all data used for evaluation conform to the same geographic boundaries. All measurements were adjusted for population--that way big cities and small cities could compete. We then ranked cities by population, providing the top twenty metros for cities over one million and the top five for cities with populations between 500,000 and one million and for those metros under 500,000.

To track 10-year career development, we analyzed alumni data from Harvard University, Princeton University, Stanford University, Northwestern University, Duke University and Rice University, to see where their graduates from the class of 1999 wound up. These are exceptional young professionals and where they've chosen to settle to pursue their professional interests speaks loudly.

As a control, Forbes excluded Harvard grads living in Boston or Cambridge and Rice grads in Houston. We wanted to highlight cities with opportunities that made them worth moving to. San Francisco finished first for its concentration of young alumni, with Washington, D.C., and Ann Arbor, Mich., not far behind.

Next we examined the quality of jobs in each city. Using our analysis of America's 400 Best Big Companies and America's 200 Best Small Companies, we located cities with healthy firms. Our lists track net sales, net income, earnings growth and stock market performance as well as profit margin and debt.

Some cities, like San Jose, score better for big companies vs. small ones (first and 13th respectively); and others, like Boston, experience the reverse (58th for big companies and 10th for small ones.) Here, it's a matter of personal choice whether you aspire to be an entrepreneur or a corporate executive.

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