In some cities, there are dozens of applicants per day trying for the best-paid jobs — while others barely attract any applications at all. To have a chance at the big bucks, it’s essential to know the market — so Career.io has identified the cities and states with the highest application rates for top-paid jobs on LinkedIn.
You don’t need a degree in rocket science to recognize that highly paid jobs are pretty attractive to most people. But academics have used science to prove a less intuitive fact about top-dollar work: higher pay attracts applications from “higher quality” candidates, as measured by IQ, personality and motivation. And not, as you might think, a bunch of less suitable candidates attracted by an extra “zero” at the end of the advertised salary.
That’s great for high-paying employers. But when you’re one of those “high-quality” candidates for a particular job, a bigger salary means tougher competition for the role. And while employers put hundreds of thousands more jobs on the U.S. market each month, more than 30 million workers quit in 2023. So, navigating the crowd to a highly paid job requires more than talent.
Since competition for these roles is far from even across the U.S., Career.io has crunched the data to find which job markets are most and least competitive for highly paid jobs. These are the states and major cities you might consider — or reconsider — in your search for a top salary in your field of work. And following our analysis, you’ll find some tips on how to stand out against the competition.
We analyzed publicly available data from LinkedIn to rank every U.S. state and the largest cities based on the number of daily job applicants for local, highly paid jobs. We set the threshold for “highly paid” jobs by doubling the local average wage. Then, we identified jobs at these rates available on LinkedIn and calculated how many applications per day each of these vacancies received.
Salt Lake City, Utah, has the most competitive market, with 34.9 applicants per day for each highly paid job.
Parkersburg, West Virginia, is the big city with the least competitive market for highly paid jobs — we found zero applications in our data set for December 2023.
New York City (10.2) is the most competitive market in the state of New York, and Yonkers (0.08) is the least competitive.
San Jose (29.6) is the most competitive market in California, and Bakersfield (0.24) is the least competitive.
We started by looking at America’s 200 largest cities by population, plus the five largest cities in each state. There are four Californian cities among the 10 with the most applicants for each highly paid job. New York City is the tenth most competitive market. However, the three most competitive cities of all are all in inland states: Salt Lake City, Utah, where there are 34.9 applications per day per highly paid job; Saint Louis, Missouri (33.4); and Denver, Colorado (31.9).
Like many areas, Salt Lake City has been hit by tech layoffs, but it does have many highly paid roles in the skilled trade professions. “I don’t think anyone realizes how many great opportunities and careers in the trades there are out there,” Michelle Price, director of Alpine School District’s career and technical education program, told Utah Business. “The one thing I’d want others to know is that these aren’t low-level, low-paying jobs or careers. There’s everything from HVAC and general construction—where kids build a house from the ground up—to plumbing and electrical, cosmetology and nursing.”
Our next map broadens it out to the most competitive city in every state so you can see how the competition is spread across the country. No Illinois city makes it to the top 20 above, but Chicago stands out as the state’s most competitive market for highly paid jobs, with 3.1 applications per day per job. Likewise, in Texas, Austin is the most competitive market but narrowly misses the top 20 with a rate of just 4.6.
In North Carolina, the most competitive city is Raleigh, with 2.1 applications per day for each highly paid job. Flatbed transport car manufacturer/management service TTX Company recently announced that it is relocating its headquarters — including its current executives — from Chicago to Charlotte, NC, creating 150 highly paid jobs over the next three years.
It is a reminder that a competitive market can actually create more top roles: “We continue to succeed in attracting businesses like TTX because of our community assets and our large pool of highly-qualified workers,” says George Dunlap, Chair of the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners.
Some highly paid jobs are there for the taking — if you’re qualified. In each of the ten least competitive cities, we found that the average highly paid job attracts less than one applicant per month. And in Parkersburg, West Virginia, there were precisely zero applications for highly paid local jobs on LinkedIn for the period we surveyed, although there were 52 jobs on the market.
The cities with the fewest applicants per highly paid job tend to be in low-density states focusing on agriculture. Nampa, Idaho, is the second least competitive city, and the transition to modern, skill-based jobs has been slow. It is also relatively easy to enforce non-compete clauses in Idaho, which means that when a highly paid job arises, somebody doing a similar thing for less pay might find they are barred from applying.
Again, we opened out the data to show every state’s least competitive city on the map below. For example, Reno is Nevada’s least competitive city, with just 0.19 daily applicants — or about 5.6 per month — for each highly paid job. Nevada is presently experiencing a “weird paradox,” according to David Schmidt, the chief economist with Nevada’s Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation: the highest unemployment coupled with “the fastest employment growth in the country.”
California’s least competitive market is Bakersfield, with 0.24 applications per day per highly paid job. This contrasts starkly with San Francisco (24.1), Santa Ana (22.3) and Los Angeles (21.8) elsewhere in the state. Bakersfield is associated with lower-paid jobs, but it depends on the industry. In fact, first-line supervisors of firefighting and prevention workers can earn nearly twice the national average here, for example, while the average registered nurse makes 47% more in Bakersfield than in Philadelphia, MA.
Utah, home of America’s most competitive city for highly paid jobs (Salt Lake City, see above), is also America’s most competitive state for such work. The city boasts a thriving economy which leads to fresh opportunities, and also the country’s highest proportion of teenage workers — potentially driving more experienced professionals to seek roles higher up the chain.
West Virginia leads a set of seven states where less than one application per day is made for a highly paid job. Unemployment is low in West Virginia, but there is a significant “mismatch” between available jobs and available workers.
“Over 33 percent of insured unemployed workers in West Virginia are in the construction industry. However, nationwide, only 0.3 percent of job openings are in construction,” writes Sean O'Leary, Senior Policy Analyst at the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. “Instead, professional service, health care, and food service are the industries with the greatest share of job openings, making up nearly half (49.1 percent) of all job openings in the country.”
They have to give the job to somebody. Whether you’re in a highly competitive market, somewhere with less competition or you have the freedom to move, you can give yourself the edge by following the tips below.
It may sound impossible, but you can get your name on the table before a role is even advertised — through networking and referrals. As many as 85% of jobs may be awarded thanks to networking, while an estimated 70% of jobs are never publicly advertised. Stay meaningfully active on LinkedIn and attend industry events to keep yourself at the forefront of employers’ minds.
The more competition there is, the less time employers devote to each resume. Keep it to one or two pages max, and follow Career.io’s guidance on crafting the right CV for the job.
Motivation is a big factor when a firm is trying to fill a highly paid role. Use your resume and, hopefully, your interview to demonstrate why you want this job with this company, in particular, so they know you’re not just in it for the money.
The U.S. economy is in a good state, but prices are significantly higher than they were a couple of years ago, and the job market is still in a strange place. If you’re looking for higher-paid work to drive your career forward and cover those bills, it’s essential not just to look at the salary on the want ad but the broader picture around it.
To determine the most and least competitive markets for highly paid jobs, we reviewed data on job application activity for job postings on LinkedIn. Cities and states were ranked based on the number of daily job applicants for highly paid jobs within the area. The threshold for a “highly paid” job within a city or state was determined by doubling the local median annual wage and then applied on LinkedIn to tabulate the number of jobs within a city or state above the “highly paid” threshold. The number of daily applicants per job was calculated by dividing the total number of applicants for “highly paid” jobs by the total number of days each job posting had been listed. Data on median annual wage is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is at the metropolitan statistical area and state levels. We considered the 100 most populated cities in the United States, as well as the five most populated cities within each state.
Data was collected in December 2023.
Additional Sources: U.S. Census Bureau. (2023). Total Population. census.gov U.S. Census Bureau. (2023). Educational Attainment. census.gov Population.us. (n.d.) Population of Evansville, IN. population.us Population.us. (n.d.) Population of Parkerburg, WV. population.us U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2023). State and Metro Area Employment, Hours & Earnings. bls.gov
Lotte van Rijswijk
An ambitious Content Team Lead working with Career.io since 2022, Lotte collaborates with all members of the team from writers to illustrators to ensure high-quality content across platforms. Always interested in finding new trends and topics to help improve offerings, she also oversees other team members and works to support them wherever possible.