For those entering the work force now, it is perhaps difficult to understand just how bad a job market can be. Similarly, for those who have survived tough economic times -- times not too far removed -- it is difficult to fathom how good the job market currently is.

The most recent statistics put the unemployment rate in the greater Washington region at 2.3 percent, with suburban counties coming in at a staggeringly low 1.9 percent.

Indeed, recent research suggests that the hunt for workers has even reached the ranks of those thought previously unemployable. Across all socioeconomic classes, and in all categories of work, people are finding jobs.

As the stories below demonstrate, the high-tech boom is only a part of the story. Health care, hospitality, continuing education -- a true cross-section of our service-based economy is desperate for motivated people of all ages and experience.

In the process of looking for the "hot jobs" in the Washington region, our reporters found much more than the biggest paychecks or the fastest careers. They found people who have recently made -- or are in the midst of making -- crucial decisions about their lives and work. Whether it's a political science professor who went to work for a software company, or a career Marine who became a business professor, what emerges are snapshots of a work force surprisingly adaptable to the opportunities of a robust economy.

-- Terence O'Hara,

Washington Business Editor