The advance was broad-based and followed a gain of 282,000 jobs in April, the Labor Department reported on Friday. Unemployment in May was unchanged at 6.3%.
The increase in payrolls lifted total employment past the peak of 138.4 million reached in January 2008, one month after the start of the deepest recession since World War II.
"It’s taken an extremely long period of time to gain back all of those jobs, much longer than any other cycle," said Tom Porcelli, chief US economist at RBC Capital Markets. "It really drives home how painfully slow the process has been."
Improving business confidence as sales grow and the US economy rebounds from its worst performance in three years will probably mean headcounts will continue to climb. Rising employment gives Federal Reserve policymakers reason to keep paring back record monetary stimulus.
"We're seeing the continuation of solid payrolls gains, which is an accomplishment for the economy and will boost consumer and business fundamentals," said Laura Rosner, an economist at BNP Paribas in New York. "We’re slowly moving in the direction of stronger earnings growth, which is really what we need to see for the recovery to continue."
May marked the fourth straight month payrolls have increased at least 200,000, the first time that has happened since September 1999 to January 2000.
Employment in health services climbed by the most in nine months, while payrolls at factories, business services and retailers increased as well. Hourly earnings also picked up from a year ago.
The Labor Department’s survey of households, used to calculated the unemployment rate, showed 192,000 people entered the workforce, almost matching the number who found jobs. The participation rate, which indicates the share of working-age people in the labour force, held at 62.8%, matching the lowest since March 1978.