Surprising Careers that Could Pay Six Figures

Careers with High Average Pay

Think you have to go to law or medical school to find a job that could potentially pay six figures? Think again.

By Jennifer Berry    

When you picture people with six-figure salaries, who comes to mind? Doctors? Lawyers? It's true that these careers are known for bringing in the big bucks, but they aren't the only ones with potential to pay well.

Rich Feller, a counseling and career development professor at Colorado State University, identifies a few factors of these high-paying careers. "As a rule of thumb, more risk, being around people of high stature or stardom, or having specialized skills in large cities means you will find higher pay."

So which careers fall under this potential six-figure umbrella? Keep reading to learn more - and get ready, because some of these jobs might surprise you.

Career #1 - Loan Officer
Average annual salary for top 10 percent of workers: $112,370*
Average annual salary: $65,900*

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You probably know loan officers handle the mountain of paperwork that comes along when people want to buy a house, car, or college education - but did you know that some loan officers could potentially earn $100k to do it?

As a loan officer, you might determine the best kind of loan for a customer and explain the details and restrictions of the loan to them, notes the U.S. Department of Labor.

Loan officers in New York have the highest average salary at $104,230 - which is nearly $25,000 higher than the next highest-paying state on the list (the District of Columbia, whose average salary is $79,190.)*

Why the big bucks? Being a loan officer involves a lot more than just filling out some paperwork. Just like casino managers, loan officers also deal with money and risk which - as Feller states - generally leads to better pay.

How do I prepare for this career? According to the Department of Labor, commercial loan officer positions often require a bachelor's degree in finance, economics, or a related field. You may need to understand business accounting, financial statements, and cash flow analysis in order to decide which loans to approve.


Career #2 - Elevator Mechanic
Average annual salary for top 10 percent of workers: $101,390*
Average annual salary: $70,010*

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When someone says "mechanic," do you immediately think of a six-figure salary? Probably not. Surprisingly though, elevator mechanics could bring home an average salary north of the five-figure mark.

As an elevator mechanic, you might assemble, install, or replace equipment like elevators, escalators, or moving walkways, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Once it's in place, you might maintain and repair this equipment, or even modernize older equipment to bring it up to current standards.

Are you a fan of the northeast? New Hampshire pays the highest average salary for elevator mechanics at $97,530.*

Why the big bucks? "An elevator mechanic is a skilled craftsperson working mostly in cities with high-rise buildings, so wages are naturally higher," says Feller. "There are few places to learn this skill, so finding the network that helps you get the instruction you'll need is limited - thus the higher pay."

How do I prepare for this career? Most elevator installers receive their education through an apprenticeship program that usually lasts around four years and combines on-the-job training with classroom instruction, notes the Department of Labor. As elevators become more sophisticated, workers may need to earn a certificate or associate's degree in electronics.


Career #3 - Human Resources Manager
Average annual salary for top 10 percent of workers: $130,090*
Average annual salary: $108,600*

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If you think human resources managers simply hire and fire people, you might be surprised to learn about the other important roles they play in today's companies - and the potentially high salary that some can earn for doing it.

Most HR managers today consult with top executives about changing policies to enhance morale and productivity, and limit job turnover, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. As an HR manager, you might also handle employee benefits, interview and hire new staff, and provide training and development opportunities for workers to improve their skills.

New Jersey currently has the highest average salary for HR managers at $134,170.*

Why the big bucks? "HR managers in larger companies overseeing large numbers of staff often have higher education and experience requirements," says Feller. "They will naturally get paid more than they would within smaller companies where an HR manager might have started as an entry-level generalist."

How do I prepare for this career? According to the Department of Labor, a bachelor's degree is one typical path of entry into this occupation, with employers seeking college grads in human resources, human resources administration, industrial and labor relations, or with a technical or business background.


Career #4 - Buyer and Purchasing Agent, Farm Products
Average annual salary for top 10 percent of workers: $101,080*
Average annual salary: $63,540* 

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Did you know that some people could earn a six-figure salary by spending money for a living? If that sounds interesting, you might want to consider a career as a purchasing agent for farm products.

As a purchasing agent for farm products, you'll probably work to get the best deal for your company - the highest quality goods and services at the lowest possible cost, says the U.S. Department of Labor. You may study sales records and inventory of current stock, follow the supply and demand of certain products, and identify both foreign and domestic suppliers.

You probably won't be surprised that the state with the highest average salary is Kansas at $80,370.* Kansas ranks third in the U.S. in the number of acres devoted to farmland, notes a March 2011 report by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Why the big bucks? "Buyers and purchasing agents of farm products are dealing with large companies," Feller says. "They make large money decisions involving greater risk and pay."

How do I prepare for this career? According to the Department of Labor, some employers prefer applicants with a bachelor's or master's degree in engineering, business, economics, or one of the applied sciences. A master's degree may be required for advancement to many of the top-level purchasing manager jobs.


Career #5 - Casino Manager
Average annual salary for top 10 percent of workers: $116,070*
Average annual salary: $73,940*

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Are you intrigued by the multibillion-dollar world of gaming? You might be surprised to learn that the managers roaming the casino floor don't have to gamble to walk away with a tidy sum of money.

As a casino manager, you might circulate among tables to make sure gamblers play by the rules of the games - or explain the rules to patrons who aren't familiar with them, the U.S. Department of Labor notes. Your daily responsibilities may also include scheduling station assignments for dealers, or interviewing, training, and evaluating new hires.

You might think Nevada, home of the glitzy Las Vegas, pays the highest average state salary to casino managers - but it's actually Pennsylvania at $91,850.*

Why the big bucks? "Most jobs dealing with money that involve risk will lead to better pay," says Feller. And what's a casino all about? Money and risk, which means a career as a casino manager certainly fits into this category.

How do I prepare for this career? According to the Department of Labor, an associate's or bachelor's degree is helpful, but not required for most casino manager positions. What might be more helpful is previous gaming experience - as a dealer, for example - and a broad knowledge of casino rules, regulations, procedures, and games.


Career #6 - Makeup Artist
Average annual salary for top 10 percent of workers: $102,450*
Average annual salary: $50,980*

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If you're captivated by the magic of the stage or screen, you might have fantasized about playing a part behind the scenes as a makeup artist. But it's no fantasy that some makeup artists (like those working on TV shows, feature films, or Broadway hits) could potentially earn six-figure salaries.

As a makeup artist, you might use makeup to enhance an actor's appearance for a movie, television, or stage performance, says the U.S. Department of Labor. You could be self-employed or you might work for a theater or production company.

Think Broadway and Hollywood have the highest average salaries for makeup artists? You've got good instincts; New York has the highest average salary at $77,420, followed closely by California at $75,870.*

Why the big bucks? Not every makeup artist is going to earn a six-figure salary, but if you're in the right place and work with the right people, you may be able to work your way up to the highest paying jobs. "Makeup artists that deal with high profile people are around high money environments," Feller says. "They need special education and high approval ratings, thus the greater pay when you get to that level."

How do I prepare for this career? Most makeup artists study their craft at a school of cosmetology or other specialized institute, according to the Department of Labor. You might also need a state license if you style hair. A background or courses in art and design might be helpful as well.


*All average salary, career, and education information comes from the U.S. Department of Labor, May 2010 statistics, unless otherwise noted.


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