Five low-paying jobs to steer clear of

Low-pay jobs to avoid
Six low-paying jobs to steer clear of

Want a career that rewards you for your hard work? Cross a few of these low-earning careers off your list, and consider these related, higher-paying alternatives instead.

By Danielle Blundell

Everybody has to make a living, right? You've got to put food on the table, clothes on your back, and a roof over your head. Well, depending on the career you choose to pursue, doing all of those things could be potentially that much easier - or harder. You could set your sights on a job that doesn't require much preparation or skill and squeak by, or aim a little higher and increase your earning potential - and ultimately, your livelihood.

While what you want out of a career varies from person to person, Michelle Riklan, owner of resume writing and career services company, Riklan Resources, urges individuals to evaluate their own circumstances, and what is important to them in a career.

If one of those must-haves for you is a high salary, don't sell yourself short. Instead of pursuing one of these five low-paying careers, consider opting for the higher-paying alternative instead.

Low-Paying Career #1 Advertising Sales Agent

Median Annual Salary
$46,290*
Top 10 percent of earners
$103,170*
Bottom 10 percent of earners
$22,930*

According to Riklan, advertising sales agents sell advertising space to businesses and individuals. Although "strong interpersonal skills are necessary for prospecting, client relations, conducting sales presentations, and account management," Riklan notes that a degree is not necessarily required, and the take-home pay reflects that.

The Better Choice Sales Engineer

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Median Annual Salary
$91,830
Top 10 percent of earners
$150,970
Bottom 10 percent of earners
$55,660

Taking your sales skills to the next level could pay off if you pursued a career as a sales engineer. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, sales engineers sell scientific and technological products or services to businesses, and must be highly-knowledgeable about them to do so.

Why It Could Pay: For Riklan, successful sales engineers have to "acquire extensive knowledge of scientific and technological products and services," and those are skills that pay off.

She says that for an individual who is working as an advertising sales agent, has strong interpersonal skills, and has completed (or is completing) an undergraduate degree, a transition to a sales engineer position is logical. "The initial learning curve would be services and products," says Riklan.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Engineering Program.

Education Options: According to the Department of Labor, these professionals typically need a bachelor's degree in engineering or a related field. Some workers with a degree in business or science may also be called sales engineers, the Department says.

Low-Paying Career #2 Bookkeeping Clerk

Median Annual Salary
$35,170
Top 10 percent of earners
$54,310
Bottom 10 percent of earners
$21,610

For Nicholas Dillon, a Wisconsin-based career and life coach, a job as a bookkeeper might expose you to basic accounting principles. But, without the extra responsibility of making monetary recommendations to supervisors, and the necessary specialty knowledge of taxes, pay will never be as competitive as you might like.

The Better Choice Accountant

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Median Annual Salary
$63,550
Top 10 percent of earners
$111,510
Bottom 10 percent of earners
$39,930

A mind for math is still a great prerequisite for working as an accountant, as looking at a company's expenses and profits could still be a big portion of your job. But, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, accountants can get even more involved in the financial security of a company by suggesting cost-cutting measures to increase the bottom line, and handling taxes and audits to make sure all dollars are accounted for properly.

Why It Could Pay: For Dillon, skilling up and getting the additional education required to pursue an accounting job brings more employment opportunities and a "huge growth in income" over something like bookkeeping. Why? Accountants have a "whole new level of responsibility, growth, and development," Dillon says.

Riklan seconds that opinion, saying that accountants have a direct bearing on profit in a way that just recording and calculating numbers as a bookkeeper does not.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Accounting Program.

Education Options: According to the Department of Labor, most accountants are required to have at least a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field. The Department says that some employers might prefer to hire those with a master's degree in accounting, or in business administration with a concentration in accounting.

Low-Paying Career #3 Computer Support Specialist

Median Annual Salary
$44,300
Top 10 percent of earners
$72,690
Bottom 10 percent of earners
$27,200

As Riklan points out, computer support specialists often troubleshoot more simplistic issues, meaning their level of expertise - and pay - isn't as high as what programmers, engineers, and developers command. She notes, however, that as support specialists "become more seasoned, they may be challenged with more complex problems to solve," and make the transition into any of those more specialized career paths with additional schooling or a certificate, if either is necessary.

The Better Choice Computer Programmer

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Median Annual Salary
$74,280
Top 10 percent of earners
$117,890
Bottom 10 percent of earners
$42,850

Instead of solving colleagues' computer problems, why not use your tech savvy to make those computer programs instead? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, computer programmers are responsible for things like writing code and examining it to make sure there are no errors in the computer programs they're writing.

Why It Could Pay: According to Dillon, a career as a programmer, as compared to something like a computer support specialist, "definitely pays more while at the same time challenging you more in the technical side of the industry."

Additionally, a career as a programmer, he says, prepares individuals to move further into the IT field, from managing projects to supervising support specialists - both things that could lead to even higher salaries down the road.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Computer Science Program.

Education Options: Although some employers may hire computer programmers with an associate's degree, the Department of Labor says most of these professionals have a bachelor's degree. Most programmers major in computer science or in a related field, it notes.

Low-Paying Career #4 Medical Assistant

Median Annual Salary
$29,370
Top 10 percent of earners
$41,570
Bottom 10 percent of earners
$21,080

For Riklan, medical assistants' pay tends to be on the lower side because while it is a health care job in a clinical environment, the bulk of the work is administrative and low-skill.

The Better Choice Dental Hygienist

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Median Annual Salary
$70,210
Top 10 percent of earners
$96,280
Bottom 10 percent of earners
$46,540

If you're game to assist doctors and nurses with their ailing patients, then why not consider working alongside dentists to help keep patients' teeth healthy and clean? That's pretty much what being a dental hygienist is all about, as according to the U.S. Department of Labor, these professionals often educate patients on how to practice good oral care, and remove tartar from teeth to keep them sparkling.

Why It Could Pay: A career as a dental hygienist involves much more of a clinical aspect to your work - seeing patients and performing services on them - and that's what could translate into higher pay, according to Riklan and Dillon.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Dental Assisting Program.

Education Options: In addition to being licensed, dental hygienists typically need an associate's degree in dental hygiene, says the Department of Labor. According to the Department, requirements for licensure vary by state.

Low Paying Career #5 Mental Health Counselor

Median Annual Salary
$40,080
Top 10 percent of earners
$66,630
Bottom 10 percent of earners
$25,430

What's missing in the role of mental health counselors is the level of authority and education that other mental health professionals, like psychologists, have, says Riklan. As a result, mental health counselors have relatively lower salaries.

The Better Choice Psychologist

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Median Annual Salary
$90,020
Top 10 percent of earners
$116,240
Bottom 10 percent of earners
$42,240

Turns out that a career as a psychologist still involves helping people work through their issues, but the median pay tends to be more competitive than the salary for a mental health counselor. Psychologists study mental processes and human behavior by studying how they relate to one another and the environment, the U.S. Department of Labor says.

Why It Could Pay: When it comes to the world of mental health, Dillon says psychologists are at the top of the totem pole, and the salaries match the level of expertise required.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Psychology Program.

Education Options: According to the Department of Labor, "psychologists need a master's, specialist, or doctoral degree in psychology." Independently practicing psychologists are also required to have a license.

* All salary information comes from the Department of Labor's Occupational Wages, May 2012.

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