How do people get themselves into a position of earning good incomes at young ages? Why do some people work hard for minimum wage while others have cushy jobs that are well-paid? Most importantly, how can you become one of the latter?
In this article, I’ll attempt to provide a definitive answer for the last question. I’ll lay out a system you can use and clear steps you can follow towards moving into a job paying more than $100,000 a year. I’ll also give you ways to make sure that such a job comes with good conditions.
Who am I to be making these sorts of claims?
Before I begin, you may be asking yourself how I know that this strategy works. That’s simple. I got my first job paying in excess of $100,000 at the age of 27 and have been working in such jobs ever since (I'm now 34). I've spent a number of years earning in excess of $200,000 per annum from my day-job, although I’ve recently fallen below that level chiefly because I moved from London to Sydney and the pay-levels aren’t as high here. I still earn far in excess of the $100,000 mark though.
This earning ability isn’t tied to any one particular employer or geographic location. I’ve worked in Europe and Australia on this sort of money, and been offered a job in the US which I didn’t end up taking. I’ve also switched employers a few times, usually increasing my pay, and often finding a new job within a matter of days.
As well as earning good money, I’m also treated very well when I work. I generally work 40 hours a week, with overtime rare. I take breaks when I choose, work at my own pace, and get a number of other good benefits.
Of course, there are many people out there who are paid much better than me. I’m still on a multiple of the average income, however, so you can trust that I know what I’m talking about. I’m not saying this to boast, but to establish credibility.
Okay, enough about me, let’s move on to the strategy.
Step 1: Choose the right profession
Some professions are simply paid much better than others. This is such an obvious statement that it seems silly to even bother typing it, yet most people wilfully ignore this truth.
Choosing the right occupation has a huge impact on the likelihood of you being well-paid. What you want to look for is a vocation in which a significant proportion of those practicing it are well-paid.
Many people look at what Tom Cruise, Stephen King, and Tiger Woods get paid and decide that the professions they work in are good ways to get rich. If only I could get some success in acting/writing/professional sports then I could be as rich as Tom/Stephen/Tiger, goes the thinking.
But there's a flaw in this logic. Highly-paid entertainment and sports stars are so rare that they're exceptional. The celebrities you read about in magazines who are earning millions of dollars are the best paid from that profession in the world. Out of the millions of people trying to work as actors, 99% are lucky if they make a living wage during any single year. Tom Cruise is a freak, that's why he gets so much attention.
Your chances of becoming among the biggest-earners globally in any profession are extremely small, and this is not something you should realistically rely on.
In fact, considering that they are among the best-paid people on the planet in their respective careers, Tom, Stephen and Tiger are actually poorly remunerated. Consider what people in other professions who are the best-paid in the world earn and you can see this truth. Stephen King isn’t going to be begging on the street any time soon, but compared to Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, he’s a relative pauper.
You are much more likely to be well-paid in professions such as medicine, law, or finance than in graphic-design, journalism, or teaching. But don't think you are restricted just to these three choices; professions in which the average pay is high are widespread.
Look up salary-surveys for one that’s suited to you.
If you can’t find anything that’s of interest, and decide to choose a low-paid profession instead, that’s fine. If what you get paid is less important than being able to do exaclty what you want to, that's a noble thing. But this is a conscious choice and you have to accept that your preference is to have a high probability of being badly-paid.
Once you've chosen a vocation, find out what kind of skills, qualifications and experience you need to work in that field. This is fairly easy to do by looking at job ads, and speaking to recruitment agents, employers, and those already in the industry.
Step 2: Get an education and qualifications in your chosen profession
The next step is to learn as much as you can about your chosen profession by studying up on the theory of it. Usually, this involves some kind of formal study, but it can also sometimes be self-taught. Look for the qualifications and skills that are being asked for in job ads. Your aim is to become the person they are asking for in those ads.
Getting qualified and educated can seem like a daunting task. Entry-level qualifications in many well-paid occupations can take years to earn. However, if you consider that most people will work for about forty years, an investment of four or five years isn’t that big a deal.
If you need to keep working, consider studying part-time. I'm doing a part-time post-graduate degree at the moment as well as holding down a full-time job and running a few websites. It's difficult, but not impossible.
This is probably the step that requires the biggest time commitment, but if you consider that it may lead to doubling or tripling your yearly income, the long-run payoff will almost certainly be worth it. Of course, a good education provides many other benefits other than just monetary ones, and you will also be gaining those along the way.
Educating yourself to have useful skills is a life-long process, and this step will never fully be completed. However, once you are qualified to move into your chosen vocation, move on to step 3.
Step 3: Choose the right geographic location
Where you choose to live can be just as important as what you choose to do in gaining a well-paid job. If you’re aiming at moving into the finance industry, then New York City obviously offers far more opportunity than rural Kansas. If you’re looking at being a mine engineer, then Chicago probably isn’t the right city for you.
Step 4: Polish up your resume
A good resume is one of the best tools you can have in getting a highly-paid job. While it usually won’t land you a role on its own, it is a foot in the door. Having a poor resume can mean being denied access to the best jobs as your opportunities are dropped in the paper-recycle bin before you even get started.
Spend a lot of time writing and rewriting your resume. Read books on the subject and ask people you know for advice. Always be thinking about how you can improve your resume. What qualifications can you get to put on there? What experience can you add that would beef it up?
Time spent on your resume is boring. Nobody wants to do this task. But the payoff can be enormous. If your resume helps you get a better paid job, the time spent on it can add up to tens of thousands of dollars per hour.
Step 5: Improve your job interviewing technique
The other bridge you have to cross on your way to a well-paid job is usually an interview. Once again, read books and advice articles on interview techniques. Get lots of practice by going to actual interviews. You can find more on this topic in my Do job interviews like a pro article.
Step 5: Get an entry-level position in your new profession
While Step 2 is probably the most time-consuming, this step is the most disheartening. Breaking into a new profession can be very difficult. It’s the old - you can’t get a job without experience and you can’t get experience without a job - problem.
The strategy to use here is the numbers technique. Send your resume to every possible place that could lead to an eventual job. Send it to agencies, employers, contacts in the industry, and anyone else you can think of that might be able to help you get a foot in the door. Apply for every single job you can see listed. Send out a hundred resumes, then send out a hundred more and a hundred more. Opportunities can come from unexpected sources, so err on the side of sending it to too many people.
Needless to say, you are likely to get a large number of rejections. Expect this, and try not to let it get you down. If you get a “thanks but no thanks” email, delete it without a second thought. All you need is one person to say “yes” and if that means putting up with a thousand “no”es, then be prepared to make that sacrifice.
You will likely be invited to a few interviews, but usually won’t get the job. Some of these interviews may be quite humiliating. Interviewers can often see themselves as gatekeepers for their profession, and many do their best to try and discourage newcomers.
Try not to let a bad interview get you down, just keep plugging away. Put them down to a learning experience. Many tough interviews have similar characteristics, and with practice you’ll get better at dealing with them.
Your main aim during this step is to get some experience, so don’t be too ambitious with your pay goals. If a job offers reasonably low pay, but good experience that will add a lot to your resume, jump at it.
Step 6: Change jobs and employer
Once you've been working in your entry-level position for a year, you’ll have likely learnt a lot. The first few months on any new job and particularly in a new occupation, can be a very stressful learning experience.
You'll almost certainly learn much more during your first year in a job than in subsequent years. By the end of your first year, you'll probably be starting to get comfortable in your job, but you probably also won't be growing much. This is the time to change jobs, aiming to move up the ladder a little.
When you change jobs, do so with an eye to getting a significant increase in pay and responsibilities. Keep your current job while you search for a change, and take your time. You have the luxury of being a lot more choosy than you were in Step 5 by this stage, so look for something good.
I also recommend changing employer during this stage. There are a few reasons for this.
The first is that you are more likely to get a big pay increase somewhere else. It’s human nature not to want to pay more for something you’ve already got, and that’s how your employer will generally view the situation. Even if you move into a new job at the same place, your employer is going to have a lot of resistance to increasing your pay significantly.
The second reason is that every workplace is different. By moving to a new organization, you'll be forced to learn a new way of doing things. Even in similar jobs, the composition of the tasks required is usually very different from organization to organization. A new employer will add an experience entry on your resume, and a list of new projects and tasks.
The third reason is that it’s risky to become too tied to any one organization during your career. As well as good pay and conditions, you want a relative level of autonomy. You need the ability to get yourself a good job independently of any particular organization.
Spending too long with one employer reduces the likelihood of this occurring. It gives your resume little in the way of depth. A resume with only one employer on it rarely looks as good as one with more.
You also risk becoming institutionalized. Every organization has their own way of doing things. The longer you spend in one place, the more you'll come to see their way as the only way. You'll become too comfortable and reduce your chances of growing.
Step 7: Change jobs and employer again, and again
By this stage you should be getting pretty close to, or will have passed, the magic $100,000 a year mark. If you’re not there yet, change jobs and employer at least every couple of years until you get there.
If you've reached the magic pay mark, have good working conditions, and have a level of autonomy in being able to find a new job easily if you so wish, then you can ignore this step and do pretty much what you like. You’re at the same level as me, and I probably don’t have much more to teach you on this subject.
So there they are, my seven steps to a job paying more than $100,000 a year. Put them into practice today, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a good earner.