Six figures in 3 to 5 years
January 16, 2015 11:59 AM   Subscribe

My friend wants a new career. The only requirement is that said job makes tons of money. What should she aim for?

She has a BA in Women's Studies, a Master's in adult education (no credential), and a great deal of business experience. I'm not at liberty to say more about the specifics of her career so far. She's American and in the Bay Area but open to moving. She's in her mid-20's and done with following a passion and just wants tons of money. Regardless of whether that's a good idea, what are some options? We're just looking for ideas for career paths that require a minimum of additional education (ideally with a high potential for education being funded by an outside source, but open to anything) and a six-figure salary.

It is my belief that she could succeed in literally any field if she decided that was the one, whether it was physically difficult, gross/gory, travel- and time- heavy, or incompatible with family. Literally only dollars and feasibility are the considerations-- she will narrow the search once we generate a list. Yes, we will consider questionably-moral professions. I'm at a loss beyond doctor or lawyer, so what does Mefi know?
posted by blnkfrnk to Work & Money (41 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Actuaries can easily make 6 figures IF you can pass all the exams and are willing to either be management or a consultant.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 12:03 PM on January 16, 2015 [8 favorites]

Sex work or the oil industry.

Specifically, those the only careers I know of where you can be essentially completely unqualified, totally unfamiliar with the industry entirely, have no experience and be making six figures well inside of a year.

And there are reasons that they are both, essentially, always hiring.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 12:04 PM on January 16, 2015 [12 favorites]

Consulting in general. Given her background, consultant to institutes of higher education or non-profits?
posted by shortstuff13 at 12:05 PM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sales. It's usually a meritocracy. If you're good at it, you can make a lot of dough. Pharmaceutical sales are the best, you get a car, insurance, gas money. You just drive around talking to practitioners. It's a really sweet and lucrative gig.

I sold telecommunications services and made a nice chunk of dough.

Working for Google will be good money, or Salesforce, or Facebook. You see where this all leads.

Sales. No additional education required.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:05 PM on January 16, 2015 [8 favorites]

B2B technology sales (commission-based). IF she's awesome at sales, she can rake in some serious bucks. She could probably get in the door by starting with Inside Sales and then work her way to outside sales.
posted by saturngirl at 12:05 PM on January 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Per the BLS, these professions had average annual wages over $100K in 2013.

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons
Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Physicians and Surgeons
Internists, General
Physicians and Surgeons, All Other
Family and General Practitioners
Chief Executives
Pediatricians, General
Dentists, All Other Specialists
Dentists, General
Nurse Anesthetists
Petroleum Engineers
Architectural and Engineering Managers
Marketing Managers
Natural Sciences Managers
Computer and Information Systems Managers
Lawyers and Judicial Law Clerks
Airline Pilots, Copilots, and Flight Engineers
Lawyers, Judges, and Related Workers
Financial Managers
Marketing and Sales Managers
Advertising, Marketing, Promotions, Public Relations, and Sales Managers
Sales Managers
Law Teachers, Postsecondary
Top Executives
Air Traffic Controllers
Astronomers and Physicists
General and Operations Managers
Operations Specialties Managers
Aircraft Pilots and Flight Engineers
Advertising and Promotions Managers
Compensation and Benefits Managers
Public Relations and Fundraising Managers
Human Resources Managers
Management Occupations
Purchasing Managers
Computer and Information Research Scientists
Geoscientists, Except Hydrologists and Geographers
Managers, All Other
Training and Development Managers
Computer Hardware Engineers
Nuclear Engineers
Health Specialties Teachers, Postsecondary
Aerospace Engineers
Judges, Magistrate Judges, and Magistrates
Software Developers, Systems Software
Chemical Engineers
Engineering Teachers, Postsecondary
Air Traffic Controllers and Airfield Operations Specialists
Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents
Sales Engineers
Medical and Health Services Managers
Political Scientists
Education Administrators, Postsecondary
Economics Teachers, Postsecondary
posted by paper chromatographologist at 12:06 PM on January 16, 2015 [8 favorites]

Honestly 6 figures in the Bay Area is... not that high. Like it doesn't need to be anything especially special, a lot of jobs in tech with 5 years of experience are 6 figure jobs, not just the coders (for whom 100,000 is pretty low).

I'd probably go for Sales for someone with a lot of Business experience and no specific technical skills. There are a lot of tech companies trying to get advertisers. She could also go into Project Management, that would likely make her low 6 figures in 5 years if she's really good at it. And she has to be good at finding jobs and not afraid to do some Job Hopping, honestly. It's a ridiculously good time for hiring in the Bay Area -- I went from 60K in 2011 to 120K now doing roughly the same thing (though more advanced now) via 3 job hops (and some raises)
posted by brainmouse at 12:06 PM on January 16, 2015 [6 favorites]

Coming back to say that if she is in the Bay Area, she could learn to code and break into the tech industry.
posted by shortstuff13 at 12:08 PM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Law school is typically three years. Good grades at a good law school leading to a big-law job usually has a starting salary in six figures. (Caveat: Also may entail horrendous hours and loads of debt. Yay!)
posted by ochenk at 12:10 PM on January 16, 2015

Software development, especially in the Bay Area.

I'm skeptical about the super-short coding bootcamp programs, but there are other options for education/credentials. UBC in Vancouver has an excellent 2-year bachelor's degree in computer science for people who already have a bachelor's degree, it includes paid internships, and even international student tuition will be a lot lower than most American schools. There are probably similar options closer to home too.
posted by ripley_ at 12:13 PM on January 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

If she can learn to code or to be a program manager, she could join any of a number of software companies (either in Silicon Valley or out) and easily make six figures in 3-5 years, even if she didn't want to go back to school to formally get a programming degree.
posted by ethidda at 12:13 PM on January 16, 2015

Law is a bad idea. It's extremely expensive, and the odds of obtaining a high paying job are extremely low.

One thing that your question suggests, which I think is worth really bringing into focus, is that she should move. She could probably be a pharmacist (for example) in Kansas City or Minneapolis or Tampa or New Orleans and make $70,000, and wind up effectively making more money than she would making $100,000 in San Francisco.

Consultants for major firms (McKinsey, for example) make very good money. They also need stellar credentials and skills to get those jobs, and they work like dogs when they have them.

And maybe she should try to move laterally or get promoted. This isn't a sexy answer, but if she has loads of business experience and lives in an expensive place like San Francisco, shouldn't she be able to make six figures doing what she's doing?
posted by J. Wilson at 12:21 PM on January 16, 2015 [14 favorites]

Nthing that law school is a *terrible* idea right now. As in: no, absolutely fucking not. Trust me on this one.
posted by holborne at 12:25 PM on January 16, 2015 [24 favorites]

+1 for software engineering. Starting salaries immediately out of school for people with a Bachelors Degree are already in the six figures (well above when considering bonuses and equity) at the companies I'm familiar with. Someone who doesn't have a degree might not be able to get those specific jobs, but perhaps the jobs with lesser requirements wouldn't be that far off.
posted by primethyme at 12:28 PM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am in the Bay Area witha 6-figure salary and given how expensive it is to live here I wouldn't call it "earning tons of money", more like "earning enough to rent my own place with an in-unit washer dryer". I am in program management. My job is extremely stressful, which is why it's in the 6 figure range.

My friends who are software engineers have been able to buy houses in the Bay Area.
posted by raw sugar at 12:37 PM on January 16, 2015

Software engineering, especially as a woman. She may need to get a masters.
posted by amaire at 12:50 PM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sales is probably the fastest way to do this without needing experience (because no matter how great she is, nobody's going to hire her at C-level with 3 years of experience, even with an MBA). If she's attractive and has mad hustle, she should be able to get into luxury-item sales, maybe starting out commission-only. Think super-rich - yachts and yacht accessories, private jets and furnishings for maximum commissions and perks.

she could learn to code and break into the tech industry

I am surprised to hear tell of these 20-something software engineers with no experience sitting on their bags of money and houses in the Bay Area and apparently need to reconsider my life/career. I'd say research that real hard before committing to that course of action. Don't forget she'll need to be really good, probably twice as good as her male peers, and able to prove it.

Inventing something really hot and selling it is something she could do, if she can get financing and knows experienced coders. Hot is elusive, though - see Ello. Trying to invent the next Twitter is still probably a surer bet than law school, which I wouldn't suggest to my worst enemies.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:56 PM on January 16, 2015 [6 favorites]

Yes, the answer is Sales. Specifically tech industry enterprise Sales. She would have to start at the bottom, but numbers are everything in Sales and 1 year of experience somewhere slanging SAAS and she could, if motivated and personable, move into more serious money making role. No idea about the market in SF but in a place like Austin TX companies like, say, Dropbox, are hiring like crazy.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:16 PM on January 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

I would argue strenuously against software engineering unless she is already into it and knows that she likes doing it enough to do it as a career for years and years, not even taking into account the various challenges for a woman in the culture of the industry. For whatever reason, it's got a lot of this kind of "start out with no experience and in six months, you too can be making six figures and well on your way to IPO millionaire!" narrative surrounding it. It's only in the 2010s that assholes have started trying to fucking monetize this pattern, which I cannot condemn enough and have a whole bunch of opinions about, but the pattern has been going on for a long, long time, literally before I was even born.

I've seen people flame out from this idealized notion of a career path when they started in CS programs in the nineties, I've seen variations of it in very "boom" since then, and I've personally witnessed a ton of people flameout from this career even when they'd managed to pull it off successfully and Live The Dream for many years. Hell, read back on AskMe and you'll find it littered with "I'm making a ton of money in my cushy IT job, but I'm not fullfilled, please tell me what I can do as a Smart Generalist with no other qualifications as a second career!" type asks.

The unpleasant reality that no one mentions is that if you are not really into programming for it's own sake, there are probably very few other good white collar jobs that are as stressful, tedious, and aggravating. I often really, really hate my job and I've been programming for fun since I was six. It combines all the nitpicky, detailed drudgery of the worst kind of bean-counting with what can be massive pressure or bureaucratic constraints in even the best of jobs, and those aren't even the ones you'll be getting when you start out. I can only imagine how much worse it would wear on me if I was only there for a paycheck - and, I mean this in the most charitable way possible, if your friend has already flaked out on various career paths to the tune of ditching a Master's without a certificate and what I'm going to assume is a mountain of debt to the point that she NEEDS a six figure job, she probably just flat out does not have the grit to pull it off.

On top of that, the daily reality of what it's like to work as a developer is nothing like what it's like learning to program, learning new languages or technologies, or working on a project you enjoy for fun, even if that project involves other people, so there's a very real failure mode that I have seen people fall victim to, where they love the experience of getting themselves to the point of being an entry-level programmer, think of themselves as a hacker/coder/whatever term of self-identification is cool these days, and just don't fucking understand why they're so goddamn miserable in their professional life.

But all that said, if she does decide to do it: just say Fuck No to bootcamps. She's in the Bay Area already, she's a woman, with a little hustle she can get just as much networking and exposure to companies that are hiring than a bootcamp would give her, and depending on how corporate she wants to go she can get around lacking even the sort of "credential" a bootcamp provides. Paying tens of thousands of dollars to some bullshit ~bootcamp~ for things any reasonably self-motivated programmer is going to have to teach herself on her own many, many, many times over in the course of a career is a Bad Idea, especially if she is already in debt.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 1:18 PM on January 16, 2015 [21 favorites]

Good grades at a good law school leading to a big-law job usually has a starting salary in six figures.

No it doesn't.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:38 PM on January 16, 2015 [14 favorites]

Good grades at a good law school leading to a big-law job usually has a starting salary in six figures.

Not necessarily. And the percentage of students with good grades at a good law school who land big-law jobs in the first place is a lot less than 100.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:13 PM on January 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

No, no, no, no, no to the law school thing. Law hasn't been like that for a LONG time. They were talking about a glut of law graduates back when I was in undergrad in the 90s, and it's gotten worse since then. Just no.

The Master and Margarita Mix so has it down for what it means to be a software engineer/programmer/IT person. I was in a pretty hardcore team with people who loved what they did back in the early 2000s. Most of them are not in IT at all anymore. Usually when we get together, one of the topics of conversation is around who's still in the IT industry.

My recommendation is sales. My experience with the various sales teams I've worked with is similar to what's been posted above.
posted by RogueTech at 2:13 PM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

My real estate agent has got to be making at least ten grand a month. She's making $12K just off me in the next month and I know I'm not the only thing she has going on right now. Course I'd never want her job because it's a lot of evenings and weekends and the hours are generally long. It might take a while to build up a client list but the entry bar is low and I'd imagine a responsive and personable person who doesn't mind the hours would do pretty well no matter what, especially in San Francisco.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:32 PM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

There are many educational tech startups now in the Bay Area, even if she doesn't necessarily want to go into software engineering/coding, she could easily earn 6 figures in program or product management for any of those companies. It seems like her qualifications make her ideally suited to that type of company especially since it's a growing area in tech.
posted by TwoWordReview at 2:34 PM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


But she has to be really good at it to make the cut. And imo being great at salesmanship to the point of making 6 figs means being a natural extrovert and really good with people and charming. In other words you either have it or you don't.

In education she could go for a financial career towards analyst. An entry-level analyst from a top school can make over 100k PLUS bonuses... and once you surpass the entry-level status the bonuses can add up to 6 fig salary.
posted by manderin at 2:47 PM on January 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

I realize other people have un-recommended law already, but I want to just really drive the point home. NOT law school.

Real estate (which is really just another type of high-end sales work) does seem like it could work -- it depends on an ability to build and maintain networks and work people, but you don't need to move many million-dollar homes at 3 or 6 percent to start pulling in six figures.
posted by craven_morhead at 3:29 PM on January 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

Reiterate manderin's suggestion.

Sales is the best (hit the ground running without extensive training) profession, but you really have to have a natural flair for it in order to eat the cake. Needs focus, charm, drive, quick-study and adaptability. Not everyone has all of these qualities, and you can improve them somewhat, but you fail if you don't have the basic essentials down.

(Also, if $ is your aim in life, the finance places where they shuffle the $'s is probably a good place to make $).
posted by ovvl at 3:29 PM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Financial analysis is another career where if you don't love it the job is torturous long hours of hell.

It also is not going to be a six figure job in under a year.
posted by winna at 3:33 PM on January 16, 2015

N-thing that low 6 figures for a white collar job after 5 years in San Francisco is not that much after adjusting for cost of living. I know an executive assistant for a tech company who made $110k. And deserved it! For the grace she had in handling multiple executives and keen attention to detail.

My point is that if your friend is burned out on her first passions not making any money, It doesn't mean she needs to take a soul-less life-sucking position just for money. To me, her success depends less on a specific role, and more on being so, so good at it that she proves she's worth the salary.
posted by tinymegalo at 3:39 PM on January 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

I want to pipe in about sales that it is NOT necessary for a woman to be young and good-looking to kill it in a serious sales gig. I work in an industry where great salespeople make 7 figures, not 6, in a good year, and what makes a great saleswoman is a big, dynamic personality and a real passion for finding out what their accounts want and how to connect that what their firms have on offer, and they fall everywhere on the looks and age spectrum.
posted by MattD at 3:43 PM on January 16, 2015 [9 favorites]

This is a lot like the Seinfeld episode where George gets fired and he and Jerry are just sitting in his apartment listing random jobs he has no qualifications, and no hope for.

The fastest and most realistic way to accomplish your friend's goal is to go through the list of jobs she IS qualified for and pick the ones that are available for over 100k. Which if she has "tons of business experience" shouldn't be hard--it won't be what she's doing now, but what's related, in a way you might not immediately realize. But it's pretty hard to answer this without knowing specifics.

Or is 'business experience' code for sex work? If that's the issue, and she's worried about not having anything to put on the resume, there are previous asks that address how to manage this as well.
posted by danny the boy at 3:48 PM on January 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Has she considered starting her own business? One of the downsides to working for someone else, is that it's almost certain that you are producing more value than you yourself are taking home.
posted by rustcrumb at 4:05 PM on January 16, 2015

On the law school thing -- you seem to think your friend is very very bright. So, by all means -- if your friend gets into Yale Law, she should ignore all these naysayers and go. I know several folks who graduated from there and not a single person from their respective cohorts is hurting for work, barring one person who had to drop out of sight and go to rehab for a while.

Harvard grads do pretty well, too. Also, Stanford, if she wants to stay on the west coast. (Arguably also Columbia, but now we're getting to the point where you do still need to be in the top third of your class to be a shoe-in for the white shoe firms that pay $$$$). Otherwise, I'm with everyone else -- don't bother.

On the financial analyst/I-banking thing -- NO. This is NOT an easy career to break into once you're in your mid to late twenties. It is really, really an industry that favors the young for its entry positions (and by "young," I mean, recent college grads), UNLESS you're a quant -- in which case, she'll need to go to school for that, and she'll still be looking too old when she gets around to hitting the job market. Also, holy crap -- if you think law is tough right now, don't apply for a job in finance.
posted by mylittlepoppet at 4:33 PM on January 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

If she can get herself into a geosciences MS program (and possibly even if she can't?), I certainly know people who were making low six figures within a year or two working for Texas oil firms.
posted by Bardolph at 5:11 PM on January 16, 2015

I agree -- she needs to move. Did you know that if you made $100,000 in San Francisco, you could afford the same lifestyle for $80,000 in Chicago? Chicago is an awesome city that is very competitive with San Francisco in terms of lifestyle. If she is willing to live in a city that is less metropolitan, there is even more money to be saved.

I agree that consulting, i.e. Deloitte, McKinsey, etc. is a possible avenue. But I don't really know if her experience makes that possible for her at all. I just know people with various backgrounds can do it.

If she can get into education administration, there is a lot of money to be had there. I don't know what that path looks like or how long it takes, but I know administrators for school districts and colleges earn six figures.

And it cannot be said enough, law school is a fucking horrible investment.

If she's truly serious about making tons of money, she may want to look into finance and what it would take to get into a Wall Street situation. Working at a hedge fund or something means a normal salary and bonuses in the millions. But the hours suck and the culture is... I don't know.
posted by AppleTurnover at 5:25 PM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sales. Tech industry sales if she can get the gig. Lots of other sales industries will hire with no relevant experience, just a big personality and demonstrated hustle. I've seen the staffing industry take kids with eight months of experience selling shoes at Nordstrom and turn them into six figure earners in a couple of years IF they are lucky with their accounts and are dedicated, successful sellers.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:41 PM on January 16, 2015

Nthing B2B tech sales. I'm in a B2B tech company and our best sales folks make serious bank.
posted by grudgebgon at 6:47 PM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

In the Bay Area a lot of tech jobs are going to come with six-figure salaries - it's not that unusual at all. Sales is a good option, particularly with her master's maybe ed tech? There's a lot of money there at the moment (though I personally suspect that bubble is going to burst soon).
posted by marylynn at 8:20 PM on January 16, 2015

Real Estate. Or maybe not. Its one of the most open roads to a lot of money, but it doesn't work for everybody, all the time. Plus, income is irregular.

There are a lot marginally competent dilettante people trying to sell houses. She would have to be sure she's not one of them.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:45 AM on January 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I will agree that Bay Area bucks don't equal bucks in other areas. I was making ~$70k and felt that the best option was to rent a shared room. Now that I'm up to just under $100k I'm considering getting a studio. Not sure I actually want to because I'd immediately double my rent.

I'm in the Bay and one of my friends is a NYT best-selling novelist. He rents a townhouse. One couple that does HW and SW engineering owns as house, as does a friend who does deep work on chips and code.

Please DON'T come to the Bay. We don't have enough places to live as it is.
posted by caphector at 12:57 PM on January 17, 2015

Try teaching in a foreign country. If she has any teaching experience, she can go to Saudi Arabia or The UAE and get accommodation, expenses, etc. paid for. She could also do private teaching on the side. You can usually get about $35,000 - $50,000 a year for this, but consider that you do not have to pay for any accommodation and you can take on private students. There are also the "military teaching jobs" which usually pay $80,000 - $100,000 but you have to work quite a few hours. (And they require experience.)
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 2:31 AM on January 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

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