Even though the $100,000+ salary club gets less exclusive each year with inflation, it is still considered by many to be a sign of success. According to reports, only about 5% of workers nationwide make six figures. Although it is by no means necessary to make that much in order to lead a fulfilling life and even a comfortable retirement, I think many people (including me) are still curious as to who makes six-figures.
As I approach my 30th birthday, many of my friends are reaching or surpassing this mark as they graduate with advanced degrees or move up the corporate ladder. Here are some examples of people I know who are earning more than $100,000 per year. Keep in mind I live on the West Coast, so salaries are higher overall. (Cost of living calculator) Many of these are expected, but some may surprise you.
Investment Banker – Education needed: Bachelor’s in almost any field, preferably business or engineering/math related. If you love competition and working 100 hours a week, you can easily make much more than $100k per year.
Lawyer – Education needed: J.D. Work hard, schmooze a bit, get a good clerkship, land a job at a respected firm and you’ll be a 6F’er. As an associate you’ll also be putting in 80+ hour weeks. However, if you want to work at a non-profit, your salary will be significantly less, maybe in the $40k range.
Physician – Education needed: M.D. plus 3-10 years of residency. Salary varies wildly for doctors too. Many pediatricians make less than $100k per year, while a cardiac surgeon (10 years of residency) can make $500k+ per year. Keep in mind during residency you’ll be earning $40k a year and also working 80 hours a week.
Small Business Owner – Education needed: None. These are mostly the parent of my friends, who have created successful small businesses worth millions, from restaurants to import/export to service/construction. The common thread between all these people is that it takes enormous commitment and dedication, often at the expense of family life. Be prepared to work seven days a week, all the while knowing that you could easily lose money each month.
Marketing / MBA Grads – Education: MBA. Yet another degree-specific job. Get your Bachelor’s, work a couple years, get into a top MBA program, pay lots of tuition, and basically everyone gets a $100k job on the way out. It sounds generic but it’s true.
Manager of Tech Monkeys – Education needed: B.S. This includes engineering, computer science, and IT folks. I make fun because this includes a lot of people I went to school with. Many graduated in 2000 during the tech boom, quickly getting jobs at NoBusinessModel.com and such. Then the market tanked, and they jumped from job to job. Crazily enough, most of them still got salary increases during each transition. Six years later, many of them are project managers at large corporations and making $100k+.
Civil Servants with Overtime – Education needed: varies. You might be surprised to know how much police officers and fire fighters earn in your area. If you account for the overtime, it puts many into six-figure territory. Add in their pension plans, and you’ve got a got a great compensation package. I often think about getting a state job just for the retirement benefits.
Salesperson – The people who make the biggest money are those that combine knowledge about an specific area with great interpersonal skills. Cars, pharmaceuticals, whatever. A top software or product salesperson working on commission can bring in 7-figures.
In the end, there is no real shortcut to making a great salary. In many fields (although certainly not all), as long you work hard, get along with others, and keep improving your skills, sooner or later you’ll rise up the ranks and reach the 6-figure level. Many of these careers require a lot of upfront investment in tuition, but I’ve never heard one person regret doing it. With all these young people working 80 hour weeks, it’s no wonder people are waiting longer and longer to get married or even move out of their parent’s houses.
Do you make six figures, perhaps in a unique job? Share your story anonymously in the comments.
Update: See the Six Figure Salary Survey Results.