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11 Big-Money, Big-Status Careers

These occupations cater to those core human cravings.

Most people believe it’s shallow to choose a career based mainly on money and status, but being human, they often succumb, forgoing careers that would be more contributory and pleasurable.

So in recognition of that common human craving, here are some careers offering big money and status. Some careers that you might expect to see on the list aren’t, for example, psychologist, architect, and veterinarian, because they too often don’t meet the high-pay criterion.

Executive. Jobs as Director, VP, and C-Suite (e.g., CEO, CTO) of course, exist in all sectors: for-profit, nonprofit, and government, and in some circles, your friends might deem one of those sectors as more prestigious. Whatever the sector, unless you’re starting your own company, the road to VP+ jobs alas, tends to require a slog through the ranks.

College administrator. Top of the heap, of course, is college president, where pay can exceed a half-million dollars. But bureaucracy-heavy universities often also pay senior administrators an amount that belies their non-profit tax status.

Litigation attorney. Many such lawyers like their job because of the intellectual challenge but less so because of the issues about which they’re often scratching each other’s eyes out: rich entities fighting over nit-picky, exaggerated pecuniary grievances. Pay for even mid-level attorneys at prominent firms is typically in the mid-six figures.

Judge. This is the most prestigious pivot from litigation's trenches. Not surprising, competition for judge jobs is fierce, although less so for traffic court or administrative law judgeships, which handle, for example, appeals of denial of unemployment compensation or of special education services.

High-stress, irregular-hours physician specialties: for example, surgeon and anesthesiologist. Perhaps surprisingly, pay for many other specialties (e.g., internist or general practice) can be quite modest after expenses such as office staff, rent, and malpractice insurance. Of course, the prestige of any MD specialty is high.

Data scientist. The present and especially the future is data-centric. The data scientist is a brilliant, usually math-centric PhD-wielder who distills very large data sets into useful information, whether for commercial or non-profit purposes. Particularly prestigious these days are specialists in Deep Learning. They develop software that, based on its correct and incorrect guesses, teach itself to keep getting smarter, using what are called neural nets. There is debate about the extent to which the computers could ever get smart enough to control people, but that’s decades away from leaving the realm of science fiction.

Space engineer. Understandably, we continue to be fascinated with the universe beyond. Engineers working on manned and unmanned spacecraft is undeniably cool. Alas, you have to be, well, a rocket scientist.

Researcher. Particularly prestigious are researchers trying to cure major diseases, for example, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes, and in the psychological realm, for example, depression, autism, or Alzheimer’s. Alas, to have much control over what you study requires a Ph.D. from a prestigious institution, often a post-doc, and a research agenda that addresses a major problem such as those listed above.

Investment banker. While even some analyst-level employees make six figures, the status and big income tend to go to more senior people, especially the rainmakers: those who bring in big clients. Top-name banking firms include JP Morgan, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and Bank of America/Merrill Lynch.

Management consultant. If you can get hired (a designer-label degree is usually required), and survive the first few years of 80-hour workweeks, this intellectually stimulating career moves into solid six-figure territory and can even approach seven before you’re 40. The Big Four consulting firms are KPMG, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Also prestigious are Accenture, Bain, Booz-Allen, McKinsey, and Boston Consulting Group.

Airline pilot. Airline pilot ranks high in surveys of career prestige.

The takeaway

Most mere mortals can but look at such careers from afar and may not even aspire to them, preferring, for example, careers touted in this series’ other installments. But I’d be remiss if the series didn’t include this list of careers that appeals to such primal instincts.

I read this aloud on YouTube.

The other posts in this series include Career Change for Counselors, Career Change for Teachers, Career Change for Creatives, Career Change Ideas for Boomers, Future-Ready Careers, Careers and Employers for Liberals, Conservatives, and Libertarians, 10 Big-Impact Careers, and Big-5 Careers, those well-suited to the five major personality types.

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