Zig-Zag Career Paths: Where Will You Be in Five Years?

Need Help With Choosing a New Career Path? Zig-Zag Your Way to Success

By Bridget Quigg

Would you consider your career path “typical?” Did you move step-by-step from an assistant to a senior director in the same company? Or did you zig-zag from salesperson to set designer to sea captain?

Online salary database PayScale.com decided to take a look at the many leaps, steps and sharp turns people take during their working lives. With PayScale’s GigZig career path tool, you can look at real people’s career path information to see what workers in a certain job were doing five years ago and what they go on to do five years later. Some of the answers may surprise you.

Will working as a lifeguard guarantee you a career in graphic design one day? Not necessarily, but it turns out that graphic designer is the second most common career move for lifeguards, after registered nurse, as reported by PayScale users. While it can’t predict the future, GigZig may help with choosing a new career path by seeing the wide variety of career moves that are possible.

Below is a roundup of real people’s career paths ranging from the predictable to the unexpected.

1. Bank Teller

The median annual salary for a bank teller is $21,900 per year This wage can pay the rent and help you buy some groceries, but not much else. What if you could nearly double that income in five years? It turns out that bank tellers may do just that. Some go on to become staff accountants, earning $42,700 per year. Others become loan officers, earning $41,700 annually. Some make a surprise leap to the healthcare industry working as certified medical assistants, earning $27,300 per per year.

2. Administrative Assistant

Administrative assistants do it all. They stuff envelopes, answer calls, make travel arrangements and manage schedules, all for about $30,200 per per year. An “admin” in any office usually has the opportunity to move up if they show their mettle and ingenuity. Where do they go? Among PayScale users, the majority become executive assistants, earning $35,300 per per year. The highest-paid, former administrative assistants end up as senior executive assistants or executive assistants to CEOs, earning about $47,800 per year. The most creative career shift made by some admins? Working as marketing coordinator, earning $37,400 per year.

3. Medical Assistant

The average salary for medical assistant jobs is $26,400 per per year. Responsibilities include filling out insurance forms and tidying up exam rooms. Where could this healthcare industry gig take you? Some medical assistants moved closer to treating patients as surgical technicians, earning $36,200 per year. The highest paid ones end up as physician assistants (PAs) and typically earn around $78,000 per year. That’s an annual salary boost of $51,600 in just five years. The most unusual switch? Some medical assistants become clinical research coordinators and work on the academic side of medicine earning $41,300 per year.

4. Construction Laborer

Construction laborers feel the blows of seasonal changes and economic downturns more than most. But when they do have work, they earn about $31,100 per year. Within five years, where do they go for bigger bucks? Some graduate to construction equipment operators or cement masons, earning over $42,000 per year on average. But, it’s possible to jump nearly $40,000 annually by learning the skills of a construction project manager, who make an average of $70,900 per year. Typical? Maybe not. Possible? Absolutely. The most unexpected switch comes from those construction laborers who trade in jeans for slacks and become operations managers, earning $57,900 per year.

5. Musician or Singer

Choosing a career as a struggling musician has long been seen as a gig that gets you nowhere. But, according to PayScale’s findings, it takes people just about anywhere. The majority of the results for former full-time musicians and singers are in the music arena, such as church organist; music director; or art, drama or music teacher. But, other musicians have made career moves that are more unexpected, like working as a grant writer, security officer, staff accountant or bank branch manager. Which choice is the best paid? Professor of higher education earning $74,300 per year.

6. Legal Assistant

This gig gets you plenty of exposure to life in the legal system. Legal assistants earn about $34,200 per year to gather and analyze legal articles, prepare affidavits or other documents, file pleadings, etc. It looks like when they move on, many legal assistants become paralegals, getting a bump in salary to $41,400 per year. The ones who earn the most become lawyers, earning about $80,700 per year, or corporate or senior paralegals, earning close to $53,200 per year.

7. Assistant Financial Consultant

For those who want to one day manage wealthy people’s money, starting out as an assistant financial consultant might work well. You can be trained on the job after completing a finance or related degree and earn $34,200 per year to direct and coordinate financial activities at a branch, office, or department of a bank, brokerage firm, or insurance department. The next step for many assistant financial assistants is working as a personal financial advisor, making about $54,800 per year. Other top earners have become senior financial analysts pulling in $73,000 per year.

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