Career Crystal Ball: Where Will Your Job Take You?

By Bridget Quigg
career pathWould 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 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 you see 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 salary for a bank teller is $21,900/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 $42,600/year. Others become loan officers, earning $42,400 annually. Some make a surprise leap to the health care industry working as certified medical assistants, earning $27,400/year.

2. Administrative assistant

Administrative assistants do it all. They stuff envelopes, answer calls, make travel arrangements and manage schedules, all for about $30,300/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, majority become executive assistants, earning $35,400/year. The highest-paid, former administrative assistants end up as senior executive assistants or executive assistants to CEOs, earning about $50,000/year. The most creative career shift made by some admins? Working as marketing coordinator, earning $37,400/year.

3. Medical assistant

The average salary for a medical assistant is $26,700/year. Responsibilities include filling out insurance forms and tidying up exam rooms. Where could this health care industry gig take you? Some medical assistants moved closer to treating patients as surgical technicians, earning $36,500/year. The highest paid ones end up as physician assistants (PAs) and typically earn around $76,800/year. That's an annual salary boost of $50,100 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/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 $31,600/year. Within five years, where do they go for bigger bucks? Some graduate to construction equipment operators or cement masons, earning over $40,000/year on average. But, it's possible to jump a whole $40,000 annually by learning the skills of a construction project manager, who make an average of $71,600/year. Typical? Maybe not. Possible? Absolutely. The most unexpected switch comes from those construction laborers who trade in jeans for slacks and become computer aided design drafters, earning $35,700/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 $73,534/year.

6. Legal assistant

This gig gets you plenty of exposure to life in the legal system. Legal assistants earn about $34,600/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 $41,600/year. The ones who earn the most become lawyers, earning about $81,800/year, or corporate or senior paralegals, earning close to $55,000/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 $39,800/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 $55,600/year. Other top earners have become consulting accountants, earning $63,600/year or senior financial analysts pulling in $73,000/year.

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