Goodbye Cubicle: 4 Jobs That Are Office-Optional

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By Maryalene LaPonsie

If your work days resemble scenes from the cult classic "Office Space"--an annoying boss stalks your cubicle or your stapler is constantly stolen--it may be time to look for a new, "office optional" career. While working in an office can offer a steady paycheck and a comfortable work environment, for some, breathing recycled air and being chained to a desk just isn't going to cut it. Fortunately, there are a number of jobs that allow you to break free from the confines of your cubicle and explore the wide world beyond. Here are some of the top office optional occupations worth considering.


When it comes to versatile work environments, photographers top the list. Today's photographers can be photojournalists, independent contractors or corporate employees. One thing these roles all have in common is that photographers are required to step out from behind the desk and into the action.

Education opportunities for would-be photographers range from associate, bachelor's and master's degrees in photography to certificate programs and training workshops. Ben Weatherston, a Michigan photographer and owner of Photo Studio Group, says students should be careful to make sure the education program they choose uses the latest technology.

"Sadly, many classes and seminars are teaching outdated practices from pricing to licensing issues," said Weatherston. "Advice changes across time, location and style."

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for photographers will increase 12 percent from 2008-2018, and professionals in this field earned mean annual wages of $35,980 in 2010.

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Private detectives and investigators

"A front row seat to the greatest show on earth," is how Frank Griffin, a California private detective, describes his job. Investigators working in the domestic, criminal and personal injury markets spend much of their time pounding the pavement while following-up on clients, visiting crime scenes and reviewing court documents.

While there are vocational training programs available for those interested in entering the field, there are no formal education requirements to work as a private investigator. Griffin, who offers training programs through his firm Phuego Corp, says the great thing about his field is that anyone can work in it.

"There is this crazy notion that all private investigators are former law enforcement officers," said Griffin. "People come into the field from diverse backgrounds."

The demand for private detectives and investigators is expected to grow 22 percent from 2008-2018 according to BLS data. In 2010, these professionals earned mean annual wages of $47,830.

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Soil and plant scientists

If you still think of a farmer in overalls when you hear the word agriculture, it is time to enter the 21st Century. Today's agrarian professionals use high-tech methods to ensure a safe and productive food supply. Soil and plant scientists get their hands dirty in the field as they monitor soil and plant quality, consider the nutritional value of crops, and address issues such as erosion. In addition to getting you out of the office, agricultural jobs can also provide a measure of job security.

"Our graduates have the second-highest starting salaries among the university's colleges, second only to the business school, and have the lowest number of students still seeking employment at graduation," said Faith Peppers, Director of Public Affairs for the College of Agriculture & Environmental Studies at the University of Georgia. "We are one of the few career areas that have more jobs available than students to fill them."

Soil and plant specialists may have a bachelor's, master's or doctoral science degree. The BLS says soil and plant scientists earned mean annual wages of $62,600 in 2010, and job growth for this occupation is expected to be 15 percent from 2008-2018.

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Petroleum engineers

Engineers of all types get out of the office and into the field, but perhaps none are so well compensated as petroleum engineers. In addition, this career choice may not only get you out of the office--it could get you out of the country. The BLS notes many jobs in this field require professionals to spend much of their time at far-flung petroleum extraction sites and on oil rigs.

Tom Lindsay is a senior account manager with Randstad Engineering. After spending 20 years in the field as a chemical engineer, he switched to recruiting six years ago. According to Lindsay, the demand for engineers is great.

"Right now we have thousands of open jobs we can't fill because we haven't been graduating engineers fast enough to keep up with the growth in demand for them," said Lindsay.

A bachelor's degree in engineering is all it takes to begin work as a petroleum engineer. In 2010, the BLS reports these individuals earned mean annual wages of $127,970, and demand for trained workers in this field is expected to grow 18 percent from 2008-2018.

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