Updated on 04.30.15

10 Best Entry-Level Jobs With Long-Term Potential

New grads, don't despair: Some low-paying jobs can lead to great things.

workers in design studio

An entry-level job as a graphic designer or marketing assistant may not pay much at all, but it can put you on track toward a lucrative, six-figure position such as art director or marketing manager. Photo: David Wall

If you’re fresh out of school without much experience, you’ll probably have to take an entry-level job — but that doesn’t mean you have to stay in that position forever. Even when you’re starting at the bottom of the pack, you may have the opportunity to work your way up if you’re able to prove your work ethic and master some of the most important skills related to your field.

Of course, some entry level jobs make it easier to move up through the ranks than others – either because they work as a natural stepping stone towards a more lucrative career or because there are simply more opportunities ahead of them.

10 Entry-Level Jobs with Huge Potential

If you want to move up the ladder quickly, consider one of these entry-level jobs that could lead to a career with high pay and excellent perks. These admittedly low-paying jobs can put you on a track for a lucrative career down the road — after you pay your dues for a couple of years.

Sales Representative

You hear it time and time again; it takes a special personality to really excel in the world of sales. While sometimes pure motivation and drive are the catalysts for people to succeed, sometimes those who thrive are simply the ones who are okay hearing “no” most of the time. Whatever it is, those who have “it” are often rewarded handsomely – especially if they move up the ranks.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, sales representatives in the services sector earned an annual mean wage of $68,870 nationally in 2014. Meanwhile, retail sales representatives made $25,760 and insurance sales agents made $63,730.

The big bucks, however, were made by those who worked their way up to be sales managers. As the BLS notes, sales managers across all industries made an annual mean wage of $126,040 in 2014. If you want to work your way up with an entry level job, sales is where it’s at. And you never know — if you start hustling now, you could be in charge of your own team in no time.

Graphic Designer

If you think visually and have a flair for artistry, an entry-level career in graphic design might be your cup of tea. Not only can you put your artistic talent to work, but you can also learn how to create useful, captivating visual concepts for use in magazines, websites, product packaging, video games, and other visual media.

While a graphic design job might be a good fit for you if you love to create, it probably won’t help you get rich. Graphic designers earned an annual mean wage of just $50,670 in 2014 –and that’s just the average. According to Payscale.com, starting salaries in this field come in somewhere around $29,600.

If you really want to parlay your love of art into a high-powered (and high-paying) career, you’ll want to work your way up to art director. As the BLS reports, art directors — many of whom start out as graphic designers — earned an annual mean wage of $97,850 in 2014, or almost twice as much as graphic designers.

Financial Analyst

If you like to crunch numbers and figure out how to maximize financial investments, a career as a financial analyst might be for you. Starting out, these workers learn the ins and outs of their company’s financial position, both in macro- and microeconomic terms. They then learn to analyze a number of variables to create accurate financial predictions that can help bolster their company’s fortunes.

Starting out, financial analysts will have to prove themselves, which is why starting salaries are only a little over $40,000 nationally, according to Payscale.com.

But that pay doesn’t last long for those who climb through the ranks. The annual mean wage for financial analysts came out to $92,250 in 2014. Meanwhile, Payscale.com reports that senior financial analysts can earn up to $100,665 on average.

Human Resources Specialist

Earning a bachelor’s degree in human resources paves the way to a career as a human resources specialist. In this role, you’ll assist your company in everything from interviewing potential job candidates to making hiring decisions and researching company benefits packages.

Human resources specialists start at a little over $30,000 a year, according to salary data from Payscale.com. However, the wages climb quickly for those who gain experience. The annual mean wage for these workers was $62,590 nationally in 2014.

The big money, however, comes to those who work their way up to human resources manager. After gaining several years of experience and learning how to manage other human resources professionals, these workers earned an annual mean wage of $114,140 in 2014.

Public Relations Specialist or Assistant

When you earn a degree in public relations, you’re most likely to start out as a public relations specialist or public relations assistant. These entry-level jobs prepare you for a career helping businesses and individuals polish their public image and put out the right message.

A career in public relations might be exciting, but it may not be high-paying to start. As Payscale.com reports, entry-level PR specialists earn a little more than $30,000 nationally their first year, while public relations assistants earn only $23,835.

It may not take long to double those figures, however. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, public relations specialists earned an annual mean wage of $64,050 in 2014. Meanwhile, higher up the chain, public relations and fundraising managers brought in a cool $115,400 nationally on average.

Marketing Specialist

Marketing specialists usually begin their careers with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, advertising, or a related field. They use their expertise to create and execute marketing and advertising plans that can help businesses promote their products and, ultimately, increase sales.

Marketing specialists start out making an average of just $31,325 nationally. However, they often work their way up to higher pay after several years of experience. The annual mean wage for marketing specialists and market research analysts, as the BLS notes, was a healthy $68,700 in 2014.

But the earnings don’t have to cap out there. Those who earn the title of marketing manager can earn even more after gaining enough experience and earning the right promotions. According to Labor Department data, marketing managers earned a whopping annual mean wage of $137,400 in 2014. And remember, that’s an average – the top 25% of these workers earned an average of $171,390 in 2014.

Computer Systems Analyst

With technology taking over nearly every aspect of our lives, beginning a career in computers is almost always a good bet. Computer systems analysts usually start their careers with a degree in computer science or computer programming, then go on to manage their company’s computer network or system in order to ward off problems before they hit.

As Payscale.com notes, most workers in this field begin their careers with a salary below $40,000. However, that figure can climb quickly with the right attitude and applicable experience. According to the BLS, computer systems analysts earned an annual mean wage of $87,320 in 2014.

Those who work their way into management have the potential to earn even more. As of 2014, computer and information systems managers were earning an annual mean wage of $136,280. Professionals who managed to get the most sought-after positions earned even more; according to U.S. Department of Labor data, the top 25% of these workers earned an annual mean wage of $161,520 in 2014.

Engineering

A four-year degree in any engineering discipline is usually enough to get your foot in the door with a good-paying entry-level job. Whether that’s in civil engineering, aerospace, chemical engineering, or electrical engineering – it doesn’t matter. The story’s the same: Earn your degree in engineering, get an internship, and get hired for a respectable job in an in-demand field.

Even for entry-level engineers, pay is already quite high. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, even the bottom 10% of earners among aerospace engineers brought in an annual mean wage of $66,110 in 2014. Meanwhile, the bottom 10% of chemical engineers earned an average of $59,480.

But throw a few more years of experience into the mix and the story gets even better, and quickly. The following annual national mean wages were reported for these engineering careers in 2014: aerospace engineers ($107,700), agricultural engineers ($75,440), biomedical engineers ($91,760), chemical engineers ($103,590), civil engineers ($87,130), and computer hardware engineers ($110,650).

Those mid-career salaries sound great, but those who secure a career in management can earn even more. As of 2014, architectural and engineering managers earned a median wage of $130,620 nationally, with the top 25% earning an average of $162,690.

Construction Managers

You might think of the field of construction as one with hard labor and low pay, but you’d be wrong. Increasingly complex buildings and developments need experienced workers to follow blueprints and oversee skilled labor. A degree in construction management can put you on the fast track toward an entry-level position in this field.

U.S. Department of Labor numbers show that even entry-level employment in construction management can be rather lucrative. According to the most recent data, the bottom 10% of workers in this field, which is usually comprised of those just starting out, earned an annual mean wage of $50,990 in 2014.

But that’s just the proverbial ground floor. The salaries for these workers can climb just as quickly as the buildings and skyscrapers they may be working on. In fact, the annual mean wage for these workers was $94,590 in 2014. Meanwhile, the top 10% of workers can expect to earn as much as $150,250.

Medical and Health Services

According to the BLS, most medical and health services managers start out with a simple bachelor’s degree in a field such as health services, long-term care administration, public health, or public administration. From there, they often pursue master’s degrees in order to move up through the ranks into more lucrative positions.

Still, entry-level doesn’t look so bad from here. Even the bottom 10% of medical and health services managers earned an annual wage of around $55,890 in 2014, and the bottom 25% brought home $71,820.

But those who become experienced and sought after are generally rewarded for it. For example, the annual mean wage for medical and health services managers was $103,680 in 2014. That’s a lot, but it’s not all they can earn. According to the latest data, the top 10% of these workers earned a wage equal to approximately $161,150. It might take a while to get there, but the upward climb could come much more quickly than you think with the right skills and the right attitude.

Choosing an Entry-Level Job

Studying the statistics and figuring out which entry-level jobs have potential is the easy part. Figuring out which path to pursue? Now that’s hard.

The fact is, it shouldn’t be all about the money. Most of us will work at least 30 years before retirement, so those just starting out will want to pick a field they actually enjoy. It doesn’t have to be your life’s passion, but you don’t want to hate what you’re doing every day of your life either.

For a lot of people, it’s about compromise – picking a field you think you can excel at without dreading that morning commute. And for many, it’s about choosing a career that will help pay the bills, provide the income needed to raise a family, and help pay off those pesky student loans.

If you’re just starting out in an entry-level career, or simply deciding on a college major, there are plenty of directions you can take. Choose wisely.

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