By Debra Bela

A six-figure salary can come by digging a hole, filling a hole and calculating the depth of a hole, but the pursuit of $100,000 a year or more is not an exact science.

Almost 790,000 Australians, or 6 per cent of the workforce, earned $100,000 or more in the past financial year, Australian Taxation Office figures show. Miners, dentists and engineers are among our richest, with optometrists, accountants, sales-based workers and veterinary scientists also performing strongly.

Some graduate into big money, as revealed by the Australian Graduate Survey.

Last year across Australia, 10 students who completed masters degrees in veterinary science received a median salary of $90,000 within four months of graduation.

One hundred and sixty-three mining engineering graduates, aged 25 or younger, were on a median $80,000.

Twenty dentistry PhD students graduated into careers paying a median $120,000. And 252 engineering postgraduates were commanding a median $90,000.

National recruitment firm Hays, which releases an annual Hays Salary Survey, says the pathways to riches are many. They exist in professional services and being a qualified tradesman can easily put you in that bracket.

Hays director Darren Buchanan says accountancy will get an employee to a $100,000 salary quickly, while a career in retail or administration will require a slow climb up the corporate ladder.

He says cleaners can command a six-figure salary if they target the right industry.

“Certainly in 2007, if you were working in the cleaning industry, you could command $100,000 in the resources sector,” he says. “When you’re working in an unskilled industry, it’s more of a time-served, career-capability factor.

“It’s down to your ability to have many facets so you can take on more duties and have a wider-ranging reach to help you climb that ladder and get that higher salary.”

Mr Buchanan says linking traditional job titles, such as human resources, to the right industry also can secure high wages.

“If you are working in human resources in the mining sector, you have a good chance of getting a better salary than in an industry like retail or logistics,” he says.

Queensland University of Technology careers and employment manager Alan McAlpine says salary growth in the Australian graduate market has slowed but now is at more realistic levels.

“It wouldn’t surprise me to see the allied health fields grow,” he says. “Things like optometry and podiatry will begin to command higher salaries, purely from a demand-driven perspective.”

The mining sector, which can command salaries 30 to 40 per cent higher than the market average, also is performing strongly. “In engineering fields, you’ve got mining engineers who are being enticed to remote locations by the mines because they are the ones that are putting money in front of people,” Mr McAlpine says.

Mr Buchanan warns financial rewards need to be offset by taking the conditions of those careers into account.

“It can be a fool’s game because there are people earning high salaries who are miserable as sin,” he says.

“That’s all they’ve chased, they are locked into that level of money, it’s hard to move away from a level of earnings like that but the pursuit of money is not a sound basis to build a career on.”

He says people on $100,000 will soon want $120,000 and $130,000, and risk becoming greedy and overconfident in the workplace. “It’s a feature of the current employment market, treating your current or previous employer poorly because you think you’re worth more, and burning your bridges.” he says.

Chrissy and John Leighton earn more than $100,000 each a year. Mrs Leighton’s jewellery company Chrissy L, which turns over $1.1 million a year, grew out of a need for a hobby.

“When my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer I was advised to start a hobby to take my mind off the stress,” Mrs Leighton says.

The former bridal magazine advertising manager took a crash course at a bead store.

“With international suppliers, the job is all hours,” she says.

John Leighton has been a commercial finance broker since 2008. Earning a “high six-figure salary”, he says he entered the industry for its earning potential.

“I’ve had a passion for finance. What I like most are the interesting opportunities that come my way,” he says.

The statistics

  • Queensland’s top earners are professionals in Belyando shire on $118,130 a year
  •  Managers in Mosman, NSW, earn an average of $199,490 a year
  •  Victoria’s top salary is $128,067 earned by Brighton managers
  •  Dentistry graduates with a PhD earn a median salary of $120,000 a year

Article from CareerOne