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September 26, 2013


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I just wanted to take a minute to say I really appreciate these types of interviews. I usually don't comment, but read your blog everyday. Thank you for providing such great content.

I'm curious to know which of the following the six figure salary earners contributed most to their success?

a. Doing well within your current company and being promoted.

b. Jumping around from company to company always seeking a higher salary & responsibility.

c. Entirely changing their career path from a lower earning field to a higher earning field (going back to school to become a petroleum engineer, etc)

I'm also curious to know how long these high earners believe is too long to stay in the same position before looking elsewhere. Put another way, how long is too long to not be promoted?

I'm not sure 6 figures is that exclusive, at least in my neck of the woods (northern Virginia). Perhaps $200K+ would be a better salary limit.

Paul --

Ha! I just received an email saying it's too exclusive!! :)

Six figures is still in the top % of incomes earned in the US. Maybe not the top 5% like it used to be, but it's way more than most people earn.

Also, it's an old, familiar standard like being a millionaire is.

So should I put you down for an interview? :)

I sort of agree with Paul. No extensive interview needed, here was my strategy:

1) Get a Master's degree in Aerospace Engineering.

2) Land a great job with a govt. contractor for $70-$80k.

3) 4.5% annual raises will get you to 6 figures in less than a decade. No job hopping or promotions required.

My strategy was just like yours but it happened between 1960 and 1992 when salaries and the cost of living were a great deal smaller. Compensating for the lower salaries was the fact that EVERYTHING was far cheaper. As an example, how about a beautiful brand new 4br 2ba California ranch style home in the heart of Silicon Valley for $26,950. The raises were also higher back then, usually between 8% and 10% plus I had several promotions.

Putting that aside however, I made the Big Bucks after I retired by becoming a very knowlegeable and skilled investor. I was also a market timer, I rode the upward waves and then went into something very safe during the dips. That's easy to do if you have all the data at your fingertips and have the appropriate tools and knowledge of how to use them.

Tommy Z
My experience was that a) is the way to go rather than b) or c).

I always kept my eyes and ears open for good opportunities within my department and volunteered for new assignments that I felt would advance my career and get me a promotion along with a good raise. I worked on classified projects my whole career so that also made it beneficial to stay with the same company and not have to uproot my family and move elsewhere, especially when you have a wife and 3 school age children, as I did. Even when we later decided to move into a much nicer home in a custom home development we were able to avoid having to disrupt our children's schooling.

This should definitely be an interesting interview series. Unlike some other commenters, I don't think these interviewees need to be part of a more exclusive group. There are still lessons to be learned since there may be vastly different experiences that led to that income level. And it'll be interesting to see what there lifestyles are like based on their location and cost of living.

A couple interesting questions may be:
- Did you have lifestyle inflation with the income growth and how did you control it?
- Do you feel comfortable at your income level? I'm leaving the word "comfortable" open to interpretation.

Going back to what the commenters said, perhaps each person's perspective on their own income will indicate how exclusive they think it is. I think that those of us who read finance blogs (or live in high cost of living locations) often get jaded by high income earners.

Not sure I'll have time for an interview with my current workload, but here it is for me:
1. Got an MS/CS in 1983
2. Got a job with a large IT corporation for 28K a year
3. Grew within the company. Had a few promotions.

Seems to me much of making 6-digits is the profession you chose, so my suggestion to young people: think what you major in and what your goals are, what you plan to do. If you have a passion about something in which only very few succeed, think whether you have the ability and drive to become one of those few. If you think you do, by all means try it, you don't want to live your life thinking "what if". But if you don't - think about making it a minor or 2nd major, but learn another skill as well. But don't just spend 4 years and a lot of money "learning how to write well" unless you plan to become a writer and are good at it.

My 6 figure path was:

1. Got into a top graduate school
2. Recruited by a Fortune 100 company upon graduation with 110K salary
3. Found a mentor that helped my career

I live in NY so six figure income do not go as far as I would have thought when I was in grad school. I have stayed at my job for 6 years and after a few promotions, am making more than 200k.

I believe everyone needs to find their own path. Many of my grad school friends founded their own start-ups after graduation. And many more are in consulting and banks, all of them making well into 6 figures. Which is why I believe that the schools you attend and your professional networks are the most determining factors for a 6 figure career.

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