5 Entry-Level Jobs Where It Pays to Stay

WASHINGTON (TheStreet) -- Mailroom-to-boardroom job success stories are more common in movies than business, but there are still careers where entry-level positions have access to higher ground.

With the U.S. stuck in 9% unemployment and job growth not yet matching demand, the American rags-to-riches dream job is taking its place next to homeownership as fairy tales previous generations used to tell but only a dwindling, privileged few can make come true. Despite the dour job outlook, though, there remain some industries that can take a newcomer from starting salary to financial security without having to leave their field.

Laurence Shatkin, Ph.D., and Michael Farr, co-authors of 200 Best Jobs for College Graduates, try to point out new job opportunities with each release of their book, but even their most recent edition -- the book's fourth, from 2009 -- doesn't address the post-recession worker who hasn't been in college in years and is still seeking an entry-level opportunity.

With help from the good folks at the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, TheStreet found five instances in which entry-level employees can nearly double their salaries while staying within the field they love. Some require an upfront master's degree-sized investment, others will take a high school diploma, but all have a high ceiling for any salary-minded career climber:

Market research analyst
Average starting salary: $34,260
Average annual salary: $67,500
Ever walk into a store and feel like it's not catering to what you want to buy? Ever pull a tab off of a squeeze bottle of water and say "there has to be a better way"? Ever walk into a movie theater and get annoyed by the commercials, but feel powerless to do anything about it?

If you have a bachelor's degree or better, you're exactly the person the market research industry is built around. Market researchers act as an interpreter for consumers who feel like retailers just don't understand them. They're the folks with the sample cups at the supermarket, the surveys online and the incentive-based focus groups that help shape the container your microwave mac and cheese comes in, the wireless network your Apple ( AAPL) iPhone is on and which streetlights will be lining your town's roads.

They can also be extremely well paid. While they start out as glorified assistants, those in the top 10% of their field earn an average of $111,900 a year at such firms as Nielsen ( NLSN), WPP Group ( WPP), ComScore ( SCOR) and Forrester Research ( FORR). Geography factors into this heavily, as much of the work in this industry is clustered around the Seattle-Bellevue area in Washington; Massachusetts' tech corridor off Interstate 95 in Framingham, just west of Boston; and in Silicon Valley. By state, the average market researcher salary is highest in Washington, at $86,640, followed by Massachusetts' $77,470.

The key to making the big money, however, is chasing it. Not surprisingly, computer and peripheral equipment manufacturers pay more for market researchers' information than any other industry, doling out an average of $101,210 to its folks in the field. Software publishers don't pay so shabbily either, with the mean annual wage for their researchers topping $97,000. Most of those plum assignments are clustered in the Sunnyvale-Santa Clara-San Jose belt of Silicon Valley, where market researchers average $101,900 a year. If you find yourself boxed out there, hop a flight to Boston and settle for an average of $93,650 a year once you've climbed the ladder. It's a growing industry, expected to balloon by 28% by 2018, so there's plenty of room at the trough for anyone motivated enough to start small.

Athletes' and performers' agent
Average starting salary: $31,000
Average annual salary: $61,890
Wait, you mean the people who handle clients who start out small but go on to make big money also start out small and make big money? Scott Boras could get A-Rod a $200 million contract to play defense for Manchester United and it would be just as surprising.

What's more impressive, however, is that an entry-level candidate with a bachelor's degree (50% of agents only needed this much) or less (12% never went to college) can end up talking their artist through the Grammys, telling their actor to pass on the next Evan Almighty sequel or convincing their first baseman that being an extremely wealthy starter in Kansas City is better than being a moderately paid utility player in Boston. It's all about your knowledge of the industry, trends in salary and performance incentives and the willingness to basically run another person's life to bankroll your own.

Agents aren't just negotiating salary. They're collecting payments, scheduling promotional appearances, hashing out terms with promoters and union bosses, arranging a client's travel and hotel stays and staying on top of the phone conversations, email and social networking designed to make a client look like the ideal citizen in the eyes of the public and potential employers. One wrong move and it's a solid month of explaining how that video appeared on Deadspin, why those unflattering pictures made it to TMZ and why your client's mugshot on The Smoking Gun is just one big misunderstanding.

Despite the stress, more than 23,000 people have signed up to be the next Jerry Maguire, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there'll be room for another 10,100 by 2018. If they can refrain from spouting cliches about showing them the money, the new arrivals should go far.

Logistician
Average starting salary: $40,000
Average annual salary: $67,960
You know your job's arrived when UPS ( UPS) makes it the crux of its marketing campaign. Logisticians and logistics managers are increasingly crucial for not just companies such as UPS, FedEx ( FDX), Amazon ( AMZN) and anyone else who relies on shipping services, but any business that needs to assess customers' needs and determine what it takes to meet them; make sure supplies and products are available when the customer needs them and that the company is getting the most bang for the buck; and -- when supply falls short -- minimize the fallout.

As promising as life as a logistician is, especially with available jobs expected to grow nearly 42% by 2018, the lure of logistical consulting is even more potent. A domestic manufacturing firm might hire a logistics consulting firm to calculate shipping rates and duties for goods being exported or to determine the most cost-effective method of shipping products and pay $62.69 an hour. Retained logisticians make roughly $33 an hour.

The expansion of business also will create more opportunities for logistics consulting firms to link new suppliers with producers and get the finished goods to consumers, which should result in 83% growth in logistics consulting through 2018.

Computer hardware engineer
Average starting salary: $61,360
Average annual salary: $101,600
Yes, the entry-level salary itself is pretty sweet, but this job will test a potential employee's will from the day that person picks his or her major to the day they create the fastest chip of the moment.

You need a bachelor's degree in engineering just to get started, which engineering grads who've sacrificed sleep and social lives for that piece of paper can tell you is no easy feat. Then you have to realize that you're entering a field where the growth potential is stagnating and the job pool will just barely scrape together a 4% increase by 2018. Even when grads take the plunge, the Bureau of Labor Statistics warns that expanded demand of information technology is tempered in the U.S. by intense foreign competition.

The good news is that companies such as Apple, Dell ( DELL), H-P ( HPQ) and Microsoft ( MSFT) will always need folks to research, design, develop, test and oversee the manufacture and installation of computer hardware, including computer chips, circuit boards, computer systems and related equipment such as keyboards, routers and printers. The reason an iPhone 4 already makes the original iPhone look like a junior high clamshell is through the development and design efforts of engineers such as these.

Computer and semiconductor manufacturers are contracting out more of their engineering needs, but there's still a lot of room for growth. Computer systems design and the related services industry should keep engineers busy for quite some time -- with that field already employing more than 13,500 such engineers at an average of $101,500 a head.

Besides, in computer engineering, systems design and even computer and peripherals manufacture (and its average $107,090 salary) come the glamour gigs. The big money is in commercial and industrial equipment ($128,380 a year) and data processing and architecture ($112,000). That said, any computer hardware engineer that doesn't land a government-related gig in D.C. can head out to fertile tech ground such as Silicon Valley (where the average salary is $119,000 a year) or near MIT in Cambridge, Mass., (where $117,000 a year is the going rate) and do fairly well for themselves.

Chemist
Average starting salary: $39,250
Average annual salary: $73,240
It's not a growing industry by any mean, with the job pool expected to expand by only 3% by 2018, but if you're starting out with a master's degree or better it can be one of the most secure jobs an employee could hope for.

The big-money chemists either tend to work for the government (making an average of $104,210) or helping energy companies with oil or natural gas extraction (at an average $105,960-a-year premium). The overwhelming majority of chemists, however, work in either private research and development (bringing in an average $81,490 a year) creating products or updating old ones or in the pharmaceuticals industry making drugs for companies including Pfizer ( PFE), Merck and Johnson & Johnson ( JNJ) and making an average $72,140.

This explains why the highest concentrations of chemist gigs occur in Delaware and New Jersey, where pharmaceuticals firms such as Merck, Roche ( PKI) and Johnson & Johnson and chemical companies including DuPont ( DD) have an enormous presence. California has by far the largest number of jobs in the field at nearly 11,000 -- most clustered around the Salk Institute, Scripps Research Institute and the University of California at San Diego and paying an average $94,260 -- but the New York-New Jersey metro area's 2,500 positions makes it the top destination for chemists in the U.S. and doles out an average of $82,280 once they arrive. Its neighbors on the Northeast corridor in Philadelphia and Boston don't fare so poorly either, with each city hosting about 2,300 chemists and paying average salaries between $76,000 and $85,000.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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