Getting Started

How to Earn a Six Figure Salary in Your Lifetime

Written by Kate Lopaze

If you want to earn a six figure salary, you have two main options: A) play the lottery and hope for five numbers out of six on your ticket to hit, or B) start building your career toward that goal. The odds are millions-to-one against option A, so really your best bet is option B. Now that leaves just one question: how?

A high-paying career that you enjoy is, when you get right down to it, just about everyone’s goal. And making a six figure salary or $100,000+, seems like an attainable goal. It’s not a million dollars, so it seems like a modest ask from the universe. Yet it also offers a kind of financial stability that is appealing. So it’s the ideal for many of us who aren’t creating the next hot startup or able to hit 35 home runs per year.

Your first step in reaching that goal is doing a self-survey of yourself and your career so far.

  1. How close am I to that goal right now? This can affect the timeline and scope of your goal. If you want to make $200K but are currently only making $40K, that’s a huge jump. Depending on your field, it might be possible, but you might have to adjust how long it will take you to get there.
  2. Is it even attainable in my field? For example, if you’re a lawyer, then sure, this is attainable. If you are a mid-level manager at a nonprofit, it might not be. It’s important to make your goals reachable, and if you’re working happily in a field that tends to top out at $80K, you’re not doing yourself any favors by working toward a financial goal that may not be likely or even possible.
  3. What career level do I need to achieve to make that paycheck? Is it only executives that make that kind of money in my field, or are there other jobs/roles that can do it? What does the promotion path look like in order to reach that goal?
  4. What do I need to do next? Are there specific skills, or a certain education or experience I would need to move me closer to that goal? Am I in a position to get another degree, complete a training program, or learn the next-level skills that would be required?
  5. Do I need to go elsewhere, or does my current job offer that kind of path? If you see this salary as a possibility at your current company, ask yourself if you’re willing to commit to that. If that kind of growth just doesn’t seem possible where you are, or you’re not happy or content there, start scouting for other opportunities.

Path One: The Steady Builder

Let’s call this the old-fashioned example of the kid who starts in the mailroom, and ends up as the CEO. It’s a model that, quite frankly, is much more challenging these days—the average person switches jobs at least 10 times throughout their career, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, so the idea of putting down roots and growing from professional youngling to high-earning executive in one place is rather quaint.

But it’s not impossible. If you’ve been accumulating experience at one company or in a particular field, it’s not unreasonable to expect to make a six figure salary at some point in your career, assuming you have a good amount of forward motion. However, unless you are constantly promoted with a significant salary jump at each point, this is a process that can take a long time.

Path Two: The Jumper

Let’s call this one surfing for opportunities. In this scenario, you create that forward momentum by actively seeking out new jobs, ideally raising your salary each time. Some studies have suggested that employees that stay at a company for more than two years have relatively stagnant salaries, potentially earning about 50% less than people who switch companies more often.

If you move to a new position at a new company, experts suggest that you look for a salary bump of up to 25%, particularly if the new position is a step up for you. This is a path that is more in line with today’s job-hopping trend, but it means you have to be savvy about what your next steps are, and how they fit into your long-term plan and goals.

What is a Realistic Timeline?

Your timetable for making a six figure salary is going to vary according to your industry, your skills and experience, and what your goals are.

Entrepreneur Peter Voogd suggests that this financial goal is achievable on a short-term schedule, discussing his philosophy of getting clear on your goals, connecting to influencers, and going after that aggressive salary goal with confidence.

This method is heavy on entrepreneurship-style philosophies (more on that in a bit), but doesn’t account for the fact that everyone’s career is different. Again, factors like your industry and your resume can make a significant difference. If your field is one where middle and upper management can approach that six-figure salary, then you might just need a few more years (or a couple of steps up in the org chart) to get there. If you work in a field where only executives are making six figures, then it can take significantly more time and positioning to get to that point.

This is where you should be doing comprehensive salary and trajectory research on your field. What are others at your level making? What salary are people two levels ahead of you making? Sites like Payscale and can really help you get an accurate picture of what you can expect in your industry, at your education level, etc. Knowing who makes what can help you figure out how long it might take you to hit your goal.

Are There Any Shortcuts?

Short answer on shortcuts: nope. Whether it takes you one year or ten, you’ve got to put in the work necessary to build your career to the point where you’re earning those six figures. If you’re at the beginning of your career, you have the advantage of starting early. It’s like saving for retirement—the earlier you start, the better off you’ll be. If you’re mid-career and are looking to jumpstart your path to six figures, there’s more pressure to get there fast, but you’ll still need to go through the tasks of positioning yourself for advancement, and seeking out the opportunities that can move you forward.

What Can I Do?

While we know there’s no magic solution that will pump up your salary exactly where you want it, this means it’s on you to start working diligently toward that goal. There are a number of ways you can attack this, all of which work together in moving you forward.

Increase Your Network

Your network is an invaluable resource for any career advancement. You never know when someone in your professional network will have an opportunity for you. They can also offer valuable expertise in your field, help you build necessary skills, and act as a sounding board as you set your goals. Listen to experts, and avoid mistakes that could slow you down and impede your goals.

Also, part of it is a mental game: if you believe that you are who you associate with, adding successful and insightful people to your network can help you cement that image of yourself as a successful professional in turn.

Become a Master Negotiator

If you can advocate confidently for yourself , you stand a much better chance of increasing your salary with every promotion or job change.

Seek and Build the Most Valuable Skills

Here’s where you need to be a bit daring, because this could involve a significant commitment on your part. Right now, some of the most valuable skills are technical ones, like coding. If you’re unfamiliar, try taking a course. If you have very basic skills, take them to the next level.

There are also more universal skills that can really help you move up in your field. For example, project management is a well-compensated skill that is invaluable across most industries, because it means you can manage tasks and people to achieve concrete goals.

Think Like an Entrepreneur

This doesn’t necessarily mean starting your own business from scratch, but rather taking control of your career path. You may not be your own boss at every step, but you can still move through with confidence and assertive decision making when it comes to your job.

In this vein, Peter Voogd recommends building your internal “confidence account,” which gives you the self-drive to navigate around obstacles in your career without letting them stop your progress toward your goals—in this case, your salary goal.

Whether you’re close to making a six figure salary already and just need a final lift, or aren’t quite as far along, and are looking for ways to boost your career significantly to meet that goal, the most important element is coming up with a realistic plan and sticking to it. Good luck!

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.