Job seekers, open your eyes—and your minds.
You can find career inspiration in just about every scene of metropolitan life. Most fields employ a variety of workers in fascinating and underpublicized supporting roles that don’t require specialized training. That advertisement for nail polish? A hand model at work. The restaurant featuring a tasty new menu item? Thanks to a taste tester. The crime scene covered in yellow police tape? Someone’s got to clean that up.
We spoke with recruiting executives and industry hiring managers to identify lesser-known jobs emerging within broader fields. Workers who fill such atypical roles are “agile learners who take something new and quickly get good at it,” says John Challenger, CEO of the outplacement company Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
Some of the gigs in our slide show are growing occupations with thousands of current openings. Other jobs you’ll discover here are more rare, but perhaps inspirational nonetheless. After all, if folks can get paid to sleep—yes, we’ll tell you about paid sleepers—then imagine what else you could earn money doing. Take a look.
Food Taste Tester
- Number of openings: 129 listings on Indeed.com (as of August 26)
- Prerequisite education/skills: Refined palate; strong communication skills. Bachelor’s degree in food science or culinary school training is a plus.
- Earnings potential: $30,000 to $60,000 a year; $15 to $20 an hour
Professional taste testers give companies or research groups their opinion on everything from chocolate to toothpaste and even pet food. Testers use a specific lexicon of words to describe product attributes, such as appearance, texture, aroma, flavor and aftertaste. In order to protect their palate, full-time testers taste foods for only about two to three hours a day, several times a week.
Research companies test products in the personal and home care industry, too. Tested products include body washes, moisturizers and fragrances—“anything that has sensory characteristics,” says Valérie Mialon, directory of sensory and consumer research at MMR Research Worldwide, a market research firm.
- Number of jobs: Very few (for one professional sleeper job at a hotel, a single applicant was chosen out of 7,800)
- Prerequisite education/skills: Ability to sleep soundly
- Earnings potential: Varies by job
Talk about—ahem—a dream job. Several kinds of businesses will pay you to sleep under atypical circumstances. A hotel in Finland, for example, hired a professional sleeper in 2010 who spent 35 nights in 35 different rooms and blogged about the experience. To conduct a study on the effects of microgravity, NASA in 2014 paid participants $18,000 to spend 70 days lying in bed.
Other ways of making money by sleeping include working with researchers and doctors and staying overnight in a hotel as a mystery shopper.
- Number of jobs: 24 listings on Indeed.com
- Prerequisite education/skills: Background in construction/restoration; courses in criminal justice or forensics
- Earnings potential: About $35,000 to $80,000 per year
Crime scenes can be gruesome and messy, and somebody needs to clean them up. Crime-scene cleaners, also known as biohazard remediation technicians, dispose of the aftermath of homicides, suicides, unattended deaths (in which someone dies alone and begins to decompose), hoarding and industrial accidents.
They act as second responders, coming to the scene once law enforcement officials have finished inspecting it for evidence, and are responsible for removing everything from blood stains embedded in the floor to odors. The job is both physically and mentally demanding, and, due to the industry’s unpredictability, employees work at all hours of the day.
One of the biggest challenges technicians face is separating themselves emotionally from the traumatic situations they see daily, according to Andrew Whitmarsh, director of field operations at the national clean-up company Aftermath. Given the nature of the job, then, why are individuals interested in it? Whitmarsh says the top answer is that they want to help families and communities experiencing tragedy.
Body Parts Model
- Number of jobs: approximately 300 to 400 active models
- Prerequisite education/skills: Must have professional photos for evaluation
- Earnings potential: $500 to $2,000 for a day of work
Even in your proudest moments, you might not have imagined yourself as a runway model. But how about only modeling a specific body part—a special feature of yours? The demand is highest for attractive hands, feet and legs, but there are also openings for unique ears, beards and even perfectly shaped bald heads.
Linda Teglovic, president of Body Parts Models, Inc., says she looks at features such as skin tone and shape to assess potential models. Although many parts models find success because of their slender, manicured and unblemished parts, there is also a need for less classically striking parts.
Parts models can find work in all aspects of entertainment. Teglovic’s models have appeared in TV shows, movies, commercials and fashion magazines. A job can take the form of anything from a hand swiping a cell phone to a shot of feet in a foot powder commercial. “The concept is inserting a perfect part wherever it’s needed,” Teglovic says. Parts models themselves are as varied as their assignments. Gymnasts, dancers, attorneys and a jet propulsion engineer who works with NASA are all involved in the industry.
- Number of jobs: 15,800 in North America
- Prerequisite education/skills: Degree in counseling or psychology; certification with the International Coaching Federation (ICF) or other accredited program
- Median salary: $29,100
Life coaches work with everyone from executives to actors to homemakers, providing direction on how to improve the quality of your life. During sessions (typically 30 minutes to an hour, several times a month), coaches will discuss how clients can achieve their hopes and dreams or overcome current challenges.
Two of the main areas life coaches tackle are personal relationships and professional satisfaction. Subtopics within these areas might include diets, drug rehabilitation and financial counseling, says career information expert Laurence Shatkin.
- Number of jobs: 1,478 job listings on Indeed.com
- Prerequisite education/skills: Bachelor’s or master’s degree in accounting or finance; accountant certification; knowledge of law enforcement and criminal justice system
- Salary range: $60,000 to $150,000
Fight crime with spreadsheets. Forensic accountants investigate issues such as white-collar crime, money laundering and credit card fraud. They may be employed by accounting firms, law firms, law enforcement agencies or government organizations.
Generally, these professionals use their accounting savvy to trace lost assets, analyze financial data and serve as expert witnesses. Paul McDonald, senior executive director of staffing service Robert Half, cites forensic accounting as one of the jobs with the most growth in the accounting and finance fields.
Competitive Intelligence Analyst
- Number of jobs: 3,737 job listings on Indeed.com
- Prerequisite education/skills: Bachelor’s degree (marketing, business or finance); related professional experience. Applicants can get certified or take CI courses.
- Average salary: $65,578
Be the Sherlock Holmes of the office world. CI analysts sleuth for information about competitors in order to provide the insight needed to make critical business decisions.
They perform CI tasks for a specific business or work for a CI consulting company such as Fuld or K2 Intelligence. Assignments range from finding out another company’s revenue numbers to discovering what consumers are saying about certain products.
CI pros use legal techniques and publicly available sources, such as court records, business reports, and informal conversations with competitors’ employees and customers. They also help to manage their own employer’s critical information, working to preserve and share valuable institutional and industry knowledge that employees amass. A CI officer might also take steps to prevent employees from disclosing a bevy of secrets when leaving a company.
Video Game Tester
- Number of jobs: 111 listings on Indeed.com
- Prerequisite education/skills: Familiarity with video games; technical-writing skills; knowledge of computer programming
- Earnings potential: $38,000 with less than three years of experience; $8 to $14 per hour
Testers play unfinished versions of video games that may contain bugs. The goal is to find these bugs and report them so developers can fix the problems before releasing games to the public.
Additional tasks might include playing a specific level multiple times, testing certain characters against other characters, or playing an entire game as quickly as possible.
Since most testers are hired as temporary workers, the job is largely viewed as an entry-level position in the gaming industry. Many video game testers benefit from their short-term employment, as some go on to become game developers, says McDonald, of staffing firm Robert Half.
- Number of jobs: 200,000+
- Typical preparation: Background in writing or another field related to the tasks available
- Earnings potential: Copywriting tasks pay about $10 per hour; simple tasks on Web sites such as Amazon Mechanical Turk may pay only a few cents
If you work as a crowdsourcer or microtasker, you can earn money by performing tasks such as writing or editing brief articles, confirming the accuracy of information online or corresponding with Web site users, all while sitting at home in your favorite pair of pajamas. Companies such as Amazon Mechanical Turk pay for microtasks such as filling out brief surveys or categorizing the tone of articles. Companies with hundreds of locations across the country use crowdsourcers, too—for example, to confirm that their various sites are listed correctly with Google Maps and other Web pages.
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