NEW YORK (CNN/Money) – If ever you've wanted to make six figures, you may have thought you just weren't interested in the professions that everyone knows pay well -
think surgeon, dentist and celebrity divorce lawyer.
But in our continuing series about surprising 6-figure jobs we look at jobs that are anything but the "usual suspects." This week, the focus is on the artists of the virtual world; the noses of the fragrance industry; and the folks (not doctors) who help keep patients alive on the operating table.
|THE SIX-FIGURE SERIES
As noted in previous articles, not everyone in the fields covered commands paychecks over $100,000 – only those with enough experience and talent and who, typically, live in markets where their skills are in highest demand.
That is, the jobs that command six figures are almost never easy money. That's why, as with any job, it's important that the work be a reward unto itself.
Computer and video game artist: If ever you've played "Myst," "Everquest," "The Legend of Zelda" or any other computer or video game, you've probably noticed the elaborate visuals.
Such scenery was created by artists working in conjunction with a game's production team of designers, programmers, engineers, producers and others.
The artist takes a game's concept and converts it into 2D or 3D computer art, said Robin McShaffry, a director of the entertainment software recruiting firm Mary-Margaret.com.
While many video and computer game artists come out of college or art school, a degree is less important than drawing chops.
"You need to be talented before you're educated. There's a saying: 'Tools do not equal talent,'" said McShaffrey, who knows game artists who got their first paying gig in college.
To use all the software tools of the trade -- such as 3D Studio Max -- to the best possible extent, "you have to be able to pick up a pencil and draw," she explained.
Many game artists work on staff (and on site) for game publishers, and that's the way publishers like it, McShaffrey said, since they get more work out of the artists that way. While many work 50 hours a week on average, 70-hour weeks are common during crunch periods.
Most artists starting out make between $25,000 and $40,000 a year, but to make six figures, artists needs to have some experience (typically, seven to 10 years' worth) and/or helped create top-selling games.
Perfumer: A good nose and a good head for chemistry are two key traits for perfumers, the people on whom fragrance and household product makers rely to make everything from eau de toilette to toilet bowl cleaners.
Perfumers typically work for a fragrance house and come up with aroma formulas for a client's product, be it a perfume, shampoo, candle or furniture polish.
Creating the right scent is "is probably 50 percent art and creativity and 50 percent science," said Ken Lesenko, a fragrance industry veteran and founder of consulting and recruiting firm KWL Research Associates.
The science involves creating a formula that won't taint the client's unfragranced base in terms of viscosity or color, for instance. The art part is "like creating music," Lesenko said.
That is, you have to hit all the right notes, of which there are many. Whether you're going for a fresh lemony scent or a sultry blend, there may be a thousand ingredients that go into a fragrance.
A perfumer usually tests up to 100 formulas before arriving at the final submission for a client, who is also receiving submissions from rival fragrance houses. So the competition to win business is intense.
The field is small. There are only about 300 members of the American Society of Perfumers and likely no more than 1,000 official perfumers worldwide.
A low headcount has helped keep the price for top talent high, said Steve Herman, a chemist in the fragrance industry who teaches in a graduate cosmetic science program.
A junior perfumer may start out making $60,000, Lesenko said, but perfumers who come up with formulas for hit fragrances can easily command six figures.
Getting into the field usually requires a bachelor's degree in chemistry and time spent working as a lab technician at a fragrance house. But there are some perfumers who don't have college degrees, Herman noted.
Once you prove you have a keen sense of smell, you may serve as apprentice to a senior perfumer for five years, or the company may send you to perfumery school, Lesenko said.
Perfusionist: An ability to handle high levels of stress is characteristic of good perfusionists. That's because people's lives literally depend on their doing their best work.
Working closely with surgeons and anesthesiologists, perfusionists operate heart-lung machines that serve as life-support systems for patients during vital-organ transplants, open-heart surgeries and other critical-care events.
The machines they use support or temporarily replace the patient's circulatory or respiratory functions.
Perfusionists can work freelance, but many work full-time for hospitals or doctors' practices. Like other medical personnel, they are on-call regularly and hours can be long.
While they're not required to go to medical school, perfusionists need formal training. They must complete an accredited training program, which takes two years on average, said George Cate, executive director of the American Society of Extra-Corporeal Technology.
A typical starting salary after graduation might be $55,000 to $60,000, although salaries may be higher in high-cost areas, Cate said.
Once perfusionists get enough clinical experience – working on at least 50 cases -- they are eligible to take a two-part certification exam administered by the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion (ABCP).
Certification is not mandatory, but the majority of perfusionists are certified. "Today's employers won't be interested unless someone is at least eligible to take certification," Cate said.
As for perfusionists who earn six figures, "there are many who do," Cate said. But those most likely to do so live in high-cost areas or have worked in the field for at least 10 years.