The path to a great job is rarely well-marked, and it can be different for everyone.
Continue Reading Below
Whether you luck into your dream job through family or friends or claw your way to the top via blood, sweat and tears, it's all the same at the end. But there may be a couple of common themes -- for instance, networking.
For the people who land cool, lucrative jobs, it's not what they know, but who.
We talked to five people who have cool jobs that pay well and asked them how they managed to land the gigs.
The Airplane Salesman -- Dennis Andersen
Imagine making a seven-figure income, rubbing elbows with the richest people in the world and riding in sweet jets whenever you want. Welcome to the world of Dennis Andersen.
Andersen worked his way up, beginning as a mechanic under his father's tutelage. After he tired of repairing planes, he learned to fly them.
"My dad was an airplane mechanic, so I had no choice but to go help after school and I did that for quite some time. Got all my ratings and licenses, and then started flying. Got tired of that and got into sales. You're home more and you get paid better," he says.
After brokering planes for someone else's company, he decided to go out on his own.
The hardest part was coming up with the money in the beginning.
"Anybody can broker them, but we buy them ourselves and sell them," he says.
His company, Florida Jet, buys airplanes from around the world, does repairs and upgrades, and then resells them to corporations and individuals.
Vice President of Public Relations -- Ryan May
Ryan May successfully used online networking to leapfrog his way to a better position.
"I was a communications manager for a defense contractor, but they were relocating so it turned into too much travel. I have two kids and my wife was pregnant," May says.
He looked through his LinkedIn.com contacts to see who he could reach out to about a job despite the troubled economy.
"I contacted my current boss about getting a position at Risdall McKinney Public Relations, and she said, 'Nope. We don't have any positions, but thanks for reaching out,'" he says.
"Then two months later, she shot me an e-mail saying, 'Hey let's have lunch.' So we did, and then had lunch again and then before you know it, I had a new job as vice president of public relations at this agency. It was a nice step up," says May.
The average salary for that position is between $80,000 and $115,000. Getting out and talking to people can really pay off.
Managing Director of China BrightStar -- Michael Zakkour
Michael Zakkour had no experience dealing with China when he began working for a company in New Jersey that manufactured leather jackets.
"My background was high-tech marketing," says Zakkour. "My stock broker said he had a friend in New Jersey with this business and I should go talk to him."
"I went to talk to this guy, and he explained to me what he was interested in doing, and I explained to him that I was not qualified," he says.
Three weeks later Zakkour was on a plane to Beijing where he learned how products are made in China and how they reach shelves in America. Eventually he established his own consulting firm and expanded on the business model.
His company helps businesses break into the Chinese market, and also helps Chinese companies take their products directly to American consumers.
Besides jetting around the world, China consultants do pretty well for themselves.
"A good China sourcing, marketing, manufacturing or business consultant with a couple years' experience can make in the $75,000 to $100,000 range," Zakkour says.
"But once you start moving up the chain to where I am, with eight years of experience running your own company, the sky is the limit," he says.
Voice-Over Artist -- Jeannie Stith
If your ideal job entails working eight to 10 hours a week, making about $100,000 per year, then being a voice-over artist might be right for you.
If, that is, you have a unique voice or talent.
Jeannie Stith broke into the business through a friend.
"He was doing voice-over work and spoke to our theater class about it. I was interested and wanted to try and he got me my first job and it snowballed from there," she says.
Stith markets herself to recording studios and ad agencies and works through an agent.
"For commercial work, I have a demo that is made up of clips of commercials that have all the sounds I can do well. And then they hire me for a job and I go to the studio. A lot of times I don't even know what I'm doing until I get there," she says.
"I'm my own boss, so I don't have to take the job if I don't want to. It's very competitive, but if you have something unique, then there is always room for someone who is excellent," Stith says.
Ghostwriter -- Dee Burks
All those celebrity and politician memoirs don't write themselves. The authors usually have the assistance of a ghostwriter who helps with research, organization and structure.
Dee Burks found herself employed as a ghostwriter after beginning a freelance career to pay for a cruise.
"I met a guy who was a grant writer and he asked if I had done any ghostwriting. I got my first project from a publisher that he knew," Burks says.
"Ghostwriters are more like a writing coach or collaborator. We help structure the book, get their personal stories together through interviews, research and organize; then they review and make revisions," she says of the celebrity authors.
Burks works about 40 to 50 hours a week. Though the work is seasonal, she makes about $150,000 per year.
After her first project, the publisher asked her if she knew any other writers and her Amarillo, Texas-based company, The Amarillo Group, was born. It's grown to 20 writers who work for five publishers.
With a couple of best-sellers under her belt, Burks spends most working days in fuzzy slippers with her bulldog asleep under her desk.
"I wouldn't trade it for anything!" she says.