09 July 2015

Some alternative routes to a happy working life

It’s that time of year when the latest university graduates start thinking through their first steps on the career ladder.

The good news is that there are more graduate jobs available to choose from this year than at any time in the last decade, and top graduate employers are offering positions with an average starting salary of £30,000. Nationwide’s graduate training scheme and school leavers apprenticeship programme both offer opportunities to explore a range of different careers in finance.

However, not all dream jobs are with top accountants, law firms or even building societies. Here are some less conventional career options that could turn into jobs most people would only get to fantasise about.

Chocolate Taster

If you’ve studied chemistry, then a major pharmaceutical company isn’t your only career option. Cat Channon graduated from Warwick University with a chemistry degree three years ago and joined the lab at the Bourneville chocolate factory testing caramel. Her starting salary was £7.50 an hour but three years later she’s leading her own research and development team working on new products for Cadbury. She spends up to 20% of her working week tasting chocolate.

How do you become a chocolate taster?

Cat told The Guardian in an interview: “It helps to have a relevant background, whether that’s in chemistry, engineering or something culinary. If you’re doing something like creating a new chocolate recipe or a new filling recipe, or looking at how you can aerate a chocolate bar to make it bubbly, then a chemistry background becomes very important.”

What can you earn?

Chocolate tasting comes with a salary of between £24,000 and £30,000 per year.

Stylist to the rich and famous

If you like the idea of being paid to shop, then a background in fashion could set you on the way to becoming a personal stylist. But you have to really, really know your fashion. As Chiara Solloa, a stylist for 10 years, told The Huffington Post: “Study your field. Getting a little fashion history under your belt can really help.”

How do you become a stylist?

Wendy Elsmore, founder of the London College of Style told Company magazine how fashion knowledge is everything: “Immerse yourself in current trends but also look back over the decades and learn about the history of fashion, so you can set today’s looks in context and have the knowledge from which to draw inspiration.” You can get valuable experience by applying for internships and work experience. Networking is key here. Try contacting retailers, fashion and art colleges and asking to be added to their mailing lists.

What can you earn?

Personal shoppers can expect a starting salary of around £19,000. Freelance stylists command more – as much as £400 per day, but the work is less regular.

Movie location manager

Fancy getting paid to travel the world exploring exotic locations? Then a career as a movie location manager might be for you. US-based Charlie Harrington has been finding locations for big budget Hollywood productions such as Good Will Hunting for 30 years. He has had some great challenges, as he told Boston National Public Radio’s Artery, “Fly around the Caribbean and find the best waterfall. Or one summer I just flew around the Arctic Circle, dog sledded and helicoptered everywhere.”

How do you become a movie location manager?

As you might imagine, competition is fierce for this kind of work. You’ll need to start as a location scout working as an apprentice to an experienced manager – and getting that kind of work is dependent on a lot of networking, knocking on doors and being in the right place at the right time. Nick Ray, who has scouted locations in Cambodia for films like Tomb Raider, started out as a travel writer. “I had just finished a new edition of Lonely Planet’s Cambodia and thought that the country should be covered for the Globe Trekker TV series”, he told Wanderlust. “I contacted Pilot Productions and sold it to them over lunch. I chose the locations and worked with the crew during their three-week shoot in Cambodia.” He’s never looked back since.

What can you earn?

Location managers usually work as freelancers. The standard rate of pay is £240 per day, but of course, if you get a gig with a big budget Hollywood blockbuster you could expect to earn significantly more.

International wine buyer

A career spent sipping fine wines would fill plenty of people with envy – but enjoying a tipple isn’t the qualification you need for becoming a wine merchant; this is a career for people with real business acumen. Ian Harris, Chief Executive of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) mentions, “Being a bon viveur who loves good wine and good company is very different from having the commercial nous necessary to become a top-class wine merchant. Although tasting is an essential part of the education process, it’s important to recognise that there’s a lot of hard work to do if you want to make this a career.”

How do you become a wine buyer?

Graduate schemes such as that run by Majestic Wines offer one route in, and there are specific courses run by the WSET that can significantly improve your appeal as a candidate.

What can you earn?

The starting salary for a wine buyer is likely to be around £16,000 – rising to £35,000 with more experience.

Video game tester

Testing video games isn’t particularly well-paid, but for devoted gamers it’s an opportunity to spend time doing what you love; it can also give you a foothold in Britain’s booming video games industry. Gary, a recent graduate and games tester told O2’s Go Think Big careers website what day-to-day testing involves: “You get in, boot up the console you’ve been told to work on and work through a spreadsheet. If the game fails a certain stage then you have to write a report and send it off to the programmers who will send you a newer version back, with the problems amended.”

How do you become a video game tester?

There are no formal qualifications – the best experience comes from knowing games inside out. But working at a game store will probably stand you in good stead. Gary had a degree in digital media, but it was his experience in a games shop and his wide experience of gaming that got him the job. You need to be able to demonstrate good analytical skills, good communication skills, an eye for detail and a methodical approach.

What can you earn?

Games testers start at around £12,000 but can expect to earn up to £30,000 with experience.

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