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What career will earn you the most money?

Fancy becoming a CEO, surgeon or air traffic controller? We explain the best get best-paying jobs in the UK and how to get them. 

How do you choose the right career? Maybe you like working with animals so you’re considering becoming a vet.

Or your parents were teachers, and you’re thinking of following them into the profession.

But let’s face it: the main reason most people go to work is to earn money. So we’ve taken a look at which jobs will give you the opportunity to bring home the biggest salaries.

Unfortunately, the best-paying positions tend to require a fair amount of extra training or studying. Life can be unfair like that.

So unless you’re a supremely talented footballer, say, or a pop singer lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, you’ll have to make some sort of investment – in terms of time as well as money – to gain the chance to get one of these top positions. 

Which jobs have the best salaries?

The Office for National Statistics keeps records of the average annual salaries for every classification of job in the UK.

According to its 2010 figures, some of the highest-paid positions are as below: but bear in mind that these are just average figures. Some people with these job titles will be paid more and some less than these figures. 

· Directors and chief executives of major organisations: £96,202 a year

· Medical practitioners (eg doctors, surgeons and consultants): £69,989

· Police inspectors (and above): £55,077

· Air traffic controllers: £51,609 

Omitted from this list are a number of more vague managerial roles, for example corporate managers, marketing managers and financial managers.

Suffice it to say, if you make it to a senior managerial position within a decent-sized company, you can expect to be rewarded well. 

So how do I get one of these jobs?

Some positions have a clearly defined career path: if you want to be a brain surgeon, for example, you’ll have to spend several years in medical school. Others can be reached by a variety of routes.

Look at chief executives: Phil Clarke took over as chief exec of Tesco in March. It is not yet known how much Clarke will be paid this year, but his predecessor Sir Terry Leahy earned salary and bonus worth £5.2 million in 2009-1010.

Clarke joined Tesco 30 years ago as a graduate trainee after studying economics at Liverpool University.

(Today the three-year course would set you back at least £27,000, as Liverpool is one of the universities planning to charge the maximum £9,000 a year for tuition fees.)

Ian Cheshire, CEO of retailer Kingfisher, which owns B&Q among other brands, has a similar background, with an economics and law degree from Cambridge University. He was paid a total of £4.2 million last year.

But you don’t have to have an economics qualification to be a high-paid company boss: Lord Sugar, for example, left school at the age of 16 to set up a variety of entrepreneurial ventures.

Ultimately though, most CEOs have to build up long and impressive CVs before being appointed to these roles. 

· Surgeons: The path to becoming a surgeon, however, is clearer, albeit no less daunting.

You will need to study for a medical degree, which normally takes five years (at a cost of £45,000 if your university charges the maximum for tuition fees – but bear in mind this money only needs to be paid back when you’re earning a decent salary).

After that you will need to spend two years on foundation training, although this is likely to be a paid role in a hospital.

Then comes two years’ core surgical training, and a further six years’ training in your chosen speciality.

Once that’s out of the way you can apply for one of those well-paid senior jobs. 

· Police inspectors: Joining the police force requires no particular qualifications, although you will have to pass entrance tests to become a police constable.

After that there is two years of on-the-job training.

Subsequent promotion to sergeant and then inspector depends on your performance in the roles you are given rather than any extra training. 

· Air-traffic controllers: You don’t need any particular formal qualifications to start training as an air-traffic controller, although the cost of a course is not cheap with some colleges charging as much as £30,000.

However, there is a good chance you could have these costs underwritten by a sponsoring employer, where you will receive extra on-the-job training after your course has ended.

National Air Traffic Services (NATS) says that the background of applicants is less important than their aptitude for this kind of work: qualities such as spatial awareness are highly valued.

NATS’ own course gives trainees a small basic salary while they are in college (for at least 11 months). This is increased when you start on-the-job training, but it will take several further years before you are fully qualified. How quickly this happens will depend on the progress you make.

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