07/26/2012 05:05 pm ET | Updated Sep 25, 2012

The Seven Coolest Jobs You've Never Heard Of

When I was in elementary school, I wanted to be a movie star. The career had it all: Hollywood glamour, traveling, playing lead roles alongside hot actors -- what could be better? It seemed like the perfect plan. Until, of course, I realized that a bazillion other little girls wanted to be movie stars, too, and that having a few lead parts in school shows wasn't exactly going to rocket me to an Oscar nomination. I needed to get real, and pick an attainable career path.

Luckily, an attainable career does not have to mean nine-to-five desk job blues. So for those of you who've long ago put aside your dreams of becoming an actress or rock star but haven't given up on working a super cool job, here's a list of seven careers that will still have you doing awesome and interesting things -- but they're not the ones that every little girl is practicing using her hairbrush as a microphone to prepare for.


What it is: Cracking and creating codes. What career could get you closer to the reality of your favorite digital-age thriller movies? Ok, so working as a cryptographer isn't actually going to be as action-packed as a blockbuster film, but it's pretty neat. Many cryptographers are employed by technology companies where they work to keep information shared over the Internet, like credit card numbers, private. But many others work for the government, especially at the National Security Agency, where the exact work they do is classified, but could include things like figuring out how to send out secret messages to the military or cracking codes to find criminals.

How you get there: A B.S. in math or computer science is required for almost all entry-level cryptographer jobs, although if you've taken a lot of courses in either without it being your official major, that could work too. Cryptographers are also usually bi- or multi-lingual (you knew that foreign language requirement would come in handy somewhere, right?). And most advanced jobs require a master's degree or even a Ph.D. in math or computer science, so expect to be spending some more time in school if you want to move up in the field. Once you have the education you need, look through job listings at government agencies or technology companies.

Image Consultant

What it is: Helping people fix all aspects of their image -- from their hair and clothes to their manner of speaking and walking. Many image consultants develop a specialty, like working with politicians or TV personalities. Some also work exclusively with one aspect of someone's image, like their wardrobe or speaking habits. Others work on cultivating the core of their client's image and refer them to specialists, like hairstylists or etiquette experts, to help with specifics.

How you get there: Though you don't need it to become an image consultant, certification is available through the Association of Image Consultants International (AICI). Through completing courses and taking tests, you can earn three different levels of certification: First Level, Image Professional, and Image Master. Once you have certification, you can set up a business and start finding clients. College seniors and recent grads make good first clients because it's easy to reach a lot of them at once, and they'll be less picky about your prior experience than, say, a CEO.

Sound Design

What it is: Composing music or sounds for businesses, like a commercial jingle, the introduction to a television program (like the music that signifies you're watching the Olympics on NBC), or even the music playing in the lobby at a Hilton hotel. Ok, so I know to a musician this sounds a little like selling out, but it's actually cool because you get to figure out how to make a jingle stick, and what sounds people associate with what products or events. So it really involves more than just writing music; it requires understanding how people think. As a bonus, lots of people will actually hear and remember what you write (since hopefully it's catchy)!

How you get there: Study music, brand management, or marketing in school. Internships are also key in this industry, so look up your favorite brands and see if they're hiring for the school year or summer. If they don't have a sound design internship, see if there's something in the marketing department that would include sound design as part of your experience. Alternatively, if you've composed a jingle or song you think is perfect for someplace, you can send a copy to their marketing department and see what happens.

Genetic Counselor

What it is: Counseling families about inherited diseases. Genetic counselors meet with pregnant women or couples who are planning a family to help assess the risk that their child could have a disease that is passed down through genes, like Down Syndrome or Tay-Sachs disease. Once a couple knows their risk level, the genetic counselor explains their options for raising a family and guides their decision-making process.

How you get there: Licensed genetic counselors must have a master's degree in the field from an accredited master's program, as well as pass a certification exam. Master's degree programs all have different prerequisites, but most prefer students who majored in biology or a social science. They also look for applicants with genetic counseling internships or other counseling experience.

Menu Engineer

What it is: Figuring out how much to charge for food at a restaurant. Ever wonder who decided that a Frappuccino should cost so much more than a coffee? Menu engineers did. They look at how much a menu item costs to make and how popular it is to determine the prices that will result in maximum profit for the restaurants. Specifically, they try to find prices that will encourage the purchase of highly profitable items while discouraging the purchase of less profitable items. They also physically design the menu in a way that gets people to pay more attention to higher priced items. Become a menu engineer and you can be the person everyone blames after realizing they spent $3 for a tiny cup of ice cream (but hey, you convinced us we should).

How you get there: Study hospitality, marketing, economics, or psychology. Pay attention to prices when you go out to eat to give yourself a common sense education in the field. Then, look for internships in restaurant management or hospitality consulting. Most menu engineers work for hospitality consulting companies, but if you're really good, you can start your own business after you've developed contacts in the industry.