Exciting Careers: 30 Thrilling & Unique Options That Pay Well
By Crystal Lee
| Last Updated July 29, 2020
Exciting careers make going to work every day something to look forward to. After all, when people describe their ideal jobs, the words "boring," "mundane," and "tedious" do not usually make the list. By contrast, exciting jobs engage your passions and keep you coming back. They challenge you to fulfill your potential.
Lots of people want exciting careers, but not everyone would agree on what "exciting" actually means. Some people might say the most exciting jobs provide an adrenaline rush: They're fast-paced and unpredictable, with plenty of danger and risk. Others might argue that exciting careers include becoming famous or at least being in the center of the action. Still others might insist that exciting jobs involve working with cutting-edge technology or in extreme or exotic environments.
Everyone has different interests and passions. A job that one person finds thrilling might strike someone else as too risky or uncomfortable. It all depends on individual preferences. But while people might argue about what features an exciting job must have, most would agree that a good salary is essential. After all, poverty is certainly not exciting.
The following list of exciting jobs that pay well is divided into five different areas of interest, though some careers could easily fall into more than one category. The list includes jobs in:
- Emergency services
- Law and order
- Science and technology
- Media and entertainment
- Travel and adventure
Plus, check out our list of practical jobs that you can make exciting!
Salary information is based on data from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program unless indicated as being from (1) PayScale, (2) Salary.com, (3) FederalPay.org, (4) SimplyHired, (5) the Central Intelligence Agency, (6) Job Monkey, or (7) Sporting Intelligence.
Exciting Careers in Emergency Services
Being directly responsible for making sure people stay alive makes for pretty exciting work. Some of these careers can actually be kind of routine—until disaster strikes and it's up to these workers to respond. Knowing you're in charge when people's lives hang in the balance is a definite adrenaline boost.
1. ER doctor
You never know what you're going to get in the emergency room. You might have simple cases of ear infections or broken bones, or you might have to deal with gunshot wounds and stabbing injuries. In emergencies, the stakes are incredibly high: If you don't act quickly and make the right calls, your patients could die. If you can handle the blood and gore (not to mention the pressure of literally having lives in your hands), you might want a career as an ER doctor.
- Average salary—$288,5642
2. Air traffic controller
Controlling the movement of airplanes—both in the sky and on the ground—takes some serious mental toughness. Air traffic controllers are responsible for the safety of thousands of passengers during every single shift. It's intense, fast-paced work that leaves no room for error. The pressure gets even greater when an emergency happens and you have to guide a pilot to the ground now. If you're an adrenaline junkie, this might be the career for you.
- Average salary—$120,140
3. Helicopter search and rescue pilot
When people get stranded or injured out in the ocean or deep in the woods, a helicopter search and rescue pilot is often tasked with locating them and bringing them to safety. You might have to maneuver your chopper through wind, rain, and even lightning to reach your target, which could be anywhere from the open ocean to the side of a mountain. You may also have to provide basic medical care to people with life-threatening injuries. It's not a career for the faint-hearted. So good flight training is a must.
- Average salary—$96,5902
When everyone else is running away from a fire, these professionals rush toward it. Firefighters risk their lives to rescue people from burning buildings and get the flames under control. You might spend most of your shift sitting around at the fire station, but when the alarm goes off you have to be ready to spring into instant action. It's physically demanding work (the protective gear alone weighs about 45 pounds, not to mention the hoses and other equipment you need to carry), but it's also very heroic.
- Average salary—$54,650
5. 911 dispatcher
Coaching people through difficult situations—like performing CPR on an elderly relative or delivering a baby in the middle of a traffic jam—is all in a day's work for a 911 dispatcher. The whole purpose of the job is to help people deal with terrible circumstances while sending assistance their way. You have to keep yourself and the people on the phone calm while coordinating with police, fire, and ambulance services to make sure callers get the appropriate help they need. Things can go south very quickly, so you need to be on your toes at all times.
- Average salary—$44,310
Being among the first on the scene at a medical emergency requires quick thinking and a calm demeanor, not to mention a strong stomach. At accident scenes and other emergencies, lives can depend on the knowledge and skill of a paramedic. Your role is essentially to bring the emergency room to the patient. You might have to insert breathing tubes or administer IVs before high-tailing it to a hospital, all the while keeping a clear head.
- Average salary—$38,830
Exciting Careers in Law and Order
Making sure criminals get caught and citizens stay safe can be exhilarating work. Danger is par for the course in these careers, all of which come with a high risk of injury or even death. If you get a thrill from being on the front lines and keeping people safe, these careers will definitely get your heart pumping.
7. Crisis negotiator
When everyone else is losing their head, a crisis negotiator remains calm, cool, and collected. That's because they're responsible for talking their way toward a peaceful, nonviolent end to kidnappings, hijackings, suicides, and hostage situations. You need good self-control and outstanding communication skills to make it in this high-pressure career, but avoiding bloodshed and anarchy can make for a real adrenaline rush.
- Typical salary—Between $50,246 and $102,288 for all types of FBI special agents, depending on experience33
8. SWAT team member
If you're willing to endure extreme physical challenges and stand firm in the face of immense danger, you might have what it takes to make it as a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team member. These specialized police officers respond to high-risk, volatile situations that regular police forces are not equipped to handle, such as riots and hostage rescues. Using tear gas to break up a crowd or aiming a high-powered rifle at a barricaded suspect can really get the blood flowing.
- Average salary—$67,600
9. Bomb squad technician
There's nothing like the threat of being blown to smithereens to add a little excitement to your day. Bomb squad technicians take enormous risks every time they respond to a call of a suspicious suitcase in an airport or a ticking package outside an office building. One wrong move on your part could mean widespread death and destruction. This career requires a level head, a steady hand, and an inordinate amount of courage. But you do get to (safely) blow stuff up once in a while.
- Average salary—$79,9254
You need a phenomenal memory and keen powers of observation to make it as a spy (or as the CIA calls it, a Clandestine Operations Officer). After all, not only do you need to remember every detail of your cover story, but you also need to absorb everything that is said to you—and you can't risk writing any of it down. Secrets are paramount in this career. The CIA doesn't even want you talking about the fact that you've applied for this exciting job.
- Typical salary—$59,426 to $90,4615
11. Bounty hunter
Also known as bail enforcement officers, bounty hunters work with bail bonds companies to track down fugitives who have skipped bail by failing to appear in court. The idea is to find the criminals and bring them in to face justice. You don't have to have a background in law enforcement, though many bounty hunters do. It's highly dangerous work. Most fugitives are desperate to avoid being arrested, and they may be heavily armed. You need to be prepared for anything.
- Average salary—$50,000 to $80,0006
12. Correctional officer
Keeping order among hardened criminals in prisons and jails can certainly make for an exciting workday. Checking for contraband, settling disputes between inmates, and preventing full-scale riots are all part of the job. You have to be constantly on your guard in order to stay safe and keep a tense situation from spiraling out of control. It can be difficult to stay calm and objective in this high-stress environment, but the adrenaline can help keep you going.
- Average salary—$50,130
Exciting Careers in Science and Technology
Working on the cutting edge of science and technology can be a huge thrill. Pushing the boundaries of what's possible and constantly striving for new knowledge can be immensely rewarding. If you dream of coming up with innovations that make the world a better place, you might want to consider these exciting jobs for women and men who like getting their geek on.
13. Cloud architect
Does the idea of using leading-edge cloud computing technology to solve business problems get your blood pumping? Try becoming a cloud architect. These big-picture information technology professionals help companies move their applications to, and store their data in, "the cloud." You could spend your days designing and building new cloud environments. If you get a kick out of working with the latest and greatest technology, have a look at this career.
- Median salary—$128,4181
14. Aerospace engineer
Could anything be more exciting than literally being a rocket scientist? Aerospace engineers use their knowledge of physics and other sciences to design vehicles and devices that fly—from airplanes and spacecraft to satellites and missiles. On any given day, you could be conducting wind tunnel tests on an aircraft design or modifying a computer model of a missile guidance system. Being able to shape the future of transportation can be a real high.
- Average salary—$119,220
If getting up close and personal with one of the most destructive forces in nature is your idea of an exciting career, consider becoming a volcanologist. These scientists travel to remote locations around the world to study active, dormant, and extinct volcanoes in the hopes of figuring out how and why eruptions happen. It can be dangerous work, and you sometimes have to contend with hazardous weather conditions. But the ultimate goal is to find ways to predict eruptions and save lives.
- Average salary—$108,350
16. Roller coaster designer
Designing thrill rides can be a thrill in and of itself. Roller coaster designers figure out how to place the tracks to ensure that a ride will be fast enough to be exciting but controlled enough to be safe. Designers have to test out their creations many times to make sure they meet the right speeds, weights, and forces. You don't want riders getting whiplash, for example. If you're a kid at heart, this might be the exciting career you're looking for.
- Average salary—$93,540 (among all mechanical engineers)
17. Robotics engineer
Want to design and build robots to go anywhere from deep space to the ocean depths? Robotics engineers draw on aspects of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science, and even psychology to create machines capable of performing amazingly complex tasks. You could find yourself making robots to be used in surgery, manufacturing, or mining. This is one career that keeps you on the cutting edge.
- Median salary—$83,0551
Few things will get your heart racing like sitting on top of seven million pounds of rocket fuel while waiting for blastoff, repairing a satellite while tethered to the outside of a spacecraft, or watching the sun rise 16 times a day while in orbit. As they say on Star Trek, astronauts "boldly go where no one has gone before." The risks are enormous, but the rewards are huge. How many people can say they've explored distant planets and walked among the stars?
- Typical salary—$89,693 to $122,3363
Collecting evidence at crime scenes and analyzing it to figure out "whodunit" keeps forensic science technicians busy. In this career, you might do anything from making sketches and taking photos to analyzing things like fingerprints, DNA, or ballistics evidence. You can't be squeamish, and you have to be very precise. Knowing that your conclusions could lead to a suspect's conviction can be a big adrenaline boost.
- Average salary—$63,170
Exciting Careers in Media and Entertainment
Working right in the center of the action can come with a major adrenaline rush. Performing for an audience and feeding off the roar of a crowd can lead to a high like no other. If you long for the kind of job that puts you in the spotlight, one of these careers could be just what you're looking for.
20. Professional athlete
Whether it's in basketball, baseball, football, or soccer, professional athletes live for the thrill of competing in front of a crowd. Every encounter is a high-energy, fast-paced effort that could end in "the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat," as Jim McKay used to say on ABC's Wide World of Sports. Injuries are common, but many athletes would say they are just the price of doing business. If you have what it takes to make it to the top, a career as a pro athlete can be immensely rewarding.
- Average salary—From $75,181 for WNBA players to $8.3 million for those in the NBA7
21. Stunt performer
Have you ever dreamed of a career as an action hero? Stunt performers are highly trained professionals who do all the death-defying feats that would be too dangerous for regular film and television actors: Dodging bullets, escaping infernos, crashing cars, and jumping off rooftops are all par for the course. All stunts are carefully planned and rehearsed to be as safe as possible, but you still need to be prepared to take risks.
- Average salary—$70,0006
22. Sports announcer
Keeping people entertained and making your listeners or viewers feel like they're part of the game is the main focus of a sports announcer. These broadcasting pros are usually sports nuts who love the excitement of following along with all the action. You need to pay close attention, think fast, and have plenty of stats and stories to share. As an added bonus, you sometimes get to interview the top stars of each sport.
- Median salary—$50,8681
23. War correspondent
Sometimes being in the center of the action means working in a war zone. War correspondents routinely travel to the world's most dangerous conflict areas to report on what's happening. They might find themselves dodging gunfire and avoiding insurgents, but the glory and fame of getting the big story and keeping the world informed keeps these journalists going. Reporting from the front lines can be an intensely exciting type of journalism.
- Average salary—$62,400
24. Sports photographer
Imagine being on the sidelines of the Super Bowl or above the ice at the Stanley Cup finals. That's where photography training can lead. Sports photographers make a career out of capturing all the action with their cameras. You have to be both incredibly quick and extremely creative to get the shot that no one else has and everyone else wants, but seeing the photo you took appear in newspapers and on websites around the world can be a dizzying experience.
- Average salary—$45,440
25. Adventure filmmaker
Documenting the feeding habits of humpback whales or the realities of life on the frozen northern tundra allows you to live life on the edge. It's an exhilarating type of filmmaking. Adventure filmmakers tell exciting stories about nature, wildlife, extreme sports, or exotic expeditions through a camera lens. They go to incredible lengths to get the footage that grips an audience. Dangling from a helicopter above a mountain range or descending into the ocean in a shark cage could get anyone's pulse racing.
- Yearly pay—As much as $100,000 for an established pro who works for a popular cable network6
Exciting Careers in Travel and Adventure
For those with wanderlust, the greatest thrills come from seeing new places, working in exotic locales, or experiencing different cultures. The good news is that there are ways to do all of those things and make a decent living at the same time. If you yearn to move from place to place, check out these exciting jobs for men and women who love traveling more than anything else.
26. Airline pilot
It takes a lot of flight training and experience to get a job as an airline pilot. But there's nothing quite like seeing a sunrise at 35,000 feet or flying high above the spectacular fireworks show of a thunderstorm. Airline pilots get to combine the thrill of soaring high above the earth with the joy of traveling to destinations all around the world. The fact that they are responsible for passenger safety simply adds to the excitement. A standard flight can be fairly routine or even boring, but if an engine quits or something else goes wrong, you need to be on top of your game.
- Average salary—$174,870
27. Cruise director
Ever dreamed of a career at sea? Cruise directors are in charge of all entertainment on board a cruise ship. They organize singers, dancers, comedians, bingo games, trivia quizzes, and more, all while sailing to various ports around the globe. As the most visible member of the ship's staff, you're constantly in the spotlight; you need to be charming, energetic, and diplomatic, especially when dealing with disgruntled passengers. But if you're truly a people person, the rewards can be great.
- Typical salary—$3,000 to $7,000 a month6
28. Travel nurse
If you have an adventurous spirit, enjoy providing patient care, and relish the idea of being able to choose where you live and work, you might want to go into registered nursing and become a travel nurse. Hospitals around the country hire travel nurses to work short-term temporary contracts. The job comes with some pretty cool perks: You get to see different cities, have your housing and travel expenses paid for, and receive a salary that's generally higher than that of regular staff nurses.
- Average salary—$77,460 (among all registered nurses)
29. Tour manager
Creating memorable vacations for people can be an exciting adventure. Tour managers lead groups on organized tours, which could be anywhere from a few days to a few months long. Imagine taking a group to dine at the Eiffel Tower or marvel at the Grand Canyon. It's not all fun and games—you're on duty 24/7 and have to handle unexpected delays and passenger problems—but it sure beats a desk job. Getting paid to see the world is pretty awesome.
- Typical pay—Up to $400 a day6
30. Skydiving instructor
What if you could make a career out of your favorite thrill-seeking hobby? Showing people how to jump out of an airplane and make it to the ground in one piece could be the ultimate job. Skydiving instructors use their knowledge of drop zones, freefalls, and landings to create safe yet exciting experiences for their students. If you're addicted to adrenaline, this could be the career for you.
- Average yearly pay—$46,120 (for all self-enrichment education teachers, including extreme sports instructors)
9 Practical Jobs That You Can Make Exciting
The jobs described above are probably some of the most common ones that come to mind when you think of exciting careers. But the truth is that any job can get your adrenaline flowing if it captures your imagination and makes you excited to go to work. It all depends on your own interests and passions. Here are a few less-obvious careers that might get you fired up:
1. Web designer
Think of how exciting it could be to have a career that blends creative artistry and technical savvy! Web designers come up with innovative ways to improve the online user experience and push the limits of what's possible.
- Average salary—$82,370
Through the creative application of cosmetics, makeup artists can transform an actor or actress into virtually any type of character needed for a stage or screen production. Working behind the scenes on film or theater sets and crafting just the right look for each performer can be a real adrenaline boost.
- Average salary—$81,600
3. Personal chef
Are you up for the challenge of planning and preparing unique and delicious meals for private clients? Personal chefs design customized menus, gather ingredients, and cook food in their clients' homes. Each new job can be an exciting creative endeavor. So why not get some culinary training?
- Median salary—$69,7221
Fascinated by fast cars? Maximizing the performance of high-powered engines in street rods and race cars can be incredibly thrilling work. Motorsports teams are obvious potential employers, but you could also find opportunities with repair shops and aftermarket parts companies.
- Potential salary—$68,880 (for the top 10 percent of auto technicians)
Working with electricity under the ocean's surface will definitely get your heart pumping. Underwater welders are tasked with building and repairing things like pipelines, telecommunications equipment, oil rigs, dams, and port facilities. It's highly dangerous but very exciting work.
- Median salary—$64,4861
Using high-tech tools to produce the best possible sound for musical recordings, theatrical performances, television productions, and even sporting events can be a huge thrill. Audio engineers create the optimum mix of voices, music, and sound effects to achieve the perfect tone for each project.
- Average salary—$67,090
Looking for a career on the cutting edge of medical technology? Radiologic technologists use sophisticated imaging equipment to take pictures of people's insides. They can perform x-rays, CTs, MRIs, and more.
- Average salary—$63,120
Making sure a special event goes off without a hitch can be a thrilling experience. Event planners get to organize and coordinate the details behind weddings, festivals, tournaments, fashion shows, and much more. It's a fast-paced job with plenty of variety.
- Average salary—$54,880
Are you eager for a high-energy job that involves helping people enhance their well-being through physical activity? You could turn your passion for exercise and healthy living into an exciting and rewarding career as a fitness trainer.
- Average salary—$45,110
Choose Your Path
There are plenty of exciting careers to be had in a variety of interest areas. Think about what would make a job exciting to you. Do you have the skills you need to fulfill your ambitions? Why not explore training options in your area? Enter your zip code into the search tool below to find convenient programs!