Help Wanted: How to Pick a Job for Your Character

Nisha Tuli
April 20, 2023

We spend a lot of time thinking about our characters—what they look like, how they talk, their backstory, and their emotional wounds. But one thing you might not have given as much thought to is how they earn a living every day.

It’s just a fact of life that most of us have a job of some kind to bring home the bacon (or perhaps tempeh, if you’re a vegetarian), no matter the setting or time period we live in. A roving knight works as a mercenary for a corrupt king. A billionaire manages properties while he’s busy whisking his lover all over the world. Or a ragged survivor of a dystopian nightmare works as the leader of a rebellion (some jobs definitely pay better than others). 

In some cases, the job is the story. Think about a detective or an office romance. Without the work, there’s no story. 

So how do you choose a job for your characters? In this article we’ll talk about:

  • Researching the details of various jobs
  • Matching jobs to your character’s traits
  • How to incorporate the job into your story arc
  • How to choose the right job for your characters goals
  • And look at a list of jobs you’ve maybe never heard of for inspiration

Researching Potential Jobs

You might think that being a journalist or maybe a glass blower sounds pretty cool, but really you have no idea what the day-to-day of these jobs entails. So what do we do? We do some research. 

Start with a general idea

Begin by brainstorming a list of potential jobs that align with your character's skills, personality, and aspirations. Try to think of a variety of options that would make sense for the setting and time period of your story.

Look at real-world examples

Search the job boards and look at job descriptions, required qualifications, typical day-to-day responsibilities, and the overall industry or field. This will give you a sense of what the job is like in the real world and can help make it more believable in your story.

Interview people who have those jobs

If possible, talk to people who work in the field you’re researching. They can offer valuable insights and help you understand the challenges and rewards of the job. Some jobs are pretty complicated and talking to someone who understands the nuances can be invaluable. 

Read books, watch videos and documentaries

Check out books, videos, documentaries, and articles written by people in these professions. Obviously, this helps make it more real and can even help give you some plot ideas if you find a common theme amongst them—perhaps a real-world issue that is a point of contention for that industry. 

Take note of the details

Reality is often in the smaller details. Getting those right can go a long way to creating a more believable character. Pay attention to specific details related to the job, such as the jargon, dress code, equipment they use, etc.

Using Character Traits to Find Your Character a Job

I think we all know that certain people gravitate to certain lines of work due, in part, to certain aspects of our personalities and personal traits. The same might be said of your characters.  

Match personality traits with appropriate jobs

Think about the personality traits that define your character and consider how they would align with different jobs. For example, a character who’s outgoing and persuasive might be ideal for a career in sales or politics, while a character who is analytical and detail-oriented might be better suited for a career in finance or engineering.

Match skills with job requirements

Think about the skills that your character possesses and match them with the requirements for different jobs. For example, if your character is a talented artist, they might be suited for a career in the art or design field, while a character who is a skilled mechanic might be right for a career with cars and things that go vroom. I think you get the idea. It’s important that these all line up to make your story believable. 

Think about what the character would enjoy

You know the old saying—do what you love and never work a day in your life? Well, that might be true of your characters, too. Think about what they might enjoy doing. What are their passions or hobbies? This can help you come up with some interesting job prospects that add depth to your story. 

Consider their values and beliefs

What are your character's core values and beliefs? You could try matching them with jobs that align with those values. For example, a character who is highly empathetic and compassionate might make a great social worker, while a character who is very ambitious and goal-oriented may be better for a career in business.

Match the setting and time period with the job

If you aren’t writing in a modern, contemporary setting, you need to keep the setting and time period of your story in mind. Give your characters jobs that make sense for the time and place of your setting. Assigning your character the role of computer hacker in Victorian England might raise a few eyebrows. 

Fitting the Job to Your Story Arc

Here’s where you want to consider how important the role of your character’s job is to your story. It might be the story or it might simply be a bit of background information that informs a detail or two of your story. If you’re making the career front and center, give some thought to how it fits in with your overall story.

Incorporating the job into the overall story arc

Think about how the character's job integrates into the overall story arc. The character's job might create conflict, tension, or opportunities for them to grow and develop. It can also be a source of motivation for the character and drive the story forward.

Conflict and character development

The job can also be the source of conflict, either at their workplace, or because it stands in the way of something they want. That journey towards achieving their dreams is also an opportunity to help develop their character. If they work for an evil corporation secretly dumping toxic sludge into the town’s water supply, then a meek and usually aloof office worker might find their purpose as both a secret investigator and advocate for the people. (Listen, if you’ve heard this story, don’t come at me.) 

Using Your Character’s Goals to Find the Right Job

If you’re going the route of the job being more front and center, then considering your character’s goals and motivations can be a great way to add depth to your story. 

If a character's job is not in line with their goals and aspirations, it's difficult to create a believable portrayal. For example, if your character wants to make a difference in the world, but their job is in finance, it may be hard to reconcile those two aspects of the character.

Conversely, when your character's job isn’t in line with their goals, it can create conflict and tension and can be a source of inner turmoil as they try to find their purpose in life. This scenario gives your character the chance to grow and change, ultimately leading to an arc in the story. A character who starts in a job they hate but eventually finds something that fulfills them can be a good way to show their development and a relatable sort of tale for many people. 

A List of Jobs to Consider for Your Character

And finally, here’s a big old list of jobs you might want to consider for your character. I know I’m always amazed at the vast breadth and variety of jobs that exist out there, and so many of these would make a great jumping off point for an amazing story. 

I can already see the Tour Guide romance I’ve got brewing in my head. Rival theme parks. Enemies to lovers. It’s going to be gold. 

  • Adventure Tour Guide
  • Agricultural Consultant
  • Animal Trainer
  • Astrophysicist
  • Art Restorer
  • Audio Engineer
  • Automotive Engineer
  • Bakery Owner
  • Bioengineer
  • Biomedical Engineer
  • Broadcast Meteorologist
  • Building Conservationist
  • Calligrapher
  • Career Counselor
  • Cardiologist
  • Caricature Artist
  • Casino Manager
  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
  • Chocolatier
  • Coach (Business, Life, Fitness)
  • Codebreaker
  • Color Consultant
  • Commercial Diver
  • Community Organizer
  • Composer
  • Computer Forensics Expert
  • Computer Programmer
  • Concierge Medicine Practitioner
  • Construction Manager
  • Corporate Investigator
  • Corporate Recruiter
  • Costume Designer
  • Craft Brewer
  • Data Mining Engineer
  • Demolition Expert
  • Dentist
  • Dermatologist
  • Dialect Coach
  • Dietitian
  • Disaster Relief Coordinator
  • Distiller
  • Dog Sled Musher
  • Doorman
  • Ecological Consultant
  • Economist
  • Education Administrator
  • Electrical Engineer
  • Electro-Optical Engineer
  • Emergency Management Director
  • Employment Lawyer
  • Endodontist
  • Energy Auditor
  • Entertainer (Stand-Up Comedian, Magician, etc)
  • Entrepreneur
  • Environmental Engineer
  • Event Planner
  • Executive Coach
  • Exterminator
  • Fabricated Metal Products Manufacturer
  • Farm Owner
  • Fashion Designer
  • Film/Television Stunt Coordinator
  • Firefighter
  • Fish Hatchery Manager
  • Food Scientist
  • Forensic Accountant
  • Forensic Anthropologist
  • Forensic Psychologist
  • Franchise Owner
  • Fuel Cell Engineer
  • Funeral Director
  • Game Warden
  • Gastroenterologist
  • Genealogist
  • General Contractor
  • Geographer
  • Geologist
  • Glass Blower
  • Government Lawyer
  • Graphic Designer
  • Green Energy Consultant
  • Handbag Designer
  • Harp Maker
  • Health Inspector
  • Heritage Conservationist
  • Historian
  • Holistic Health Practitioner
  • Home Stager
  • Horticulturist
  • Human Resources Manager
  • Illustrator
  • Import/Export Specialist
  • Industrial Designer
  • Interior Architect
  • Interior Decorator
  • Jeweler
  • Journalist
  • Kindergarten Teacher
  • Labor Relations Specialist
  • Landscape Architect
  • Law Enforcement Officer
  • Lawyer
  • Librarian
  • Life Coach
  • Lighting Designer
  • Linguist
  • Logistics Analyst
  • Management Consultant
  • Manufacturing Engineer
  • Marine Biologist
  • Market Research Analyst
  • Marketing Manager
  • Mechanical Engineer
  • Medical Assistant
  • Medical Laboratory Technician
  • Meteorologist
  • Microbiologist
  • Middle School Teacher
  • Military Officer
  • Mining Engineer
  • Mobile Application Developer
  • Multimedia Artist
  • Museum Curator
  • Music Conductor
  • Musical Instrument Maker
  • Navy SEAL
  • Network Administrator
  • Neurologist
  • News Anchor
  • Nutritionist
  • Obstetrician
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Oceanographer
  • Office Manager
  • Oil Rig Worker
  • Optometrist
  • Orchestra Conductor
  • Orthodontist
  • Park Ranger
  • Patent Lawyer
  • Pathologist
  • Pediatrician
  • Personal Chef
  • Personal Trainer
  • Pest Control Technician
  • Petroleum Engineer
  • Pharmacist
  • Photonics Engineer
  • Physical Therapist
  • Physician Assistant
  • Physicist
  • Pilot
  • Planner (City, Regional, Urban)
  • Plant Manager
  • Plumber
  • Police Detective
  • Political Scientist
  • Portrait Artist
  • Power Plant Operator
  • Preschool Teacher
  • Priest
  • Prime Broker
  • Print Journalist
  • Product Manager
  • Production Manager
  • Professional Athlete
  • Professor
  • Program Manager
  • Project Manager
  • Property Manager
  • Prosthetist
  • Psychiatric Nurse
  • Psychiatric Technician
  • Psychiatrist
  • Public Health Nurse
  • Public Relations Specialist
  • Publicist
  • Publisher
  • Quality Control Inspector
  • Quantity Surveyor
  • Radiologic Technologist
  • Real Estate Appraiser
  • Real Estate Broker
  • Real Estate Developer
  • Real Estate Investor
  • Real Estate Lawyer
  • Real Estate Agent
  • Recruiter
  • Referee
  • Rehabilitation Counselor
  • Researcher
  • Restaurant Manager
  • Retail Buyer
  • Rigger
  • Robotics Engineer
  • Sales Engineer
  • Sales Manager
  • Salesperson
  • Sandblaster
  • Satellite Engineer
  • School Counselor
  • Science Teacher
  • Sculptor
  • Seamstress
  • Securities Analyst
  • Securities Trader
  • Set Designer
  • Ship Captain
  • Ship Engineer
  • Ship's Mate
  • Shipwright
  • Social Media Manager
  • Social Worker
  • Software Developer
  • Software Engineer
  • Soil Conservationist
  • Solar Energy System Installer
  • Special Effects Artist
  • Speech Pathologist
  • Speech Writer
  • Sport Psychologist
  • Sports Agent
  • Sports Coach
  • Sports Announcer
  • Sports Broadcaster
  • Sports Marketing Manager
  • Sports Publicity Director
  • Sportscaster
  • Sports Physiotherapist
  • Sports Physician
  • Sports Referee
  • Sports Scout
  • Sports Writer
  • Stage Manager
  • Statistician
  • Stockbroker
  • Surgeon
  • Surveyor
  • Systems Analyst
  • Systems Engineer
  • Talent Agent
  • Tax Examiner
  • Tax Lawyer
  • Teacher
  • Technical Writer
  • Technology Analyst
  • Telecommunications Engineer
  • Television Producer
  • Textile Designer
  • Theater Director
  • Title Examiner
  • Tour Guide
  • Town Planner
  • Traffic Engineer
  • Translation Technician
  • Translator
  • Travel Agent
  • Travel Writer
  • Treasure Hunter
  • Tree Surgeon
  • Urologist
  • User Experience (UX) Designer
  • Veterinarian
  • Video Game Developer
  • Video Game Tester
  • Video Producer
  • Visual Effects Artist
  • Voice-Over Artist
  • Web Developer
  • Wedding Planner
  • Wildlife Biologist
  • Wind Energy Engineer
  • Writer
  • Zoologist
  • Zoo Curator
  • Zookeeper

Now that your wheels are turning, head over to the character section of DabbleU, where we write new articles every week to help you create your best book. Download your copy of the character template where you can track all the details, like what job you’ve given your characters. 

Nisha Tuli

Nisha J Tuli is a YA and adult fantasy and romance author who specializes in glitter-strewn settings and angst-filled kissing scenes. Give her a feisty heroine, a windswept castle, and a dash of true love and she’ll be lost in the pages forever. When Nisha isn’t writing, it’s probably because one of her two kids needs something (but she loves them anyway). After they’re finally asleep, she can be found curled up with her Kobo or knitting sweaters and scarves, perfect for surviving a Canadian winter.