Study Reveals Most Common First Job Among the World’s Richest People

barista at Starbucks uses a market to label a drink

You never know — she could be a future president. | Dan R. Krauss/Getty Images

  • Among the top 100 richest people, 53 started their careers working for someone else.
  • The study reveals which specific roles were the most common first jobs among those 53.

For most Americans, their first job wasn’t special — likely washing dishes or sweating behind a fryer. No matter your first job, it’s probably quite different than the gigs the richest people in the world held at your age. It’s hard to imagine Bill Gates mopping floors during the graveyard shift, isn’t it?

Surprisingly, many of the world’s most successful people did work relatively normal first jobs. Former President Barack Obama, for example, scooped ice cream at a Honolulu Baskin Robbins. And the 100 richest people in the world actually have interesting commonalities in terms of their first professional experiences.

The first job among the richest people in the world

A report released by U.K.-based recruitment company Aaron Wallis uncovered what the top 100 billionaires in the world — who control $2.3 trillion combined — did in their early years. According to the report, 30 of the 100 either inherited or started their careers working for a family business. And 17 of them immediately began their own companies. The remaining 53 started like everyone else — by getting a job.

Aaron Wallis looked at those billionaires to see what specific jobs or roles they started out in and came up with 15. Let’s take a quick look at those jobs.

15. Translator

Translator

Language skills can certainly help with business. | Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images

  • Only one billionaire from the study started out as a translator, which can pay as low as $24,000 per year in the U.S.

A lot of people start their careers flipping burgers or manning a cash register. Not many begin as translators, which requires a fairly specialized skill set. But one of our 53 billionaires got their start as a translator. We don’t know the details (the study doesn’t name individual billionaires), but it’s safe to assume the individual in question came from a privileged background. While they learned a language, the rest of us slopped the mop bucket around.

Next: You aren’t doomed to do manual labor forever.

14. Manufacturer

factory worker making parts

This is the essence of the American dream. | Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

  • “Manufacturer” is ambiguous, but you can assume this means the billionaire in question worked in a factory.

Now, here’s the blue-collar job we hoped to find on this list. And don’t worry, it’s not the last. The report says “manufacturer,” which can mean a number of things, but we’re going with a classic definition: factory worker. The true American dream: fighting your way up from the factory floor to the top of the income distribution curve. And evidently, at least one billionaire among the top 100 pulled it off.

Next: Despite wear and tear on your body, this job may be worth it.

13. Construction worker

construction worker checking location

It’s a big leap from $13.80 per hour to billionaire. | shih-wei/iStock/Getty Images

Now this is a solid, blue-collar job that is hard on your body and generally doesn’t pay very well. A construction job can inspire serious career moves. Many people end up in cushy union gigs, though, and make a nice living on construction sites. For at least two billionaires among the top 100, however, that wasn’t enough.

Next: This job may seem simple but you need a strong technical skill set.

12. Mechanic

mechanic

Two billionaires started as mechanics. | Minerva Studio/iStock/Getty Images

  • There’s no floor when it comes to what age you can start tinkering around with cars.

Two billionaires among the top 100 were mechanics for their first jobs. It’s a blue-collar, hands-on job. But it also requires a specialized set of skills and knowledge. It’s a pursuit you can start doing at a young age and suddenly find yourself doing professionally. That seems to be the case for two of the richest people in the world.

Next: This job teaches you about structure and teamwork.

11. Military

Running soldiers carrying weapons

The discipline they learned no doubt helped them along the way. | ChrisSupersea/iStock/Getty Images

Nearly everyone is placed at the same starting line in the military. People from all backgrounds — racial, economic, or geographic — come together to work for a common goal. And they further their careers by learning and specializing in a skill set. Two of the top 100 billionaires got their start in the military, though it’s safe to assume several others served at one time or another.

Next: Law is another popular stepping stone for the world’s richest.

10. Legal assistant

Legal Assistant

They had to have at least finished some college. | djedzura/iStock/Getty Images

  • Certification is typically required to work as a legal assistant, along with an associate’s degree.

You’ll need to get some kind of schooling or certification if you want to enter the legal field, and that’s certainly true when it comes to being a legal assistant. This was the first job for two of our 53 billionaires, who likely became full-fledged attorneys.

Next: You’ll see success if you apply this skill to your professional goals.

9. Marketing

young woman working with laptop

Marketing is likely a huge part of any billionaire’s job. | iStock.com/iStock/Getty Images

  • The real coup here is some people are able to market themselves well enough to get a gig in marketing with no experience.

They say to get a good job (or one that pays well) you have to sell yourself. In other words, being a good marketer can take you far. That seems to hold true when it comes to billionaires, with two of the world’s richest people getting their first professional experience in a marketing role.

Next: This is a pretty controversial first job.

8. Politician

politicians

Likely this person had some sort of connection. | Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

  • It’s hard to imagine someone’s first job being an elected official, but it happens.

Who becomes an elected official before earning their first paycheck? Someone did, interestingly enough. We don’t know who this person is, but we assume it’s someone from a privileged background with plenty of connections. On top of that, it’d be a pretty nerve-wracking way to kick off your career, making big decisions with a lot on the line.

Next: A relatively common first job that gives people nightmares

7. Retail assistant

retail cashier

Working retail is a pretty standard first job. | Kena Betancur/Getty Images

  • Retail workers are consistently some of the worst paid. The average hourly pay is a little more than $10 per hour.

If you’ve ever worked a retail job — or any customer service job, really — you know the experience sticks with you. You get paid crap to work long hours on your feet and take abuse from customers. Luckily, for most it’s not a career. Among the top 100 billionaires, three began in retail. So, even if you’re stuck at Hollister or Old Navy, you can make it to the top.

Next: If you can crunch numbers, though, it’ll likely be an easier climb.

6. Accountant

Businessman using a calculator

Accountants get a foothold in the business world. | utah778/iStock/Getty Images

  • Accountants earn big salaries right out of the gate ($48,000 annually on average).

You may have noticed we’ve swung back and forth between relatively normal first jobs and some that require a good amount of skill. Billionaires can come from anywhere, which should inspire you. Even if you’re a number-cruncher like four of our billionaires who began as accountants, you can escape the cubicle. Accountants have important and generally high-paying jobs, even if they can seem boring to outsiders.

Next: Let’s analyze these analysts.

5. Analyst

young woman using laptop

This is a contrast to some of the blue-collar jobs. | SolisImages/iStock/Getty Images

  • The study doesn’t give a specific type of analyst, but 4% of the richest people in the world began as analysts.

If you look at job postings these days, you’ll likely see “analyst” pop up quite often. It’s an increasingly popular job, and more companies need them to dig into data to help them function more efficiently. According to our report, this is a fairly popular role for budding billionaires. The report said four of our 53 billionaires had their first taste of the professional world as analysts.

Next: This sought-after profession will jump-start your career.

4. Engineer

Technician engineer checking wires

They likely made it through college before getting a job. | iStock/Getty Images

  • There are dozens of different types of engineers. Most are paid handsomely.

People work hard to become engineers. It takes years of schooling and often an advanced degree to get your foot in the door. Even though there are many types of engineers, they all require a big skill set and knowledge base. And five of the billionaires from our report hit the ground running as engineers.

Next: This job directly correlates to start-up success.

3. Software developer

programmer

This is a pretty high-paying first gig. | Rawpixel Ltd/iStock/Getty Images

Can you imagine waltzing into a job interview, with zero experience, and suggesting to an employer that you need to be paid the average $65,000 for an entry-level job as a software developer? A lot of people do, and some of those people go on to become billionaires. Per our report, five of the richest 100 people in the world did it.

Next: Finance makes money.

2. Stock trader

stock brokers

It’s a stressful first job, but it paid off for these billionaires. | Mario Tama/Getty Images

  • Out of the top 100 richest people in the world, 9% started out as stock brokers.

If you want to make money, finance is the place to be. That’s pretty intuitive. And perhaps that’s why many stockbrokers become insanely rich. According to the report, nine of the 100 richest people in the world had their first professional job as stock brokers. Again, it’s unclear how someone goes from having zero professional experience to making trades with other people’s money, but it happens.

Next: The most common first job among the world’s elite

1. Sales

car saleswoman

Learning to sell a car could help you sell yourself and your ideas. | iStock/Getty Images

  • Salesperson was the most common first job among the world’s top 100 billionaires.

If you’re serious about becoming a billionaire, you may want to go into sales. This is the most common first job among the world’s richest people, with 10 getting their start in sales. There may be overlap here, as you could say people working in retail also work in sales, for example. But learning to sell clearly impacts one’s future earnings.

See the complete report and analysis from Aaron Wallis.

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