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Career Choices on the Road to the Presidency

One of the most enduring American beliefs is that any child can grow up to be elected president. Bill Clinton, the product of a poor family from a rural state, would seem to confirm that belief. But on the road between childhood and the White House it helps to make the right career choices. As the information below demonstrates, the overwhelming majority of U.S. Presidents emerged from just four career backgrounds, and all but one held the same type of government job before entering the White House. Bill Clinton, for example, started his career as a lawyer and served as governor of Arkansas for 12 years before resigning to become president.

Presidential Careers Before Entering Politics

23 = Lawyers

6 = Planter/Farmer

5 = Soldiers

3 = Authors, journalists, editors

2 = Businessmen

2 = Educators

1 = Civil Engineer

1 = Tailor

1 = Actor

1 = Store Clerk

(Note: Total exceeds actual number of presidents because a few presidents had more than one career.)

Presidents' Jobs Immediately Before Assuming Office

Before 1990 After 1990
Vice President Succeeded to Presidency  4 5
Vice President Elected in Own Right 3 3
U.S. Representative 1 0
U.S. Senator 3 2
Military General 3 1
Cabinet Secretary 3 2
U.S. Ambassador 2 0
Other Civilian Job 1 0
State Governor 1 0

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