Top Ten Careers That Attract Psychopaths

Top Ten Careers That Attract Psychopaths
Image: Lionsgate Films

If you’ve been in the workplace for any extended period of time, chances are you’ve encountered a psychopath at some point in your career. Contrary to popular belief, not all psychopaths are serial killers or axe murderers. In fact, only a small minority of psychopaths are actually violent at all.

Instead, you’ll find that psychopaths will almost always be superficially charming, yet can prove to be self-serving and callous on closer inspection. Thanks to the specific set of traits that defines psychopathy, they’re far more likely to be drawn to certain careers than to others.

What Is A Psychopath?

While ‘psychopath’ has become a catch-all term for murderers and the criminally insane in modern terminology, it actually has a very specific definition in the field of psychology. It is officially designated as ‘psychopathic personality’, though can also be called psychopathy or sociopathy — the latter of which is more often used correctly. Scientific American describes the official description of psychopathy in one article on the subject:

First described systematically by Medical College of Georgia psychiatrist Hervey M. Cleckley in 1941, psychopathy consists of a specific set of personality traits and behaviors. Superficially charming, psychopaths tend to make a good first impression on others and often strike observers as remarkably normal. Yet they are self-centered, dishonest and undependable, and at times they engage in irresponsible behavior for no apparent reason other than the sheer fun of it. Largely devoid of guilt, empathy and love, they have casual and callous interpersonal and romantic relationships. Psychopaths routinely offer excuses for their reckless and often outrageous actions, placing blame on others instead. They rarely learn from their mistakes or benefit from negative feedback, and they have difficulty inhibiting their impulses.

It’s estimated that a meagre one per cent of the population legitimately qualifies as a psychopath, though that number increases to 25 per cent among prison populations, perhaps unsurprising. What is more surprising is the fact that psychopaths may also be overrepresented in certain careers. Depending on where you work, you may be more likely to encounter psychopaths in your workplace — you may even be one yourself, like one neuroscientist who discovered his own psychopathic brain patterns at the age of 58.

Following is a list of the occupations where psychopaths will be most common and most rare, respectively, from Kevin Dutton’s study of psychopathy in the workplace, The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, as first posted online by Eric Barker.

Where You’ll Find Them:

1. CEO

2. Lawyer

3. Media (TV/Radio)

4. Salesperson

5. Surgeon

6. Journalist

7. Police Officer

8. Clergy

9. Chef

10. Civil Servant

You may notice there are certain similarities between all of the most psychopath-heavy careers, mainly the fact that they offer power — especially over other people — and will reward people for making objective, unemotional decisions. Not only would psychopaths find themselves drawn to these careers — they would likely thrive in them, and even find themselves being rewarded for their psychopathic behaviour. One study suggests that upper management positions may be made up of up to three per cent psychopaths, which is not nearly as high as the incidence of incarcerated psychopaths, but it’s still more than the one percent that makes up the total population.

Where You Won’t:

1. Care Aide

2. Nurse

3. Therapist

4. Craftsperson

5. Beautician/Stylist

6. Charity Worker

7. Teacher

8. Creative Artist

9. Doctor

10. Accountant

In contrast to the first list, these jobs are largely those that require empathy and compassion, involve a lot of person-to-person contact and, more often than not, don’t offer the person much power. A psychopath in one of these positions would not do very well at all, or even enjoy the work — so if these are the kinds of people that you work with, then you’re more likely to be safe from workplace psychopaths.

Most of these positions are unsurprising, although there are some interesting parallels between the two lists — the difference between a surgeon and a doctor, or a salesperson and an accountant. As it turns out, a minor deviation in your career path might suggest just how psychopathic — or not — you might be.


  • Only surprise in the top list, and a bit distressing one, at that, is chef.

    Having worked in retail I agree 100% that psychopaths are the most reliably successful salespeople. The surprisingly effective artificial charisma, vicious relentlessness, and utter disregard for the better interests of the potential customer are basically the highly desired traits that companies would put on their sales job ads’ selection criteria if they were honest.

  • I can unequivocally say there are a large amount of psychopathic nurses, I have worked them over the last 15 years. Critical care areas attract them. I call operating theatres especially, a “mental health magnet’.

  • in the public service, I used to deal with the public and deny them an allowance if they are not eligible.
    I had to switch off my emotions to this endless parade of ineligible people, you cannot feel sorry for people all the time or you’ll burn out. It was a coping mechanism and when I went to another position where I didn’t deal with the public, my emotions were still switched off or in a protective mode and had to turn them on again.
    Am I a psychopath?
    I don’t think so, but I think people in a social club were aware of it until I thought about it and changed something.
    All too deep I know. I’m the first to admit it might be all claptrap and suck it up.

      • Thank you.
        Re-reading the article, I didn’t exactly thrive in it.
        I know most successful people have to be able to make the hard decisions to get to where they are.
        Some of them enjoy it.
        I suspect there are several degrees of psychopath and the extreme ones like to kill.
        The non extreme ones are able to lead normal lives.
        It is probably a useful skill to have and there are probably other examples.
        In my opinion I think Joseph Stalin was a schitzophrenic with absolute power to deal with his paranoia.
        However, there is such thing as a healthy level of paranoia and is probably a useful skill to have in moderation as long as you don’t break down and send people to the Gulags.
        So is it posible for most successful people to possess some sort of mental illness that is managable and they can supress the extreme urges to lead normal lives?

  • Principals of schools should be included. Our school district has had so many psychopaths as head of schools, they just switch around schools when they have had too many complaints (if you are even allowed to complain). Our current school principal has even rewritten the code of employment just for his own benefit. A principal isn’t allowed to work more than 2 contracts (5yrs each) but he has rewritten the rules so he can stay as long as he wishes. He has removed the reporting system above his position, so no one can make a complaint when he mistreats staff and he has made everyone sign non-disclosure agreements against reporting his negative behaviour under risk of termination. It is insane what he can get away with because of his ultimate power.

  • I’ll think some more. I don’t recall pychopaths in my career but there were at least two arseholes.
    Not the same thing, I know.
    Yes I’m lucky to only have two.

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