Career Satisfaction

Table of Contents


Through CareerExplorer's career test, we collect career history and corresponding satisfaction ratings from our users to give them better career recommendations. A nice side effect of this is that we can use these ratings to get a better understanding of what careers are most satisfied and what factors contribute to career satisfaction. We explore some of these questions here.

See the definition and methodology sections below for a description of how we gather and measure career satisfaction. Otherwise, let's jump right into the insights.


Salary can't buy satisfaction.

Do careers that pay more have higher satisfaction? Looks like the answer is no. In fact, of the careers with a satisfaction rating in the top quartile, only one has a US median income in the six figures: CEO. And that isn't exactly a career you can apply for from Craigslist.

Salary vs. Satisfaction

2016 median US salary vs. average overall rating

Looking at the data more broadly through ranges of salaries, it appears there is a relationship between salary and career satisfaction (if only correlational) at the lower end of the spectrum, where higher salaries relate to higher satisfaction – but only up to a point. However, overall there seems to be a weak correlation between salary and satisfaction across all the dimensions of satisfaction. We cannot draw any conclusion other than the simple observation that people employed in higher paying jobs do not report higher career satisfaction than others.

Career Ratings by Salary Range

Blended rating by 2016 US median salary range

Control and creativity seem to make us like work. Client Service does not.

A common theme among the most satisfied careers is that they allow for creativity and/or control over one's work. For instance, 6 of the top 10 most satisfied careers are highly creative careers, and 3 are executive positions (CEO, Chief Executive, and Entrepreneur). The only exception in the top 10 is career counsellor, which can often be a very independent job as well.

Conversely, careers with low satisfaction ratings appear to involve manual labour and client service. Interestingly, even white collar client service jobs had low satisfaction ratings, suggesting prestige and pay might not contribute much to our day-to-day happiness. Lawyers and Accountants, for instance, both were among the lowest rated careers.

Careers requiring no formal education are paradoxically the happiest

When prompted for a response to the statement, "I looked forward to going to work," people in careers that require no formal education responded more positively than careers with greater education requirements. On the other hand, users in career requiring a high school education were among the least satisfied with their work. This seems like a paradox, but it is not. Careers that often explicitly require a high school education are manual labour or service careers, while those that require no education at all tend to be entrepreneurial (Business Owner) or artisinal in nature (e.g., Author).

Satisfaction by Average Education Level Required by Career

Based on Overall Rating Dimension

Right Brain Careers are the Happiest

This one might require some explaining. One of the ways we measure careers at CareerExplorer is by something called Holland Codes, which (for the non-psychometric versed) are a set of six interest types that describe careers. Essentially the idea behind Holland Codes is that careers (and people) can be measured by these six types and that people of a certain Holland Code are best matched with a career of the same type. To make things simpler to understand, Holland Codes are typically placed on a six pronged wheel, where adjacent Holland codes are considered to be more similar to each other than polar opposite ones*.

With that explanation out of the way, we’d like to share our findings. Looking at the ranked careers according to their Holland codes, we found that the careers which ranked highest in the artistic code were the happiest overall. Correspondingly, careers highest in the adjacent Holland codes (social and investigative) also rated highly, while careers highest in the polar opposite Holland code of conventional (and its adjacent codes of enterprising and realistic)were the least satisfied. It appears that careers that satisfy the more right-brain interests of artistry and social interaction generally lead to higher levels of satisfaction than careers that satisfy more independent and conventional interests.

*While it is commonly accepted that adjacent Holland codes are more similar, this is more of a conceptual model than a standardized fixture of the model.

Overall Satisfaction Rating by Dominant Career Holland Codes

Careers categorized based on highest scoring CareerExplorer career scale value

Interestingly, we initially thought that this is simply a case of sample bias – namely that, for instance, more artistic people are naturally happier and fall into artistic careers. That doesn't appear to be the case, however. The satisfaction scores of careers by dominant Holland code did not appear to have much of a relationship to the average satisfaction score of people who rank highly in those same Holland codes. You can see that there is not much similarity in the overlapping areas of the polar chart, above.

Hawaii, West Virginia, and Maine report the highest career satisfaction.

Looking at our data on a state by state basis, there did not appear to be any material difference in reported satisfaction based on Geography, with the exception of a few States. West Virginia, Hawaii, and Nevada particularly stand out. In future iterations of this report, we will standardize the data by the mix of careers in each state to see if it is simply biases in career satisfaction at play.

Average Blended Satisfaction by State of Respondent

Data not standardized by career mix in state


Career satisfaction, like happiness, is an inherently subjective measure. There are a couple popular theories of career satisfaction. One theory is that the whole of career satisfaction is essentially the sum of the parts of components like compensation, working hours, and interest in the work. Another theory is that career satisfaction is a complex mix of emotional responses that cannot be easily reduced to components.

Our approach is somewhat of a hybrid of the two theories. Namely, we use five components to measure career satisfaction, but our measurements are rooted in the emotional responses of our users to items like "I looked forward to going to work" as opposed to objective measures of salary, for instance.

Here are our five component measures of career satisfaction along with a "blended" rating that combines the five.

Distribution of blended ratings across careers

Bars represent number of careers in rating range

Overall Rating

Overall Rating measures a user's general sentiment about their career. Not to be confused with Blended Rating, which is CareerExplorer's measure of their average overall satisfaction across the five dimensions of fit.

Personality Fit

Fit rating measures a user's sense of how well their personality fits with their career. Examples of personality traits include leadership, extraversion, and persistence.

Skill Utilization

Skill utilization rating measures the degree to which users felt their skills were put to use in their career.

Interest Rating

Interest rating measures the degree to which users found the subject matter of their work interesting.

Work Environment Rating

Work environment rating includes career characteristics such as working hours, organizational structure, and working conditions.

Meaning Rating

Meaning rating measures the level at which a career contributed to users sense of fulfillment and well-being?

Salary Rating

Salary rating measures the level at which users felt their wages/salaries were fair given the workload and what they could earn elsewhere?

Blended Rating

A straight average of interest, skill utilization, personality fit, work environment, meaning, and overall ratings. Salary ratings are ommitted from the blended rating. This rating is calculated, not prompted from the user, and should not be confused with the user’s overall rating


Source of data

User career history is collected on an ongoing basis through the CareerExplorer career test. Career history ratings (aka how users rate careers they have done in the past) is used to better match users to their ideal career and also to improve the CareerExplorer matching algorithm. Some meta data such as salary information and required education level of careers is made available by the Department of Labor Statistics.

Data collection

We prompt users with five questions about each of their career histories in order to help match them along several dimensions of fit. Each prompt is responded to with a rating of 1 to 5, where 1 represents strong disagreement, and 5 represents strong agreement. The following prompts are made to measure their ratings of each of the respective dimensions. Each prompt includes descriptive help text that is not included below.

Minimum Sample

We currently have collected 591,508 career ratings to date. This figure is updated every day. We require a minimum sample of 20 career histories (aka 20 users who have rated the career along all 5 dimensions) in order to include it in our analysis and present it on this page. Currently 697 out of our catalog of over 800 careers meet this standard, with an average of 848.648493543759 ratings per career listed on this page. While we collect data on over 800 careers, some careers, such as Chicken Sexer, have few ratings and so we do not include them in our study. As more careers meet our minimum sample threshold, they will automatically be included on this page.

Raw Data

Satisfaction by Career

Satisfaction by Career Category

Career CategoryOverall Rating
Performing Arts3.97
Film & Television3.71
Sports & Fitness3.71
Visual Arts3.68
Journalism & Writing3.53
Alternative Health Care3.49
Beauty & Style3.46
Social Sciences3.39
Physical Sciences3.36
Counseling Services3.30
Education & Childcare3.30
Medical Research3.12
Home & Garden3.07
Medical Care3.04
Public & Social Services3.02
Travel & Transportation Services3.00
Food & Drink2.99
Building & Construction2.98
Sales & Marketing2.98
Manufacturing & Processing2.80


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Feel free to download and explore the data, but please respect the license and reference us in your work. We'd love to hear from you if you do anything interesting with the data!

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