Your opposite job

What is your opposite job? The Upshot section of the New York Times has tapped into an unusual data set collected by the Labor Department to try to answer that question.

Before we look at what they’ve got to say, let’s take a minute to talk about opposites. It might make sense that tall is the opposite of short, and light is the opposite of heavy (or is it the opposite of dark?). We could even stretch and say, given their opposing positions on the color wheel, there’s a case to be made for blue being an opposite to orange. But how many other things can be paired in that way?

I wouldn’t have thought that jobs would lend themselves to an “opposites” framework. So what’s going on here? The writer of the article is contrasting occupations based on the kinds of skills used most and least. For example, historians and lumberjacks are identified as opposite jobs. The skills used most by historians are said to be these:

History and archeology
interpreting the meaning of information for others
written comprehension
written expression
sociology and anthropology
reading comprehension
philosophy and theology
oral expression


Lumberjacks, in contrast, are said to use these skills the most:

Speed of limb movement
Static strength
Performing general physical activities
Reaction time
Gross body coordination
Dynamic strength
Ability to maintain balance
Depth perception
Trunk strength


The “used least” list for historians includes these skills:

Finger dexterity
Hearing sensitivity
Arm-hand steadiness
Ability to coordinate two or more limbs
Ability to reach with arms, hands and legs
Gross body coordination
Quality control analysis
Operation monitoring
Wrist-finger speed

And for lumberjacks, it’s these:

Learning strategies
Thinking creatively
Written comprehension
Processing information
Service orientation
Coaching and developing others
Oral comprehension
Training and teaching others
Documenting/recording information

What other jobs are listed as opposites of each other?

Writer/author is the opposite of mobile home installer

Computer hardware engineer is the opposite of dry cleaner presser

Civil engineer is the opposite of slaughterer and meat packer

Accountant and auditor is the opposite of agricultural grader

Surgeon is the opposite of model

Graphic designer is the opposite of physicist

I’m also told that the opposite of “child, family and school social worker” is model. But wait–I thought surgeon was the opposite of model. Does that mean a social worker equals a surgeon? This probably isn’t a situation in which mathematical-type principles apply.

I also found that physicist shows up as the opposite of a lot of occupations (dental laboratory technician, tractor-trailer truck driver, construction laborer), as does model (the opposite of biological scientist, aerospace engineer, diagnostic medical sonographer, financial analyst), and they show up as opposites to each other. It all seems a little confusing.

I wonder what utility there is in trying to figure out what career might be opposite your own. Is it to see how the other half lives? Is it so that you can say to yourself, on a day when you hate your job, “yeah, but at least it’s better than being a slaughterer and meat packer all day.”* I would have thought, though, that rather than chasing down the thing that’s most different from your own job, it would be more tempting to figure out what your twin job is–the job that uses the same set of skills, but configures them in a different way. Maybe that article hasn’t been offered to us because knowing what you might be doing but aren’t could give you a bad case of unproductive might-have-been-itis, and generally make you feel discontented.

If you want to risk knowing what your twin job is, you might be able to get a lead on that sort of thing by poking around in the data from the Labor Department that was used in the Opposite Job article. You can find it at O*NET OnLineSearching for the job you do now, you might be able to find the cluster that it’s in, and see what other jobs use your skills.

But don’t stop there: you can search by all kinds of criteria. Under their advanced search you can browse by ability–if you’ve got great depth perception, it will list a few dozen jobs where that’s a real asset. If your wrist-finger speed is awesome, they can tell you where you’ll be a big hit.

Whether or not you think it’s a bit odd to try to pair up jobs with their opposites, you might be curious to see what the article’s authors think is your opposite job. You can find out here. (It’s not flawless–the job list is limited, but you can probably find one that’s similar to what you do.) I mostly had fun plugging in jobs and shaking my head at how physicist can be the opposite of so many jobs that are so different from each other.


It’s been ages since I spent any time in a setting where “what you might want to choose as a career” was a topic of conversation, but my recollection was that there was not a lot of easily accessible, quality information. I hope that these days when people are looking for a match between their skills and interesting jobs that can use them, they get hooked up with the resources that will lay it all out in front of them.

I’m reminded of Marian Wright Edelman’s assertion that “you can’t be what you can’t see.” I think it can also apply here–what if you would make an awesome [fill in some interesting blank], but you had no idea such a career existed? If you’re looking for a job, I hope you find a great fit, and that you stay far away from your opposite job.


*Maybe the author knew the idea of an opposite job was squirrelly from the start, but kept going with it, thinking people might come just out of curiosity. I certainly took the bait.



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