AP Images

With Donald Trump and Ben Carson leading the Republican presidential polls, concerns have surfaced about their lack of political experience. Historically, only three presidents have been elected without any prior political experience: Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower. However, all three of these men served as generals in the United States Army.

Although there is no single path to the White House, certain jobs, like state governor, have a high frequency of promoting to the presidency. In fact, every president has served in at least one of these positions: general of the United States Army, cabinet secretary, state governor, member of Congress or vice president.

InsideGov looked back at the careers of U.S. presidents and found the most common positions they held before taking office. If you want to be president, these are the jobs for you.

#21. Secretary of Commerce

Number of Presidents: 1

Although eight presidents previously served as cabinet secretaries, Hebert Hoover was the only one to serve as secretary of commerce.

#20. Engineer

Number of Presidents: 2

Hebert Hoover and Jimmy Carter have the distinction of being the only two presidents with engineering backgrounds.

#19. Secretary of War


Number of Presidents: 2

The position of secretary of war no longer exists — it was replaced by the secretary of defense in 1947. While the office existed, though, it was third in the line of succession to the presidency, behind the vice president and secretary of state.

#18. Land Surveyor


Number of Presidents: 3

As a profession, land surveying wouldn’t appear to be a natural segue into politics, let alone the presidency. But during the early decades in American history, land surveying was one of the most lucrative careers, attracting figures like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

#17. Professor

Number of Presidents: 4

Barack Obama is the most recent president who served as a university professor; he taught at the University of Chicago Law School.

#16. Farmer/Plantation Owner


Number of Presidents: 5

Many of the Founding Fathers were also large plantation owners. Thomas Jefferson’s famous plantation Monticello is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

#15. School Teacher

Number of Presidents: 6

Several presidents, like James Garfield and Chester Arthur, became teachers to help pay for their own educations.

#14. Journalist/Writer

Number of Presidents: 6

Of the presidents who had earlier careers as authors, none were more prolific than Theodore Roosevelt. Over his writing career, Roosevelt wrote 35 books and thousands of letters.

#13. Secretary of State

Number of Presidents: 6

If Hillary Clinton wins the election, she’ll be the seventh former secretary of state to become president and the first since James Buchanan.

#12. Businessman

Number of Presidents: 6

Surprisingly, not many presidents have a background in private business. Both George W. Bush and his father were two of the more successful entrepreneurs, with careers in the oil industry.

#11. Navy/Naval Reserve

Number of Presidents: 6

John F. Kennedy was especially proud of his service in the Navy. He famously stated: “A young man who does not have what it takes to perform military service is not likely to have what it takes to make a living.”

#10. Ambassador

Number of Presidents: 8

John Quincy Adams takes the top spot here, having served as an ambassador to four different nations: Prussia, Russia, Britain and the Netherlands.

#9. State Militia

Number of Presidents: 9

State militias may not be as prominent in the 21st century, but they have historically had an important military presence in the U.S. Several presidents, including Franklin Pierce even served as brigadier generals in their state militias.

#8. U.S. Army General

Number of Presidents: 9

When he took office, George Washington set a trend of Army generals serving as president. Eisenhower was the last president who was both a general in the U.S. Army and commander in chief.

*Note that generals of state militias are not included in this category.

#7. U.S. Vice President

Number of Presidents: 14

Perhaps no job transitions as naturally into the presidency as vice president. John Adams was the first veep to assume the presidency, although he struggled with the pressures of the new office.

#6. Army/Army Reserve

Number of Presidents: 15

Military service is clearly an important asset when running for president. Over a third of U.S. presidents served in the Army.

#5. U.S. Senator


Number of Presidents: 16

President Obama is the most recent example of a senator who transitioned to the presidency.

#4. State Governor

Number of Presidents: 17

Serving as governor is often the last elected position held before becoming president. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were governors before winning the presidency.

#3. State Representative


Number of Presidents: 19

The House of Representatives is considerably larger than the Senate, so it’s no surprise that more presidents held the title of representative than senator.

#2. State Legislator

Felix Lipov / Shutterstock.com

Number of Presidents: 21

Serving in the state legislation, either in the state senate or state house of representatives, is a common entry point into politics. As expected, many presidents began their political careers here.

#1. Lawyer


Number of Presidents: 25

Amazingly, nearly 60 percent of all U.S. presidents worked as lawyers at some point in their careers. If you’re hoping to go into politics, you might want to invest in a law degree.

Research U.S. Presidents on InsideGov