While it’s important for everyone to get on a career path and find jobs that feel like the right fit for them, it’s especially important for empaths, who are more empathetic, sensitive, and in tune with others’ thoughts, feelings, and emotions than the average person. In the right role, that empathy and sensitivity can help you build a thriving career—but in the wrong one, the same qualities can prove to be a major liability to both your performance and happiness.
If you consider yourself an empath, what should you be looking for in a job? What kind of work environment will you thrive in? What are the roles that play to your natural strengths and which ones should you be wary of? Read on to find out.
Before we jump into some of the best career paths for empaths, let’s dig in a little deeper into what it means to be an empath.
“An empath is someone who has a higher level of empathy than the average person,” says Alicia Reece, a certified executive coach, author, and talent strategist with over 20 years of experience working with individual professionals and leaders—including empaths. “They are sensitive and in tune to people’s energy, emotions, and thoughts—even if they don’t know them.”
This deep connection with other people “gives [empaths] the ability to connect with others and their feelings in a way that most people cannot,” says Michelle Enjoli, a career coach (and self-professed empath!) who specializes in helping professionals connect to new career opportunities.
There are a few key characteristics and personality traits that go hand in hand with being an empath. Empaths tend to be more:
- Intuitive: “Empaths are great at reading people’s thoughts, energy, motivations, and desires beyond their words,” Reece says.
- Caring: “Empaths care a great deal about people,” Reece says. “They have an innate feeling of kindness and compassion.”
- Giving: Empaths are also “natural givers,” Reece says. “They would rather give to someone or something than receive. They find extreme pleasure in helping others solve problems and ultimately thrive.”
- Sensitive: “Empaths are highly sensitive to others’ feelings and emotions—and to their own,” Reece says. “They are known to wear their feelings on their sleeves.”
There’s no universal, one-size-fits-all career for empaths; different people who identify as empaths will be attracted to—and thrive in—different types of jobs, work environments, and opportunities. But there are a few things empaths in particular should consider when evaluating a job and/or company to make sure it’s the right fit for them, including:
- Will there be an opportunity to provide a meaningful service to other people? “Empaths tend to excel in industries that provide a service to others—like hospitality, medical, teaching, and social work,” Enjolie says. “The jobs in these industries require an enhanced sense of intuition, sensitivity, and connection in order to effectively serve others.”
- How emotionally taxing is the job? On the flip side, some of these same jobs that provide meaningful services to other people can be heavy emotional burdens—which can make them feel like just too much for some empaths. Let’s use the medical field as an example. While some empaths may feel energized providing support to people struggling with medical issues, others may feel overwhelmed when faced with the pain and suffering of their patients. You know yourself best, so try to gauge whether the emotional toll would outweigh the fulfillment of helping people and be honest with yourself. This may be something you explore and assess through volunteer work or internships before committing to a particular path for the long haul.
- Does the work environment value connection? Empaths should look for work environments that allow them “to form authentic connections with others, which is where they excel and feel most comfortable,” Enjoli says. When considering a position, empaths should look at both the culture of the company and the parameters of the role and make sure they’ll have the opportunity to connect with others on a regular basis. For example, a company where people tend to keep to themselves or a role that requires primarily independent work probably wouldn’t be the best fit for an empath, while a company culture that fosters strong relationships between employees or a role that offers plenty of opportunities to partner and collaborate on projects would likely be a better fit.
- Are the organization’s values aligned with their own? Empaths care—not only about other people, but also about their own values. When evaluating an opportunity, empaths should take special care to make sure the company and role are in line with their personal values. “Empaths should research the company’s mission, values, and vision to make sure it excites and connects with them,” Enjoli says. You can dig into a company’s “About,” “Mission,” and other pages or peruse their Muse profile if they have one to find out what their values and vision are.
Now that you know what to look for in your career, let’s jump into a few specific roles that could be a great fit for your extra empathetic self. (We’ve also included salary info from the compensation resource PayScale, whose database is updated nightly—these numbers reflect the latest as of July 2021.)
Average salary: $66,262
Registered nurses provide medical care for patients. RNs work in a variety of settings (including hospitals, doctor’s offices, schools, surgical centers, or patients’ homes). Depending on what kind of care the patients need and/or what area of medicine they specialize in (for example, pediatrics or emergency care) they may be responsible for a variety of patient-related tasks, including monitoring vital signs, administering medications, reviewing treatment plans with patients and their loved ones, or assisting doctors during medical procedures or surgeries.
RNs need to be able to support (and, in many cases, provide comfort to) their patients—an area where empaths excel. RNs also need to be able to tune into their patients’ emotions to get a sense of what they’re going through and what they may need, which plays to an empath’s intuitive nature. It’s not the right fit for all empaths, however; some may find parts of the RN role (for example, giving a patient bad news or providing end-of-life care) too emotionally taxing.
Average salary: $49,926
Social workers provide assistance and services that help individuals, families, and communities navigate difficult situations, including social, mental, physical, and emotional challenges. Depending on the population they work with—and that population’s needs—social workers might help people gain access to mental health treatment, food assistance, or housing services; develop aftercare plans for individuals leaving a treatment program; or provide ongoing case management for people transitioning out of the criminal justice system.
Social workers have the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of their clients, which can feel extremely fulfilling for empaths—but dealing with people in crisis on a daily basis may prove to be too intense for some.
Average salary: $47,093
Career coaches help their clients identify, land, and/or create their dream jobs. They help their clients reach their career goals in a variety of ways, including exercises to identify the right roles or industries, resume and interview coaching, professional goal setting, and accountability support. In some cases, coaches work with clients on improving productivity or leadership, getting a raise or promotion, honing communication skills, or achieving other aims outside of the job search.
Clients who come to career coaches often aren’t sure of the next best step in their careers or are struggling to deal with frustrating situations at work. Coaches have to really get to know their clients and understand what they’re feeling and what they want. To be a good coach, you need to both care about your clients and be able to put yourself in their shoes to figure out how to best coach them and help them build a career they’re passionate about—skills that come naturally to empaths.
Average salary: $68,715
Human resources managers are in charge of all things people-related within a company. Depending on the organization and team setup, an HR manager may be responsible for onboarding new employees, managing benefits, spearheading employee wellness initiatives, developing people management policies and procedures, and more.
HR managers are responsible for making the workplace a safe, supportive, fair, and positive environment for their teams. Plus, they typically get a chance to connect and build relationships with employees throughout the company—making this a great job for many empaths. On the other hand, HR managers are also often responsible for the tougher parts of people management, like firing underperforming employees—which some empaths may find to be too challenging.
Average salary: $66,597
Marketing managers oversee efforts related to promoting a product, service, event, or business. Depending on what they’re promoting, marketing managers may be responsible for a variety of tasks, including conducting market research, developing and managing marketing and advertising campaigns, writing marketing content and materials, running email and social media accounts, and analyzing and optimizing campaigns.
In order to understand how to best connect with consumers and drive sales, marketing managers need to get inside the minds of their target audience and develop a strategy that will influence their perspective and behavior. As such, an empath’s ability to understand and interpret other people’s emotions will come in handy in this career path.
Average salary: $51,259
Being a writer can mean so many different things. You can be an author who writes books, a journalist who writes news or feature articles, a critic who writes movie or music reviews, a copywriter who writes ad copy and scripts, a content marketer who writes articles and blog posts, a publicist who writes press releases, a technical writer who writes instruction manuals, a UX writer who writes web and app copy—honestly, the sky’s the limit.
No matter what they’re working on, writers need to be able to dig deep into a topic and understand the characters or real people involved. And in order to make sure their writing connects with their readers, they also need to be able to think like their audience—both talents that empaths naturally possess. This can also be a great career path for empaths who find more people-centric roles (like nursing or teaching) too overstimulating or emotionally draining. While the act of writing can be a solo endeavor, you’ll still have a chance to interact with editors, fellow writers, other colleagues, interview subjects, and more.
Average salary: $49,698
Teachers are responsible for educating their students—which may involve developing lesson plans, giving lectures, creating and supervising educational experiences (science experiments or field trips, for example), and providing direct support to students to help them reach their educational goals. Teachers may also lead after-school programs or extracurricular clubs associated with the subject they teach (for instance, a drama teacher might act as the director for the school play while a foreign language teacher might start a French conversation club for their students).
Teachers need to be invested in their students—and those students’ success. They must have the ability to perceive and interpret students’ emotions in order to reach them and foster an effective learning environment, which can make teaching a great career path for people who consider themselves empaths. However, keep in mind that standing in front of a couple dozen young people—all of whom are going through the trials and tribulations of growing up—and fielding concerns from parents and school administrators on top of that might be too much for some empaths, especially for those who are introverted.
Average salary: $87,739
When a company invests time, money, and other resources into designing a product or service, it needs to be sure that what it’s offering will ultimately work for its customers. The product or service not only needs to appeal to the target users, but it also has to be easy and intuitive for them to use. User experience (UX) researchers are responsible for making sure that happens. UX researchers collect data by conducting user interviews or running product focus groups, among other methods, and then use that data to drive design decisions and ensure the end product or service is in line with the customers’ needs.
Obviously, UX researchers need research skills. But they also need the ability to put themselves in their customers’ shoes, be sensitive to the reactions and feelings of the folks they interview, and understand how to translate that into concrete design features or changes, all of which draw on skills that come naturally to most empaths.
There are plenty of jobs and career paths that play to your strengths as an empath. But there are also roles that might feel in opposition to your personality—and if you want to be happy at work, you’ll want to avoid those types of opportunities.
Let’s take a look at a few career paths that typically aren’t the right fit for empaths. (It’s important to note, however, that there are exceptions to every rule. While these roles typically aren’t the right fit, there may be empaths who nevertheless find these roles are exactly what they’re looking for!)
- Executive leadership: Executives often have to make tough decisions that impact employees, sometimes putting profits and business needs above people, which could prove challenging (or even impossible) for an empath.
- Sales. “Sales jobs…are typically high-energy and -stakes roles where if you don’t perform in meeting your sales targets, then you could be reprimanded or in some cases fired,” Reece says. When an empath works in this kind of environment, not only can they feel stress about hitting their own targets, but they may also absorb their coworkers’ stress about hitting their targets—which can sap their emotional energy and impact their job performance.
- Politics: Politics can be intense, high stress, and, in many ways, cutthroat—not necessarily the best fit for someone who is intuitive, sensitive, and empathetic.