The Most Surprising Jobs Held By People Who Later Became World Leaders
Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The Most Surprising Jobs Held By People Who Later Became World Leaders

Over 600 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of The Most Surprising Jobs Held By People Who Later Became World Leaders
Voting Rules
Vote up the jobs you wouldn't expect to see on a world leader's resume.

While many world leaders have followed "traditional" career paths of law or the military to rise through the ranks of their country's government, others have taken more unusual routes to political power.

For instance, it is well-known that Ronald Reagan was an actor in Hollywood prior to pursuing his political career, and Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer - but how many people are aware that the current president of Ukraine and the current leader of Guatemala both portrayed fictional heads of state on television? Or that Harry Truman sold ties and belts as the co-owner of a haberdashery? Or that the current president of Turkmenistan previously worked on his predecessor's teeth?

Whether taken to support their family or help pay for schooling - or even in pursuit of a true passion - here are world leaders' most surprising jobs before they rose to power.

  • 1
    511 VOTES

    Comedian And Actor - Volodymyr Zelensky, President Of Ukraine

    Zelensky is the world leader whose July 2019 phone call with Donald Trump was at the center of the impeachment inquiry against the 45th US president, and who unwittingly took global center stage in February of 2022 during Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

    Like Trump, Zelensky also went from television star to leader of a country. The comic-turned-politician had worked in the entertainment industry since the ripe age of 17. Although he has a real law degree, Zelensky was best known to Ukrainians for his role as the fictional president of Ukraine on Servant of the People, a satirical sitcom. The sitcom ran from 2015 until shortly prior to Zelensky's May 2019 inauguration, when he turned his fictional role into his real one.

    Zelensky's showbiz career had its share of other highlights, too. He won the Ukrainian version of Dancing with the Stars in 2006 and later provided the voice of none other than Paddington himself in the Ukrainian-dubbed versions of the acclaimed family films Paddington and Paddington 2.

    • Age: 41
    511 votes
  • Weatherman - Joseph Stalin, Premier Of The Soviet Union
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    One of the most notorious political leaders of the 20th century, Joseph Stalin led the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s to 1953. By 1937, he held complete personal control over both the Communist Party and the state.

    The son of a cobbler and a washerwoman, Stalin grew up in poverty. As a teenager, he enrolled at the Spiritual Seminary of Tiflis with the intention of becoming a priest. In constant trouble with his instructors, he eventually lost interest in his studies and joined a forbidden book club. It was through this club that he was first introduced to Marxism. Stalin left the seminary in 1899 and took a job at the Main Physical Observatory in Tiflis at the age of 21. There, he was employed as an observer and recorder of meteorological data. This was the only "ordinary" job the future General Secretary of the Communist Party and Premier of the Soviet Union would ever hold. 

    While working at the observatory, Stalin continued his revolutionary activities, and organized protests and strikes. This led to the end of his meteorological career in 1901. After this, Stalin began to work full-time for the socialist revolutionary movement. 

    • Age: Dec. at 74 (1878-1953)
    335 votes
  • 3
    224 VOTES

    Oncologist - Tabaré Vázquez, President Of Uruguay

    Tabaré Vázquez was elected to a second, non-consecutive term as president of Uruguay in 2015. With his previous win in 2004, he became the first person from a left-wing party to be elected president of the country. 

    Inspired to become a doctor from a young age, Vázquez chose to focus on oncology after both his parents and his sister passed from cancer in the 1960s. He studied medicine at the Universidad de la República and graduated in 1972. Vázquez later received a grant from the French government that allowed him to receive additional training at the Institut Gustave Roussy, a well-regarded cancer research institute located just outside of Paris.

    Since being elected to his first term as president in 2005, Vázquez has pushed for several health-related policies. In 2006, Uruguay became the first country in Latin America to ban smoking in indoor public places. In an effort to provide comprehensive health care to all its citizens, regardless of their ability to pay, the country introduced the National Integrated Health System in 2007. 

    In August 2019, the 79-year-old Vázquez was diagnosed with lung cancer. The president stated he has no plans to step down before his term ends in March 2020.

    • Age: 79
    224 votes
  • Borut Pahor's extremely successful political career has spanned three decades. He's the first person in Slovenia's history to have served as its speaker of the parliament, prime minister, and president, and only the second person to win two terms as president.

    Despite his extensive experience, his political rivals still refer to him as "Barbie" because of his previous work. While attending university in the capital city of Ljubljana (where he studied political science), Pahor worked as a male model to help pay for his studies.

    Today, Pahor doesn't shy away from his past career as a model. In fact, he leans into it. Using social media to help get his political message across, he has posted many photos of himself in different types of poses on Instagram. There is even a hashtag, #boruting, which Slovenians use to parody his social media poses and personas.

    • Age: 59
    227 votes
  • A billionaire media mogul and current member of the European Parliament, Silvio Berlusconi served three separate terms (1994-95, 2001-06, and 2008-11) as the prime minister of Italy. He has been a polarizing figure for most of his political life, as evidenced by Italians' reaction to his 2011 resignation: They celebrated in the streets.

    Prior to becoming a media mogul and politician, Berlusconi sang in bars and on cruise ships in the Mediterranean. This was during the 1950s and early '60s as Berlusconi was studying to become a lawyer. One of the places where he performed was Bar Kontiki on the island of Elba.

    Over the course of his career, Berlusconi has been tried in Italian courts for a multitude of allegations, from bribery to tax fraud to abuse of office, and more. He was convicted on the tax fraud charges in 2013, but avoided jail time due to his advanced age. The conviction originally carried with it a ban prohibiting Berlusconi from running for office, though the ban was overturned on appeal.

    Despite all the scandals that have surrounded him, Berlusconi the performer still had some fans. When he announced in 2011 that he would be stepping down as prime minister, the owner of Bar Kontiki offered to give him his old job as a singer back.

    • Age: Dec. at 86 (1936-2023)
    181 votes
  • 6
    200 VOTES

    Comedian - Jimmy Morales, President Of Guatemala

    When Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina became embroiled in multiple corruption scandals prior to the 2015 presidential election, he inadvertently launched the career of an unlikely candidate from the tiny, underfunded National Convergence Front Party. Touting an anti-establishment platform, Jimmy Morales ran on the slogan, "neither corrupt, nor a thief," and voters responded. Morales, who had never held public office before, became president that October.

    At the time of his election, Morales held a degree in business administration, a master's in media management, and was pursuing a PhD in security and defense studies. However, he was best known to the public as a comedian. For 15 years, he had starred with his brother Sammy in the comedy series Moralejas ("Morals"). The television show, which was heavy on slapstick, showed Morales and his brother in various roles, including bumbling cowboys Nito and Neto. In one eerily prophetic episode, Neto (played by Jimmy Morales) accidentally runs for president of Guatemala and wins.

    After being elected - in large part because of his anti-corruption campaign - Morales, himself, and several family members faced accusations of fraud, money laundering, and other corruption charges. In 2017, his older brother Sammy and his eldest son José Manuel were charged with fraud by the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Both men were acquitted by a Guatemalan court in August 2019. The CICIG also tried to have Morales impeached for alleged campaign finance irregularities, but the president survived a vote in Congress to strip him of immunity.

    In February 2019, another member of Morales's family was involved in a scandal when his wife was accused of cashing several illicit checks given to the couple during the 2015 presidential campaign.

    • Age: 50
    200 votes