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Workplace-Acquired Abilities

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To become a hero, one has to train their body and mind so that it can think and act quickly in a life or death situation. They might enroll in a local dojo to learn martial arts or study psychology in order to better understand the human mind. However, there are times when the hero's best training can come from their day job. Being practitioner in a certain field makes it easy for a writer to establish a vital skill a character may possess that will prove useful. This may happen particularly if they're pulled Out of Job, into the Plot.

Like its sister trope Chekhov's Hobby, Workplace Acquired Abilities is about skills acquired as part of a character's backstory. Compare Wax On, Wax Off, when mundane activities or chores are used as a training means. Contrast Chekhov's Skill which applies only to skills the hero is shown learning, and Mundane Utility and Martial Arts and Crafts, when exotic job skills are used to do very mundane things. For times when characters train in sports and apply their athletic abilities in combat situations see I Know Madden Kombat. Also look toward I Know Mortal Kombat for situations related to video games.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Hajime no Ippo
    • Makanochi Ippo acquired a large amount of strength in his arms and legs by helping out his mother's fishing business.
    • Sawada is a great boxer because he understands the capabilities of the human body better than most people due to studying to be a doctor.
  • Rock from Black Lagoon was a former salaryman before joining the Lagoon Company. Now he uses his previous skills and handles business negotiations and public relations for the group of mercenaries. His previous career also enables him to match Revy in after-work drinking.
  • Simon from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann was a former driller who later piloted a robot; the robot's special weapon is a giant drill. On another level, he is able to use his philosophy about operating a drill to solve the story's main conflict.
  • Sanji from One Piece acquired his speed and toughness while working in the kitchen under a bad-tempered Retired Badass.
  • A character in the lacrosse series Baggataway gained her speed and throwing skills by working in her parents' ramen shop.
  • Takumi from Initial D learns his drifting skills by making a nightly tofu delivery up and down a mountain for five years. The only reason he bothered with the drifting, rather than just driving normally? Driving was boring, and he wanted to get home faster. He doesn't even realize exactly what it is he's doing before he begins racing.
  • In Hayate the Combat Butler, this is the explanation given for many of Hayate's non-butler skills. Between the jobs he did for his father and the jobs he did to support himself since he was eight (he's only sixteen at the time of the story). His skills as a butler have a completely different origin.
  • Sena of Eyeshield 21 began to develop his exceptional footwork as a result of being bullied into (literally) running errands throughout his school years. He was briefly taught some proper running technique by a football-playing friend of his beforehand, though, and has to put in a lot of hard work to refine his skills for use on the field.
  • Kobayashi from Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid is able to ace the written portion of a high-ranking mage exam thanks to her experiences as a systems engineer (the programming language her company uses is modeled off of the magic system in question).
  • Huey in The Mystic Archives of Dantalian used to be a military pilot. His battle skills have saved his life more than once since inheriting the key to the Mystic Archive. Dalian was actually pretty impressed. His knowledge of literature has also helped him since his job is basically finding magic books and locking them away so they can't be misused.
  • Suou in the second season of Darker than Black was really good at photography and as a result is a natural sniper.
  • In Sakura Quest, Maki Midorikawa is an amateur actress who moonlighted in several part-time jobs while trying to make her debut, resulting in her picking up a variety of skills that come in handy at various points during her work with the tourism board. Her acting skills come in handy when she serves as a stunt double for a colleague on a movie shoot.
  • In Muhyo and Roji, Nana's part-time jobs help her get the strength necessary to pull Yoichi free of Tomas' Armor of the Bottomless Mire.

    Comic Books 
  • Yorick from Y: The Last Man is an escape artist and magician by hobby. The various magic tricks he's learned has saved his life on more than one occasion.
  • In the Marvel Comics series U.S. 1, aliens recruit long-haul truck drivers as starship because their experience with the open road is similar to space.

    Fan Works 
  • In Code Geass: The Prepared Rebellion, Ohgi used to be a high school teacher until the annexation replaced the educational system with a pro-Britannian one. Zero finds his background useful because Ohgi's Workplace-Acquired Abilities makes him a level-headed and very patient person capable of getting rowdy resistance fighters to do their jobs with little to no conflict. This is a big part of the reason why Zero keeps Ohgi high within the hierarchy of the Black Knights.

  • Towards the beginning of the fantasy movie The Monkey King, the main character mentions that he's a champion at his business's racquetball tournaments. Towards the end, he uses a sword like a racket to knock back the Big Bad's energy blasts.
  • Aliens. After Ripley is stripped of her flight license, the only job she can get is at the docks running loaders and forklifts. This later comes in useful when she has to drive a heavy armoured personnel carrier, and use an exoskeleton-forklift to battle the Queen Alien.
  • Conan became so strong because, in his youth, he was a slave who did some really heavy work.
  • Early in Spotlight, we learn that Mark Rezendes worked as a cab driver before he became a reporter. This skill comes into play after he gets a key piece of evidence later in the movie, when he advises the cabby taking him back to the Boston Globe office that he'll get there more quickly if he doesn't take I-93.
  • Before the events of 10 Cloverfield Lane, Michelle was training to become a fashion designer. She later uses those skills to survive an alien attack by creating an entire Hazmat Suit, complete with gas mask, out of a shower curtain.
  • Old School: Played for comedy in that the members of the frat are all a bunch of white-collar thirtysomethings, so they keep their frat protected from the Dean by being "really good at filling out paperwork."
  • Underground: Blacky is an electrician by trade, which has made him immune to electrical shocks. When Nazis kidnap him and try to torture him with electroshock therapy equipment, it seems to have no effect. One of the Nazis tests the machinery by touching an electrode and gets Blown Across the Room.
  • Bryan Mills in the Taken series.
    "But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you."
  • Spud's past as a forger in T2 Trainspotting, which he laments is no longer as useful thanks to advancing techonology, comes in handy at the end as he forges Mark and Sick Boy's signatures on bank transfer forms so Veronika can take all the fraudulently-acquired EU grant money back to Bulgaria with her.
  • Subverted in The Sorcerer's Apprentice; a science student upon being taught wizardry is able to accomplish a lot due to his knowledge of how science works. His mentor, the titular Sorcerer, says he has intuitive insight into physics through his inherent potential to alter it through magic.
  • In The Librarian, the main character uses all the knowledge he's gained from being a full-time student-for-life and obtaining basically every degree known to man to aid him in finding dangerous treasure and locking it in The Library. In fact, his ridiculous knowledge pool is why he's recruited in the first place.
  • In the Backstory to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz the wizard uses his knowledge of simple stage magic and sleight-of-hand to become the ruler of the country through "magic". Oz the Great and Powerful shows it in detail: He devises a large stage magic trick that allows him to scare off the 2 Wicked Witches, saving the country and making the people choose him as its ruler.
  • In Turning Red, Mei uses the entrepreneurial skills she's learned from helping to run the family temple to raise money for concert tickets by selling merch.

  • In Tempting Fate, the main character picks up some very interesting skills in her day job. She does temp work for the gods — specifically, the Greek Fates.
  • "Ground Rice" from The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. As he says, all his life he's ground rice using a simple machine operated with the legs, so his legs are incredibly powerful.
  • In both Legend of the Seeker and the original books, Richard's skills as a woods guide come in handy quite often, considering how often he and his party find themselves wandering through one sort of wilderness or another.
  • The Wheel of Time: Perrin is made extremely strong due to being an apprentice blacksmith. And also gets his alternate weapon from it.
  • The Belgariad: Durnik gets his strength from being a blacksmith.
  • Septimus Heap: Nicko Heap during his work on Jannit Maarten's boatyard picks up some impressive strength that plays a minor role in the Syren plot.
  • In The Persian Boy the eunuch Bagoas is a trained dancer. He uses a dance move to kill a soldier who is trying to rape him.
  • Gaunt's Ghosts: Though many of the Ghosts were raised from the planetary defense force or city militias like you might expect, their scouts were often woodsmen who learned firsthand the kind of stealth and survival skills the Tanith become known for. (Scout Sergeant Mkoll, for instance, was a professional game hunter.) And once the regiment leaves Tanith, the necessities of the situation lead to a lot of soldiers gaining new specialties based on their past experience to fill out the unit's needs: machine workers become experts in demolition, Verghastine miners become their pioneers and sappers, and so forth. Infamously, flame-trooper Brostin picked up his affinity for fire as a firefighter and/or arsonist.
  • Like Donna Noble below, Eli Vanto in Thrawn spent his life doing accounting, and performs some impressive deductions when presented with lists of facts and figures.
  • Idries Shah's Tales of the Dervishes recounts the parable of Fatima, a weaver's daughter who was repeatedly shipwrecked in different countries and had to learn a trade to survive in each one. But she felt it was all for nothing because every time she got comfortable in one land she was jolted into a new one. Then she washed up in a country whose king was offering vast riches to anyone who could construct a tent for him (tents having not yet been invented there) and of course, Fatima's experiences enabled her to do just that. Cue happy ending note 
    It was through these adventures that Fatima realized that what had appeared to be an unpleasant experience at the time, turned out to be an essential part of the making of her ultimate happiness.
  • In Fire & Rescue Shifters, a climactic battle between two seadragon shifters must be fought in human form. This would normally be a huge disadvantage to both participants, but John has spent the last few years incognito as a human firefighter in his search for the Emperor, so he understands the weight and limitations of his human body better than the antagonist ever could.
  • In the isekai Cooking With Wild Game, the protagonist is a chef who once observed a butcher at work. What he remembers of skinning and animal biology comes in handy when he's dropped into a medieval-era world and decides to remain a chef, although the modern conveniences and infrastructure he relied on are gone.
  • Zinni from Doglands is a papillon whose previous owners taught her various tricks to show Zinni off to her friends. These acrobatics come in handy when Zinni must cross over telephone wires at the end of the book.
  • Wiz Zumwalt in Rick Cook's Wiz Biz books. A UNIX programmer finds himself in a fantasy universe and figures out to use a few very basic spells to assemble a magical programming language.
  • Inversion - Moist from the Discworld books is so successful at running the post office and later the bank because of skills he acquired during his earlier career as an international con artist.
  • In the Backstory to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz the wizard uses his knowledge of simple stage magic and sleight-of-hand to become the ruler of the country through "magic".
  • The Heroine of L. E. Modesitt Jr's The Soprano Sorceress is an opera singer, who gets transported to a world where magic is musical in nature.

  • A man goes to the pool and hits on a woman with an Italian accent, proposing that they race; and if he wins, they go on a date. They start and she's finished three laps by the time he's finished one. When they get out of the pool:
    Man: You're amazing! You're a professional swimmer, aren't you?
    Woman: No, I'm a prostitute in Venice.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Barrier: Julia's boyfriend Carlos mentions having been in the army in an early episode. The skills he acquired during that time become useful for the odd jobs he does for the police after his death is faked.
  • In an episode of Heroes, Nikki was able to knock out a bad guy using a roundhouse kick on account of her work as a pole dancer.
  • Jay and Grant from Ghost Hunters often use the same skills they use from their plumbing day jobs in order to debunk and solve alleged hauntings.
  • In the 2nd episode of Band of Brothers, Buck Compton throws a grenade at a fleeing German soldier, which hits him in the back and explodes. Buck was the star catcher for UCLA's baseball team so this kind of feat under pressure was probably natural for him. Inverted in the same episode, however, as he tries to throw another grenade, gets bumped, and drops it amongst his own men causing momentary panic.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Donna Noble, Super Temp. She can find her way across an office blindfolded. (Or so she claims.) What she can certainly do is perform Awesomeness by Analysis on anything having to do with numbers or bureaucratic minutiate, such as spotting that something is off due to the "sick day" register being completely blank.
    • Clara Oswald is a teacher. Once she can handle stroppy teenagers, dealing with murderous aliens is easy.
  • Chuck frequently uses his IT skills gained at the Buy More either on missions or as cover.
  • Jonathan Creek, whose day job is being The Man Behind the Man to charismatic but rather dim stage magician Adam Klaus, tends to draw on his professional skillset rather a lot when solving the mystery of the week: Not only does a detailed understanding of sleight-of-hand and an eye for small details come in handy for unravelling a Locked Room Mystery, but being Adam's show's stage manager and designated sane person has given him lots of practice at staying calm under pressure and keeping some of the less level-headed people he has to work with out of trouble.
  • During the Death Takes a Holiday episode of Dead Like Me, the reapers have to catch up on paperwork, and the ever-apathetic George (who has a job at an office temp agency) goes on a long rant about what types of organizational methods they might want to use, while everyone else just stares at her.
    George: It's amazing what you learn when you're trying as hard as you can not to learn anything.
  • In Queen of the South, Teresa is able to tell the difference between a real dollar bill and a forgery as a result of working as a money-changer. This comes in handy when one of Camila's buyers tries to give her fake money for a delivery.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Many Lost in Changeling: The Lost have "benefited" from their durance. The True Fae being Reality Warpers supreme, they have a rather more extensive range of positions available than an Earthside workplace, and are more than happy to reshape you to fit the part.
  • Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition: All characters choose a background during creation. This represents what the person was doing with their life before they became an adventurer and grants them various proficiencies in skills or tools, bonus languages known, and other benefits. For example, someone with the Noble background gets proficiency with History and Persuasion and a bonus language of their choice to represent their courtly upbringing, while someone with the Criminal background get proficiency with Deception, Stealth, and Thief's Tools.

    Video Games 
  • Resident Evil: Outbreak has several characters who have special skills based on their occupations. George is a doctor and can make medicine while David is able to combine items and make new weapons using duct tape on account of being a plumber.
  • Doctor Stiles was able to defuse a bomb in Trauma Center because of his steady hands and surgical tools.
  • In the second Trauma Center game Stiles uses his surgical knowledge and tools to dismantle a computer-operated door.
  • "The Axe Man" is a The Elder Scrolls series in-universe book. It tells the story of a young man who was able to learn the skills he needed to become an axe wielding assassin through the chores he was put through while growing up on a farm by an Evil Uncle (his first victim).
  • Link works as a goatherder in Ordon Village in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. His goat-wrangling skills, demonstrated in the early parts of the game, come in handy later — first to get past the Gorons guarding the trail to Death Mountain, and in the endgame to wrangle Ganondorf's beast form.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, Link is conveniently trained to be a railroad conductor — the only job that will allow him to travel around New Hyrule as needed to complete the adventure.
  • In Watch Dogs: Legion the various possible DedSec recruits all have unique abilities based primarily on whatever their day job is. This can range from a construction worker who has a carrier drone and armed with a nailgun to a beekeeper with the ability to summon swarms of nanomachine bees.
  • Assassin's Creed:
    • Assassin's Creed III: Connor Kenway learns free running, growing up in an environment where tree climbing is a must. Connor is also raised to be a Mohawk warrior, giving him some fighting prowess before he was sent to join the Assassins.
    • Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag: Edward Kenway's skill at free running comes from working on a ship for the better part of a decade by the time he first discovers the Assassins. The need to quickly climb up a ship's masts and across its rigging translates well into climbing tall buildings and leaping across rooftops.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Spirit Hunter: NG, Natsumi's main profession is writing horror novels, which proves useful to both Akira and herself when her research on urban legends helps his investigation of spirits.

    Web Comics 
  • Alice, the main character from Evil Plan, starts the comic looking for a place to work and ends up hired on to build and maintain designs for a supervillain. A lifetime of working as an engineer prepared her for the supervillain game.
  • In Manly Guys Doing Manly Things, Jones's day job is as an apprentice butcher at the local supermarket. During the Nomura Syndrome arc, she's seen skinning and dressing the monsters they kill for food. Later, Commander Badass recruits Jones for the Survival Derby game specifically for her monster-butchering skills.
  • In the setting of this Awkward Zombie comic, law courts are savage places where violence is not only common but sanctioned. Therefore, experienced lawyer Phoenix Wright can effortlessly endure a shaman's attacks.
  • xkcd sums it up in Regular Expressions: "Whenever I learn a new skill I construct elaborate fantasy scenarios where it helps me save the day."

    Web Original 
  • Can You Spare a Quarter?: When Jamie asks Graham how he knew how to handle the security guard at the mall, Graham explains that as part of his job he has learned how to size people up. One has to identify their weakness - in the security guard's case, that he can be fired for mistreating customers - and exploit it.

    Western Animation 
  • Danny Phantom
    • The Box Ghost looks like a longshoreman and is first seen at a port. Hence his status as master of "All things cardboard and square".
    • The Lunch Lady Ghost used to be a cafeteria lady. One who used meat in her recipe. She uses a meat cleaver as her weapon.
  • Inverted in Kim Possible, Ron gets running experience while doing some Deadly Dodging and makes use of it in the local sports team. Played straight in the same series, as Kim uses her cheerleading moves to dodge death rays and other obstacles.

    Real Life 
  • Spartacus. Fighting skills and showmanship learnt in the arena prepared him, effectively, to lead an army of a hundred thousand escaped slaves and gladiators.
  • The Sales Assistant Voice. It's hardly heroic, but developing the ability to deal with, help, endear, and even not be intimidated by, a wide variety of people with a calm and professional attitude, is a lot more common in people who have had to work some kind of retail job. Of course, sometimes it backfires. This also applies to people who work in Call Centres who are ranked as often being the target of abuse.
  • The first person to complete the Ninja Warrior course was a fisherman who used skills he developed aboard his fishing boat.