As authors, we want people to believe our characters are real. OK, not so much, but we do want them to be believable as people. People have jobs or careers. Our characters need jobs and careers as well. In life, not that many people are rich enough not to work for a living and fiction should reflect that as well. So in developing characters for our stories, we need to determine what they do to earn money. The type of work characters do should reflect their behavior in the story. Therefore, the choice should not be arbitrary even for minor characters. This may not be as important for shorter works, but in novels it can make the difference between a real character and a cardboard cutout of a character. We want real ones. So part of developing your character is to give it a way to earn a living. Then you can have them hate their work or love it. A job or career can also add conflict to a story so having characters with a jobs or careers can also add to the story’s conflict and tension. This is why we need to have characters heading out to work every day in the story.
You choose the career or job for each character based on the story. The circumstances in the story will dictate what your minor characters do for a living. These are the people who man the coffee houses, cafes and stores in the story. Your main character could be a cop, a mailman, or whatever you might wish, much the way people choose their careers in real life. What interests them? Give them a job to match their interests. Give them a job that doesn’t and have they hate it. That reflects life as well.
Characters need to be realistic if you want readers to care about them. You want readers to care about the characters so they will keep reading the story. Throw some career issues at your characters while they are coping with the story’s main problem. That rounds out the story and makes it interesting. Use a light hand though, too many problems won’t let the reader escape their own problems, even if they identify with the character, they may stop reading if the story doesn’t provide escapism. At least that’s how I feel about it.
You can have them stressing over the job in addition to the problems they encounter in the story. Have them starting out on a career and worrying about that. Maybe they are changing careers and starting over. Maybe they retired and are starting a new life as an artist. The possibilities are there. All you need to do is determine what your characters are doing for money and add that to the mix of conflict and problems they must face over the course of the story. That will make them more real to your readers and that is the goal. A well rounded, realistic character needs a job. It’s as simple as that.