The words job and career often get used interchangeably. We tend not to focus on the nuances of the terms and what they really mean. You’ll very probably find, as you start to advance in the workplace, you’ll begin to get asked more often about your career? That shift usually occurs once you’ve been a professional for a few years and you’ve gained some experience. So, what is the difference between a job and a career?
When is a Job Not a Career?
Although both a job and a career are meant to help you earn money, they have dramatically different meanings. A job is usually short-term, involving a specific task or role, and it’s typically something done for the money. The majority of jobs have lower employee retention rates, an idea reinforced by a 2017 Glassdoor study, which cited a lack of opportunities to advance as one of the primary factors driving staff attrition rates.
Jobs typically get paid by the hour, and wages are generally not as high as those paid within a career role. As jobs are usually focused on one task or responsibility, they tend to see a slew of applicants. Roles like this provide a great introduction to the concept of working and earning money. They’re also an excellent route to building yourself a work ethic. Working a relatively simple job allows you to begin understanding how businesses, both large and small, operate. In short, jobs are a great way to become introduced to the nuances of the working world. They provide an avenue for learning how to work well with others, but they’re often less rewarding than a career – both financially and emotionally.
How is a Career Different from a Job?
When you ask yourself what is the difference between a job and a career, you need to consider strategies. A career is essentially a long-term employment strategy. That’s all about securing your skills and knowledge within a particular field, industry and then continuing to leverage those skills for higher pay and responsibilities. A career usually involves taking on many roles over time. Ideally, you’ll move up a rung or two every time you move until you eventually achieve a predetermined aim. Depending on what you specialize in, that could mean moving between different industries or concentrating solely on one sector.
Careers are about gaining skills, accumulating experience, learning the ins-and-outs of an industry, and building peer connections. As most of your colleagues will be in the same career as you, it’s extremely important to network. Contacts can help you secure new employment opportunities. They also provide a fantastic source of advice and mentorship.
Careers are usually salary based, whereas jobs almost always pay hourly. Within a career, most individuals pursue a strategy that favors advancement via promotions, according to knowledge and skills gained in a series of roles. Promotions typically get awarded based on merit, and positions are usually strongly contested.
While it’s not always necessary, most career roles require some form of higher education. As the job market has become increasingly crowded and competitive, some companies have begun to require career professionals to hold advanced graduate degrees. That requirement can be present a particularly difficult barrier for low-income candidates, with graduate degrees costing upwards of $120,000.
What Are the Fundamental Distinctions Between Jobs and Careers?
It’s a good idea to know which category you occupy early on in your working life. Failing to take stock can leave you rudderless and cost you money, time, and sleep. Deciding whether you’re going to pursue a career or hold down a job is going to have a lot to do with who you are as a person, but your skills and talents will also be a factor. It’s about working out which of the two approaches sounds like your own and whether you’re happy for that to continue.
The Career Choice: Ambition, Learning, Advancement
What is the difference between a job and a career? Is it the people? Well, career professionals are a slightly different breed to those who merely work jobs. While you’ll still no doubt be looking forward to a paycheck at the end of every month when you’re pursuing a career, that’s by no means your sole reason for turning up every day at work. Whereas job-oriented people tend to work towards the success of others, career-driven employees have a different purpose – they’re working for themselves and their own advancement. Consequently, they’re more open to new responsibilities and experiences. They actively seek out opportunities to improve their skillsets because they always have their eye on that next promotion.
If you’re ambitious and your primary goals at work are to impress your colleagues and superiors and learn new skills, you most likely fit in this category. Career-driven professionals are often just as family-oriented as those in jobs; they just see things slightly differently. The goals you have for yourself and your family can influence what motivates you at work. Some are in careers so they can put their kids through college, have memorable family vacations twice a year, or just live in a nicer house with a bigger yard.
Being in a Job: Content, Competent, or Caught in a Rut?
For some workers, jobs provide a satisfactory level of pay; they come with good benefits, and the social side of work might also be agreeable. Jobs can be a means to an end for some people. Working is largely about bringing home enough bacon to do the things they really enjoy. They’re not so much heavily invested in some concept of career or a long-term plan because they don’t need or want to be that employee. Their home and social lives are what really floats their boat – or they have other reasons for not climbing ever higher up some corporate ladder. That’s not to say job-focused types won’t work hard, stay late, and turn up early – they’re just as likely to be committed to their role as career professionals, but they’re likely working for slightly fewer dollars.
If you’re the family-oriented, home-loving type, you could well fit into this category – and you might even be content to stay right there. For others, their working life up until now has gotten them to a place where they’re good at what they do. They’re no longer really looking to learn anything new or gain fresh experience. Workers who identify with the above might want to ask themselves a couple of questions:
- Have I stopped going to work in order to learn and advance through choice, and am I happy to carry on like this for the foreseeable future?
- Have I just gotten in a rut, or am I being starved of opportunities to advance?
- Do I want things to change?
Could Holding Down a Job be Holding You Back?
Getting the work-life balance right should be an important part of your employment strategy. Equally, however, doing what’s best for your broader aims and objectives is essential. It could be that you don’t view yourself as finished with advancing your career, but you’ve simply forgotten how to accomplish that – or even that you find yourself in a role where it’s no longer an option.
Not every job provides a route upward. That’s not necessarily a problem if you’re content with what you’ve got, your employment is secure in the longer term, and the wages are ample for what you and your family need. However, when that’s not the case, a lack of mentorship, training opportunities, fresh challenges, and options to move up could be the signal to think about moving on gracefully.
It’s perhaps sad to say, but if you’re stuck in such an employment rut, you’re by no means alone. A staggering 30% of American workers told a study by Pew Research that their current role was “just a job to get them by.” Interestingly, that same survey found a strong correlation between careers and levels of job satisfaction. While about half of the employees canvased said they viewed themselves as having a career rather than merely a job, 49% also said they were satisfied at work.
Conclusion: What is the difference between a job and a career?
Like so many things in your life, work is really just a state of mind. If you’re unhappy, it’s vital to take a good, honest look at how you got to where you are – and to change the way you think about going to the office. Often, when we’re in a role that isn’t ideal or seems to be a dead-end, we resort to counting down the hours and getting through each day, one day at a time. If that sounds like you, it’s time to make a change.
First up is to decide whether you’re looking for a new role or another organization entirely. Look around and ask yourself if opportunities to take on more responsibility exist. Could you become a more integral part of how things happen? Is there something better to aim for, and are there willing mentors, options to take on new skills, adequate training?
No matter what, changing the way you think about your job, your role within the organization, and where you fit in the big wide world of corporate America will give you a fresh outlook. Your purpose will shift from being a cog and going through the same old motions. You’ll find yourself establishing some control over your own destiny and sense of achievement.