Job vs. Career: What’s the Real Difference

Is there really a difference between someone’s job and someone’s career? 

If we’re asked what the words “job” and “career” mean, many of us are able to conjure up definitions off the top of our heads. Sometimes, the definitions are very similar. Some people use the two words interchangeably: people will refer to the work they do as both their job and their career. Other times, people will use the two words to describe how they feel about their employment. A job could be something that helps to make ends meet, possibly something temporary. While a career could be all about one’s passions and what one desires to do for a living—something more long-term. A job may be something we do “in the meantime,” while we’re looking for what we really want to do with our professional lives. A career is the answer to that “what”: the what it is what we want to spend our time doing, the what it is that we love. 

And there are still other definitions. Some people define a job as what you are currently doing in your work life, the title of your current position, while a career is the collection of jobs you’ve held. In this way of thinking, one’s career is simply the snapshot of all the different avenues they have chosen to make a living, the jobs they have worked. One thing is for certain, pinning down the difference between these two concepts can often be a challenge. 

Job Defined

The dictionary defines a job as a paid position of regular employment. Many of us think of our job as what we do on a daily basis. Over the course of your life you may work several different jobs, maybe in several different fields. For example, you could start out as a hostess, then move up to a server, and, after spending some years there, be promoted to a restaurant manager. Or you might start your work in retail as a cashier, and then decide to do a stint in hospitality, before finally finishing off as a grocery store manager. 

All of these collective jobs make up your career and your career path. And each job you hold along the way can help you develop new skills that can lead to a promising and fulfilling career. It doesn’t matter if you knew when you started your job as a hostess that you wanted to eventually manage your own restaurant, or if you had no clue that was your end goal. Either way you ended up at the same spot and managed to gain valuable skills along the way. It can be very useful if, instead of thinking of each job as just an “in the meantime,” you look at each as a learning experience—one that can allow you to grow and develop your skills further and determine what things interest you. Each job could be thought of as a step toward the career you might want in the end.  

Career Defined

According to Merriam-Webster, a career is a profession for which one trains and which is undertaken as a permanent calling. The main difference between a job and career can be boiled down to permanence. Careers are meant to be something you work on building during your working professional life. They represent long-term goals, something a worker strives for or desires to reach. A career can be wrapped up in your passions and interests as well. When you embark on a career, you will often utilize the collection of skills that you may have acquired through various jobs during all of your years of work. Sometimes, the first job you start with can be the direct pathway to you finding a career that fits you best. It doesn’t matter if you know right out of the gate the career you want to pursue, or if you take some time developing your talents and skills to determine it—either way you can end up with a career that suits you. 

When looking for your next job it’s important to see if you can determine what you want your career to be and how that next job can set you on the course to finding and excelling in that career. A job does not have to be something to make ends meet or pass the time, it can be the spark that ignites and sets you on your career journey.