The Difference Between a Job, Occupation & Career

by Lee Nichols

What is your answer when someone asks what you want to do for a living? If you are like many, your long-term goal is very different from what you are doing right now to make money. The difference in what you are doing now and what you plan to do can help you differentiate between a job, an occupation and a career.


A job is something you do to make money to live. It can be very different from what you want to do, but often provides a means to an end. For example, you might have a job delivering pizzas to help pay your expense while you are in school. Even after you graduate and are working in your chosen field, you may still need a second job. You might hear, or use, the phrase, "It's my job, but it's not what I do," because often the term "job" does not refer to what you enjoy doing.


When people speak of their occupation, they are often referring to the field they work in. An occupation can be comprised of many different jobs. For example, a first-grade teacher's occupation is education and her job is teaching. However, depending on her level of education, she can advance to teaching high school, college or graduate courses. She could also change jobs and become a principal, dean or school counselor while remaining in education.


Your career is comprised of the actions you typically take within a certain occupation. Often pictured as a staircase or ladder, your career begins with the lowest paying, most menial jobs and steps up with each job or action that increases your pay and responsibilities. Occasionally, a job in a different occupation can be a step in a career. For example, a retail job can provide the experience that you need to decide on a career in accounting.


Don't expect that the career you decide on in college will be the same career from which you retire. According to "The Wall Street Journal," while no one tracks the true average of lifetime career changes, it could be as high as seven. Even if you remain in the same career, you can expect different employers as less than 11 percent of people remain with the same employer for more than 19 years. Realize that change happens and that you occasionally have to take a backward step to reach your goal.

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