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How to Tell the Difference Between a Job and a Career

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At first glance, it might be difficult to distinguish a job from a career. While both pursuits bring in the money that people use to pay for the things they need in life, it's often the passion and the prospects for the future that separate the two things. And to further confuse things, even a position considered "just" a job can eventually turn into a career.

Jobs Defined

At the most basic level, a job is work that you do in exchange for pay. No matter what the industry, your job will involve doing a specific set of tasks using a specific set of skills. Some jobs require you to have a specific skill set or education before being hired, while in others, you'll receive on-the-job training.

Careers Defined

A career also provides you with the money you need, but there's often more to a career than just one job. A career is often a series of jobs, usually in the same field or industry. A career is typically a path in a certain direction, suggests the Oklahoma State Department of Education, and constitutes your life's work. A job is something you might apply for, while you don't tend to apply for a career, suggests Dr. Tom Denham on the Times Union website. Further, an employer can give you a "career job," but that job won't always constitute your entire career.

Preparation, Training or Continued Work Experience

While it is possible to pursue a career without any formal training, most career paths do start with some level of advanced knowledge. Traditionally, that means attending a technical school, community college or four-year college to obtain knowledge and skills in a particular field. In that traditional model, you'll choose your career based on your interests. While it's less traditional, some people also find their career path after working at a particular job for a time, finding that they like that industry and want to continue working in it. They may then set out to advance their skills through more experience or training. Eventually, they may pursue other jobs in the same field. When that's the case, the first job was a jumping-off point for a longer career in a particular field.

How You View It

Separating the two terms may also be in how you view it. Some people are "job oriented," while others are "career oriented" or "calling oriented," according to Yale University research detailed in Psychology Today. People who are job-oriented, regardless of the level of expertise or training involved, tend to look at their work as something they do for pay and for the benefits, and for its ability to give them the things they need in life. Career-oriented people may be more interested in prestige and social standing, while calling-oriented people -- who may also pursue a set career path -- tend to look at their careers as part of their self-expression and personal identity. Knowing these orientations exist can help you when you're trying to choose a job or career, suggests careers expert Katharine Brooks in Psychology Today.


Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.

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