When Does a Job Become a Career

For those who are employed now, along with those who are searching for a job, employment at its basis represents a need. For many people that need is related to a source of income and for those who are unemployed it becomes a necessity that reduces the amount of perceived selectiveness when weighing possible options. In other words, the first job (or any job) that comes along may be accepted whether or not it is the best possible choice. If it wasn’t the best option, the process of searching for a better job begins or continues. That is often the reason why many of the resumes I’ve seen as a resume writer include a list of jobs that are short-term in nature.

This is also directly related to a trend I’ve observed, where many of my resume clients place more of an emphasis on the jobs they’ve held or are searching for now, rather than looking at development of an entire career. There seems to be an uncertainty about when a job becomes a career. I have coached my clients to develop a different viewpoint and look at jobs from the perspective of how those employment opportunities are contributing to a career plan. When someone is able to change how they view their career, along with the jobs they have held, they are able to transform their attitude and self-belief, becoming a much stronger job candidate regardless of the number of available opportunities.

What is a Job?

Because employment is related to a personal need first and foremost, it is easy to focus only on that job and the conditions experienced. A job may be something a person takes out of necessity and hopes will get better over time, which can result in feeling trapped if the conditions are intolerable or the work requires a skill level far below what has already been developed. As a career coach I’ve seen some people develop a sense of helpless and self-resignation when time in a job like that continues and it seems there is no way out of it. Some of my clients have worked in the same job for many years and their self-belief has become so limited that it is conveyed in the tone of their communication and their disposition.

What has to be done first is to change the perception that a current or previous job represents who that person is as a potential candidate. That is also related to the problem with chronologically written resumes, there is an emphasis placed on what the person is doing right now rather than take a long view of his or her career. Everyone is a summary of all of the jobs they’ve had, even if they have only had one long-term job. A job, or series of jobs, is all part of a bigger picture and that is a person’s career plan.

What is a Career?

A person has a career that they are developing with every position held and through those jobs they have acquired knowledge, skills, and abilities. This is why I take a different approach to resume writing and emphasize first the skills that a person has and is transferable to the next job they hope to acquire. It takes the emphasis off of the current job, which helps encourage recruiters and hiring managers to look closer at their resume. With a chronological resume, it requires someone to look at each job and try to ascertain or guess what skills a person has and in a competitive job market that type of extensive review may not be conducted. In order to change the format of a person’s resume I have to help them first see their jobs in relation to their overall career, career goals, and career plan.

A career is often related to and defined as an occupation, which a person can have one of during their lifetime, more than one of at a time, or change as their interests change. I have multiple occupations that include work as an educator, writer, resume writer, career coach, and the list continues. While I have had different job titles the work itself is all related to my occupations in some form. A career involves developing a long-term focus and viewing each job from a perspective of what has been learned and the skills that have been developed or acquired. Every job contributes to that career in some manner, even if the job offers nothing new or challenging and confirms that a person is ready to find new employment or a new occupation.

As an example, my career occupation has always involved teaching and leading others – regardless of a job title. I went from a corporate environment as a manager of training and development to an academic environment with responsibility for leading and developing faculty, along with teaching students instead of corporate employees. With every job held I have viewed it from a perspective of how it contributes to my career, whether or not each job was perfect, imperfect, beneficial, or short-term. This means that I do not have to ever dwell on a job that was unsatisfying as I am focused on the bigger picture and what I can do to continue to develop my career and occupation(s).

Developing a Career Focus

If you can change how you view your career, even if you plan to change your occupation at some point, you will find immediate benefits. The development of a long-range view will help you to feel in control of you career, even if you are presently working within the least desirable circumstances possible. Instead of seeing a job or series of jobs as having no value or representing a failure of some kind, you begin to focus on the skills and knowledge you possess and are continuing to develop. The following steps can help you to begin to develop a career focus.

Step #1: Define Your Present Occupation.

If you are frequently changing jobs and there isn’t a clear pattern established for the jobs selected, it is helpful to define the bigger picture of what you want to do with your career. If you have been in the same job for some time, or held several related jobs, you may find it easier to describe your occupation. It is also possible that some jobs also define a person’s occupation. For example, teaching can be described as both a job and an occupation; although there are other education-related occupations that a teacher can work towards.

Step #2: Develop a Vision Statement.

Now that you have developed a description of the occupation you are presently working in, it is time to develop a vision statement for your career. This doesn’t mean that you have to describe what you will be doing for the next 20 years or that you have to settle on a particular occupation. However, consider what you want to work towards in the long-term. For example, are there various types or levels of jobs within your occupation that you can work towards as you gain additional knowledge and/or skills?

Step #3: Develop a Short-Term and Long-Term Career Plan.

Once a vision statement has been established you can now develop a career plan and this will immediately help shift your mindset and create a sense of control for your career. As a career coach this helps many of my clients overcome a sense of helplessness in their career, even if they don’t have immediate options to explore. A career plan involves establishing short-term and long-term goals that are related to your vision. While this does not mean it has to be a fixed plan and one that can never be adapted or modified, it does provide a starting point to work from and this creates a proactive mindset.

Step #4: Develop Job-Related Milestones.

With a career plan established I also encourage my clients to develop job-related milestones to maintain a focus on their career plan and vision. For example, if the short-term goal is to develop new skills as a means of advancing in a particular occupation, a milestone could be a 90-day check-in to determine if those skills are being acquired. If those skills have not been acquired then next steps can be decided upon and range from asking for different assignments on the job, looking for other positions within the same organization, or finding a new job if the current job has reached a point where it offers no further long-term value. These milestones are reminders and provide an opportunity to reflect on the career plan to determine if there are any changes to be made.

Step #5: Conduct an Ongoing Skills and Knowledge Self-Assessment.

When I first ask my clients to describe the skills and knowledge they have now I often receive a response that is very similar to a job description for their present employment. When you have a career plan developed and a long-range view of your occupation, you will also have a fairly good idea of the knowledge and skills required to advance within this occupation. You can use this as a form of measurement for your existing skills and knowledge. It also helps you ascertain what you have gained or could possibly acquire from your present job. Every job held throughout your entire career has contributed to what you possess now and that is what you should consider as you evaluate what you have and what is still needed.

Step #6: Conduct a Professional Development Plan.

It is not uncommon for people to sign up for classes, workshops, or seminars without relating it to a career plan. You will find it to be much more beneficial to utilize these types of developmental opportunities as a means of furthering your occupation and being strategic in the decisions made to invest your time. You may have a job that requires professional development and that may mean taking workshops or seminars that do not appear to be relevant or necessary. However, it is still possible you could learn something or at a very minimum, make a professional connection with someone in your occupation. For the development of your occupation and career it is helpful to establish professional opportunities as part of your plan and include it in your list of career or job-related milestones.

When you are able to view your career from the perspective outlined above you will create a mental shift away from your present job to your occupation as a whole and the goals you have established for yourself. You will find that this gives you more of a purpose to your career and eventually you will develop a sense of self-empowerment for your jobs and self-actualization as milestones and goals become fully realized. When you decide to change jobs or careers you will speak to potential employers with a sense of confidence in your talents and abilities as you will be presenting your career from a perspective of capability and transferable skills rather than just a need for a job. A person who has a career plan and goals is a much stronger candidate as they have a clearly defined sense of self. A job doesn’t become a career, rather it is part of an occupation that is developed over time and with a plan