What Is the Difference Between a Job, an Occupation and a Career?

Often the terms “job”, “occupation”, and “career” are used interchangeably. However, in actual fact, these terms have quite different meanings so it is important to distinguish between these terms.

A “job”is work for which you receive pay. It is therefore a means to live and may or may not be long-term or lead to anything else by way of work. For this reason a job can be seen as one large task or a series of tasks that is typically performed in return for money. Contract work and project work often contain “jobs” that have to be done, usually on a fixed-term basis (even if they are repeated over many months and even years). Individuals tend to talk about their work as “just a job” when it doesn’t give them much long-term career satisfaction.

An “occupation” is a wide category of jobs with similar characteristics. In other words, an occupation is a broad title for what someone does on a continual basis. This means that all of their work tends to fit into a professional category that most people recognize. There are many examples in this category but some might be an accountant, doctor, engineer, nurse, plumber, police officer, scientist or teacher. As you can see, most occupations are fairly well-understood in concept, if not specific terms, and there is therefore lots of good information to be gathered on them (online, for example) as a future career option. Job satisfaction is often greater in an occupational role, but in modern times, it is far less likely than it used to be that people stay in only one occupation. Today, many of us will change occupations several times in our lives.

Finally, a “career” is a lifetime journey of building and making good use of your skills, knowledge and experiences (wherever these are invested). Put another way, a career is a period of long-term employment usually in a given area or industry. An individual will therefore typically spend many years in an area or industry and perform what may be several different roles. A career is consequently similar to an occupation but is often much broader, as it may involve several linked occupational jobs in the same or similar fields. For example, a doctor might start as a resident at a hospital, become a surgeon, act as a specialist, become a medical director and finally become a hospital administrator. These are four very directly linked occupations but can be considered a career in the medical field.

Of course, in a more general sense, there is nothing stopping individuals from pursuing quite a varied career in which he or she starts as an accountant for instance, works his or her way up to a Chief Financial Officer, later becoming a Chief Executive. S/he may even end his or her career on the board of an entirely different company in an unfamiliar field — still very much a career!

So in summary, a job is work for which you receive pay, an occupation is a range of jobs with similar characteristics and finally a career is a lifetime of making good use of your skills, knowledge and experiences.

Why does it matter?
If you simply want a job, you may be happy to collect your money as a return for the hours you put in and not worry that much about where it may lead you in the future. Both younger and older employees often feel that this is entirely acceptable, as they either want to gain some experience for their résumé or have to earn money to fund their out-of-work activities or interests. However, as soon as you start to think about other issues such as greater job interest, growth, learning and development, and collaboration opportunities, you are starting to think in more occupational terms (a field of activity in which you might flourish) and career terms (where one job may well lead to another that you may enjoy even more). For this reason, we will be examining how to look at occupations and careers that provide the greatest potential for enjoyment for individuals. And in order to do this we first have to know quite a lot about ourselves.