Is a Job the Same as a Career?

It sometimes seems like the terms "job," "occupation," and "career" mean the same thing. In fact, they have very different meanings. For this guide we will be using them to mean the following:

  • A job is a specific position or work for which you get paid. For example, Maria’s job is a math teacher at Central Middle School.
  • An occupation is a type of job with the same job duties. People who work in an occupation do similar tasks and need similar training. For example, Maria and teachers at different schools all use helping and communication skills. They have the knowledge of ways to help students learn math.
  • An industry is where you do your job, or a type of business. It is a group of employers that do similar things. For example, education industries include K-12 schools, colleges, and corporate training. Some people decide that they like the industry and work hard to keep their skills and knowledge current to remain in that industry.
  • A career is a lifelong journey that lasts your whole work life. Sometimes, it is called a “career path.” As you work in jobs, you build skills, knowledge, and experiences. Your career includes education, training, work experience, and community involvement. It also includes unpaid work and hobbies. Part of managing career means that you think about what you need to do to improve or move up. You stay current in your skills and knowledge.

Here’s an example of a career path.

  • Volunteer
    To get experience, Maria volunteered at her church’s child care center. She found out that she really enjoyed teaching children.
  • Tutor
    Maria got an entry-level job at an after-school program helping elementary school children with their homework. She learned about lesson planning and managing conflict. She wanted to do more to move ahead in this career. Maria went to a community college to earn an associate's degree in education.
  • Teacher’s Aide
    After she graduated from college, Maria became a teacher’s aide in a public middle school. While there, she found out that she really liked math and working with older children.
  • Math Teacher
    Maria went back to school for a bachelor's degree in math education. She studied to earn a state teaching license. She now works as a math teacher in a middle school. Every year, she takes more classes to keep up her knowledge and skills.

How do you move into a career path? Setting goals helps you move from a bunch of unrelated jobs to a career path. Successful people tend to set short- and long-term goals. They think about what they can do now to achieve their goals in the future.

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