Do You Have a Job or a Career?

Do you have a job or a career? What is the difference? And does it even matter?

Understanding the difference between a job and a career, and especially how they relate to one another can help you to make better choices when it comes to changing jobs, companies, and industries. Depending on what your overarching goals in life are, you can decide to take a job and treat it as a job or treat a job as part of your career. While a job is about the activities and work demanded by a company or client, a career focusses on the subject, which is you. Some people have held a series of jobs that make up a career. In many other cases,  people only have a collection of jobs. 

I found that many articles make the following distinctions between jobs and careers:

  • A job is something someone does to simply to earn money, while a career is something oriented toward more than that
  • People do their best at their careers while they do just the bare minimum for their jobs
  • Jobs are oriented toward the short-term while careers are oriented long-term

While this is a simple approach to differentiate jobs and careers, it misses the point.

Let’s look at the following example:

Marcy has been working as a store manager of a boutique for 10 years. She earns a decent income, but earning the money was never her main goal. She and her family could live on the income of her husband alone.

Her reason for working at the boutique was not to earn money. She kept working there because she enjoyed the activity, especially the daily interaction with customers.

Marcy also goes above and beyond to provide excellent customer service. She would never be satisfied to do just the bare minimum.

And finally, Marcy is planning to stay in that job long-term, until she retires. It’s the perfect job for her because the hours are flexible. It makes it easy for her to juggle both work and family. As long as the owner is happy with her, she plans to stay.

But yet, it doesn’t look like she has a career, does it?

There is another, more precise way to find out if something is a job or a career.

In short, the biggest difference I see is that a job is about the work, the activities, and the company.

That is why there is such a thing as ‘job description’. Each job has a corresponding job description that details the duties, responsibilities, scope and working conditions. It’s company-centric because the jobs exist to enable companies to assign work and achieve their goals.

On the other hand, a career focusses on the subject, which is the person.

The person can change jobs, functions, companies, industries. But there is a red line that runs through all of his or her progress, which makes it a career.

It might not be a straight line. It might be a zigzag line or a knotty line.

Important is that the person is aiming toward change and progress.

The goal of a person’s career can vary largely.

Someone’s goal might be to climb up the corporate ladder within a company or an industry.

This includes not only moving between different job functions and positions but in many cases also between companies and industries.

Someone else’s goal might be to be an expert in her field.

Perhaps becoming a billionaire is not her priority, and it is not important for her to have a high position in a company. Rather, her career goal could be to be an independent expert who knows everything about the latest trends in tiny houses.

Becoming a millionaire may be a person’s end goals. A person might pursue a career path with the end goal to accumulate a certain amount of wealth. Passion is not always the ultimate goal of someone’s career.

Having a career in which someone helps people in third world countries can be a career goal. This person might not be concerned at all about making lots of money. Rather, what is important to him is to enable people to have better access to clean water and sanitation.

The point is, that a career cannot be defined or limited by certain types of goals. Rather what makes a career a career is that there is a progression toward a goal or even that goals expand.

And frequently people’s career goals will be related to their personal goals.

Compare this with a job, where the focus is on the company’s goals. A job is less about what it will do for an individual but more about what the individual can do for the company. A job is oriented toward the work and activities needed to grow the company.

Of course, within your career, you will hold a job or different jobs. You might work for an employer or client. Within that job you too are working toward the company’s goal.

However, someones who has a career will have something beyond that.

And it that sense, a job and a career are not two alternative things. It is not the case that you have either a job or a career. The question is rather: Do you only have a job, or do you have something beyond that, which is a career?

Almost any job can be part of a career.

It’s almost similar to the question of: Is this pound of flour just flour, or is it a potential part of a cake?

Whether something is a job or a career depends on the level of resolution we look at.

Let’s say that Eileen works in Data Analysis for a Fortune 100 company. Many people would spontaneously say that this is a career. She keeps improving at her job. Eileen also enjoys it and likes the people she works with. She’s been in the same job for 5 years. She’s keen to get a salary raise, but she’s not that keen on getting a promotion, as that would increase her workload by a lot. 

On the other hand, we have Mark who works as a sous chef in an Italian restaurant. He’s not too excited about the particular restaurant he works at. He’s passionate about Japanese cuisine and would like to open a Japanese sushi restaurant one day. After only a year at the Italian restaurant, he quits his job and goes on to have 2 more culinary jobs. Then he goes to Japan for 2 years to learn sushi making skills. He returns to the USA and works for a Sushi chef. His income has not significantly increased yet.

Mark may have a career in this case. His earnings have not increased so far. His path has not been smooth and seamless. But the choices that he made, the different jobs he took and the time off to learn new skills, were all directed toward making progress toward his personal goals. 

Someone who has a career has the intention and puts in effort to achieve their personal goals. In most cases, this will be connected to their life’s purpose and values.



Having a career or not is not about the profession, function, job title, field of work, or income potential. A person has a career when his or her different jobs held and activities pursued are linked together and aimed toward an overarching goal. Talking about your career means that it is focussed on you as the person experiencing and growing it.

Has this changed your view about your current job and all your past jobs? Looking at your collection of jobs and positions and activities throughout your life, can you say that you have a career now? In case you feel that all you had were jobs, are you inspired to change that going forward, and turn your jobs or your current job into a part of something bigger? 

Or do you perhaps even feel the need to make a radical change, as you find out that none of your jobs have contributed toward your career goals? 


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