Job Vs. Career: The Differences And How To Turn One Into The Other

By Chris Kolmar - Apr. 19, 2021
Articles In Guide

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When applying for positions and planning for your future, it’s important to know whether you’re pursuing a career or simply a job. Many people use the two words interchangeably, but they don’t necessarily mean the same thing.

In this article, we’ll explain the differences between a job and a career. We’ll also discuss how the former can affect the latter, as well as how you can transition from a job to a career.

How Is a Job Different From a Career?

A job is simply any given position that you hold at a company, whether that be part-time, full-time, or on contract. The primary reason that most people work a job is to earn income and develop their skills.

A career, on the other hand, is the professional journey that one takes as one pursues one’s long-term goals.

While earning an income is certainly important, many professionals take on careers primarily to fulfill their passions and ambitions.

A professional’s career is often characterized by continuous advancement, with them moving from one job to the next as they improve their skills and credentials.

However, a career can also be a single job that you work from when you graduate school to when you return. It could be an office job or labor job, research position, or private sector role.

The main factor that differentiates a career from a job essentially comes down to your attitude and whether you’re working purely for money or for other benefits such as a sense of identity, passion, or work that matches your personality type.

How Do Jobs Affect Your Overall Career?

Common ways that each job you take on will likely impact your overall career include:

  • Teaching you new skills. If you’re looking to build a career in a certain industry, the first thing you should consider when looking for a job is how it can prepare you for the next.

    Other than for your first few jobs, most employers in most industries value on-hands experience more than factors such as your GPA or the specific school you graduated from.

    In some cases, it may even be worth sacrificing some amount of income to take a job at a company that will give you valuable experience but pays you less.

    The skills you gain will set you ahead when you’re competing for the next job in your career and likely pay for themselves over the long term.

  • Providing networking opportunities. 80% of all jobs are filled through networking, according to a study reported by CNBC. According to NPR, 70% of all jobs are also never publicly listed.

    Try to make friends and professional contacts as soon as you begin a job in the industry that you want to pursue a career in. You’ll likely gain access to many job opportunities through them that many other job-seekers will never even hear about.

  • Earning you a reputation. Depending on your industry of choice, the reputation you gain from working on a certain project or team may benefit you greatly throughout your career.

    This is especially the case for engineers working at well-known companies such as Apple and SpaceX, where any project they add to their portfolio will be instantly recognizable to almost all hiring managers they encounter in the future.

  • Influencing your outlook on life. The jobs you choose to work may greatly impact what direction you want to take your career. Early in your career, it’s recommended to pursue jobs that allow you insight into intersectional disciplines.

    Working as a software developer at an investment bank, for example, will teach you a lot about how you fare in fast-paced work environments.

    You can then use this knowledge to know which jobs to avoid and which to apply for later during the rest of your career.

How to Turn Your Job Into a Career

Beyond just working jobs and periodically transitioning to the next, there are many effective ways to accelerate your career.

Here are a few key strategies:

  • Adopt a mindset focused on self-improvement. Companies always hire candidates that they feel will generate the most value.

    The faster you can improve your ability to create that value, the faster you’ll be able to reach those positions you desire.

    When working on a project at work, don’t just go through the motions to get it done. Make a habit out of exceeding expectations and delivering quality results.

    You won’t just impress your boss and directly advance your career, but develop key skills as well.

  • Seek a mentor. A mentor is an experienced professional, typically in the same industry as you, who can provide support and advice on how to advance your career.

    Their help will be highly useful, as they can point you to the decisions that brought them success during their career and the mistakes that you should avoid.

    If you develop the relationship, your mentor may even do you favors such as connecting you with valuable job opportunities and contacts.

    If you’re working at a large company, you may be able to find a mentor internally to advise you professionally.

    If not, then you should look into online mentorships or career groups in your local area.

  • Broaden your professional network. Expanding your network not only gives you access to job opportunities but also allows you to share and receive useful knowledge and advice.

    In addition to the direct workplace, other great places to build professional contacts include:

    • Conferences

    • Workshops

    • Seminars

    • Industry-related social events

    Make sure when you go to these events that you move out of your comfort zone and connect with as many people as possible.

    Most people that get jobs through their professional networks simply pounce on vacancies that arise, rather than actively ask their contacts for jobs. The more people you know, the more likely it will be that job opportunities will open up for you over time.

    If you’re a woman, women-focused workshops and career-advancement groups have gained massive popularity in the last decade. There are many such local communities for nearly any industry in most cities across the United States.

  • Aim for excellence, not adequacy. Always try to go beyond the bare minimum when you deliver work.

    If others around you observe your thirst for excellence and the consistent high-quality of your work, then you’ll earn many new job opportunities and references that you can use for future jobs.

  • Earn a degree. This will highly depend on the industry and type of career you’re pursuing.

    Industries such as healthcare and law are nearly impossible to break into without the necessary education and degrees.

    In contrast, sales, art design, and software positions will often value a candidate’s demonstrable skills and portfolio of work more than their educational background.

    The key takeaway is that you should do your research as soon as possible, so you can determine the most optimal strategy and path towards your personal goals.

  • Learn about yourself. The first step to take before dedicating yourself to a certain career path is to make sure that it matches what you’re looking for.

    Many professionals spend many sleepless years dedicating themselves to a certain path, only to realize that it doesn’t match their real desires or personality type.

    A quick and easy method to try is to take out a piece of paper and ask yourself what would make something your dream job. Rank the factors, such as money or passion, and periodically re-examine your list as you work hard to transition your job into a career.

  • Maintain a work-life balance. This may seem like a trivial tip when you’re just trying to accelerate your career, but it’s one of the most critical things to keep in mind.

    The point of a career is to turn a source of passion into something that you can do and sustain yourself off for the rest of your life.

    If you’re pushing yourself too hard and burning yourself out, then you’re missing the point.

    It’s important to put the many tips on this list into practice, but make sure to take a step back periodically and examine if you genuinely love what you’re getting yourself into.

    Identify what’s truly important to you in a job, whether that’s salary and job security, interesting work, or a short commute from home.

  • Improve your interview and negotiation skills. You may transition between many different jobs throughout your career, so it’s critical to master your interview and negotiation skills.

    Doing so will provide benefits such as being able to secure lucrative positions and negotiate higher salaries.

  • Apply for internships and certification courses. If you’re still in school or looking to transition your career into a completely different industry, internships provide a way to break into a sector when you don’t have much relevant experience yet.

    Certification courses are similar to internships in that they’re typically simple to apply for, but also have the added benefit of earning you credentials that will be useful during the job-search process.

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Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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