What’s the difference between a career, a job, and work?

What’s the difference between a career, a job, and work?

Welcome to the first in our National Careers Week series – the theme for 2022 is “Career. More than just a job” and we’ve taken an in-depth look into what your career actually is, and what you can do to take control over it.

First up, we’ve defined what a ‘career’ actually is, and in future posts we’ll look at:

  1. What it means to be a lifelong learner
  2. What you can do with your core skills
  3. When things go wrong and how to handle career chaos
  4. What is digital literacy and what does it mean for your career?
  5. When is the right time to start learning about careers
  6. How to find career-related information you can rely on


What is a career?


‘Career’ is a word we use to describe the work we do throughout our lives.

It comes from an old word for ‘chariot’, and can also be used to describe forward movement (as in, “the car careered off the road”).

In the past, the only people who got to have a career were those lucky people who had choice over what they did, such as men who worked in management. Back then, a career was seen as something that moved forward in a pretty predictable way, and as long as you turned up and did ok you could expect to be promoted in due course. Other people (like women, factory workers, minorities, and those with less money) were unlikely to have a ‘career’, instead they would have ‘jobs’ which didn’t give them clear paths for advancement.

Now, we know that those straight and shiny careers are actually the exception, not the norm, and that people could only have them because they relied on others in their lives to do everything else (like raise kids, clean the house, cook meals, and plan holidays).

Your career is unlikely to look like a straight line – there will be times when you make great leaps forward, but there will also be times when you seem to stand still, or even go backwards.

If you move into another field entirely then you may feel that you have ended one career and started another – we call this a ‘career change’.


What’s a job?


A job is a much more static than a career – it’s a set of tasks that you perform on a regular basis in return for a set benefit. To move forward in your career you may be promoted from one job to another – the job itself is static, while you move around.

As an example, you may have a career in nursing, but your current job is a ward nurse in the respiratory unit of your local hospital. In future, you could move into a job as a nursing unit manager, or a job as a research nurse. Your career will still be in nursing (or another health related field), but your job will change.


So, what’s work then?


We use the word ‘work’ to refer to something that we need to do. This means it’s an activity that serves a purpose – it isn’t just something you want to do. You can also want to do it, but it must meet a need. Your job is a form of work – if you weren’t paid, then you wouldn’t turn up.

Most people think of work as something they do in return for money, but there are other things we do that count as work that won’t earn you a cent. It’s just easier to track and measure paid work, so that’s what most people (including the government) focus on.

Unpaid work includes caring for family members, cleaning and maintaining their living space and clothes, managing their professional networks, even growing food.


Why is this important?


How you see your work, job, and career can have a big impact on how successful you feel. For example, parents who have to spend time out of the work force to care for their children may feel less successful than their peers who can work fulltime without distractions, but they only feel this way because they don’t count all their unpaid caring work as ‘work’.

We know that feeling successful can have a big impact on your wellbeing, so reframing what you think of as success could be a good idea.

The world of work is changing, and those shiny, linear careers I spoke about earlier have largely disappeared, so if you can reset your thinking before you begin your career, you’ll be more prepared for the ups and downs when they appear.


Next up


Next in the National Careers Week Series we’ll be looking at lifelong learning.


About The Author


Career Education has been a part of Lucy’s life since she was 10 years old, and would spend her pupil-free days putting up Careers Bullseye Posters in her Dad’s Career Advisor office.

Now, Lucy believes that everyone has the right to feel good about their career, regardless of its shape or size.

Lucy Sattler

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