Do You Have a Job or a Career? Does it Matter?

Man working on laptop looking confused or frustrated.

Have you ever thought about whether you have a job or a career? You know, “just a job” or a real career. What’s the difference? Does it matter? Those are great questions. To look for answers, however, we must first examine the differences. We’ll begin with the textbook definition of each. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a job as “a regular remunerative position.” In other words, a position at which you work for pay. The same source defines a career as “a profession for which one trains and which is undertaken as a permanent calling.” Notice the word “calling.” The definition of a calling is “a strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action.” Aside from just receiving pay, do you have a strong inner impulse to go to work every day?

Where Do You Stand?

To further explore the differences, take this short quiz about your feelings toward your current position or line of work. Give each question serious thought and answer completely honestly.

Job or career quiz.

How did you do? If you answered “True” to most questions, odds are you have a job and not a career. And you’re also probably not all that happy with your current position or line of work. If so, you’re not alone.

While job unhappiness statistics vary considerably depending on various factors and sources, the numbers generally tend to hover around at least 50% or higher. According to a Trey Williams article in Fortune, “Roughly half of working Americans say they are not satisfied in their jobs.” A LinkedIn article by Mih Sih Adeline states, “Statistics show more than 70% of 9 – 5 workers are unhappy at their jobs…” 

Some readers may be thinking, “According to your quiz, I have ‘just a job,’ but I’m not unhappy. I’m perfectly content with just going to work, putting in my hours, and collecting my pay. I don’t want the stress, effort, or hassles often associated with pursuing a career. So what do you say to me?”

My answer is simple: I’m glad you’re happy; good for you! But you’re in the minority.

For Everyone Else

Let me ask the unhappy readers: have you reached that tipping point of unhappiness where you’re ready and willing to do something about it?

Change is hard, and that’s a fact. However, every day you remain stagnant, just plodding along to your job as usual, is another day wasted, one you could have used to start to make a difference in your life. Yes, this transition will require work and perhaps some sacrifice in the short run. But keep your eyes on the prize.

Note that having a career does not necessarily always mean having to obtain a college degree, but certain fields may require it by law (e.g., due to licensing), and, at a minimum, some amount of specialized training or an apprenticeship is typically required. These elements are consistent with the dictionary definition of a career cited earlier.

But How Do I Do Make the Change?

OK, so you’ve decided to go for it and pursue a career. You have a goal, know where you want to be, but how do you get there? First, look to see if there are opportunities right under your nose. Your current employer may offer job advancement programs, on-the-job training, educational assistance, or other similar resources. These might enable you to transition from your present non-career position to one with a solid career path, allowing you to avoid making drastic changes to your employment situation. Another advantage to this approach is that companies frequently give preference to internal candidates (their current employees) when filling open positions.

Do you know people currently working in your newly chosen career? These individuals might offer some insight and guidance on entering the field, the outlook for new openings, and whether the work is really what you think it is. Since the requirements to work in any particular career field typically change over time, double-check any advice you receive regarding prerequisites to determine if the information is up-to-date and still valid.

Depending on your field of choice, your local area may have community resources available to those looking to change careers. These might include preparation classes for those planning to apply to an apprenticeship program, training for job searches and interviews, or a partnership with a college offering courses tuition-free or at a reduced cost for those wishing to pursue a degree. However, locating these resources will require some research on your part; for whatever reason, they are often not widely advertised.

I might get accused of shamelessly inserting a plug here, but another helpful resource is my book, The 6 Readiness Factors for Planning, Changing, or Advancing Your Career” available through Barnes & Noble and Amazon. The book discusses the six critical factors you need to know and includes significant information designed to help with job interviews.Think of it as a tactical planning workbook for your career.

Another career path might involve starting your own company and becoming self-employed. While this is undeniably the most risky approach, it could be a viable option if you fully understand the field of choice, have the necessary experience and skills (both technical and interpersonal), and are ready to handle the numerous challenges you’ll be facing. The pros and cons of self-employment are many; a detailed discussion of this topic is far beyond the scope of this article.

Does Career Versus Job Matter?

Let me state emphatically: you should never pursue a particular position or field strictly for the money. Working at something for which you have no real interest or passion and have come to despise is nothing less than a self-imposed life sentence. However, a career almost always pays better than a job.

Think simple economics here. If a job requires little or no skill or training, the potential supply of workers is very large; therefore, an employer can get away with paying less and offering fewer or no benefits. Conversely, the applicant pool for a career position with very specific requirements is likely significantly smaller, forcing an employer to offer competitive or even higher than market wages plus enhanced benefits in order to attract qualified individuals.

A career can also provide benefits aside from pay alone. An article on Indeed states, “Individuals pursuing careers often have set salaries with benefits such as stock options, retirement plans, pensions and bonuses. They also gain benefits beyond money, such as personal pride, work satisfaction and self-worth. A career might last for your entire life.” Another Indeed article goes on to mention several other potential benefits to having a career, including an improved reputation and social standing, developing a powerful network of people, the possibility of early retirement, and better health, just to name a few.

Last but certainly not least, a career, with its personal satisfaction and enhanced financial compensation, may provide a level of personal happiness you never knew possible. Isn’t today a good day to decide to act?

Agree? Disagree? Please share your thoughts and experience!

Featured image courtesy of Oladimeji Ajegbile on Pexels.

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