Job vs. Career: Part One

By on May 30, 2018

Have you ever been to a BBQ (or other social event), with acquaintances, and been asked this question: “What do you do?”? How do you answer? You could answer with your hobbies, but most people know to answer with their current vocation. Please note, that no normal person asks “What is your career?”. That’s intimidating, assumptive, but also sounds awkward … in my opinion. This blog is going to explore the very exciting topic of the psychological difference between jobs and careers.

Job, career … we all know these words cannot be used interchangeably, but what truly is the difference in definition and perception? And yes, I’m aware this topic has been the focus of attention for a while, but why not add to the pile?

First, let’s start with definitions because every cliché speech or blog does. A job is defined as a paid position of regular employment. (what the heck does “regular employment” mean, btw?). A career is defined as an occupation for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s dive in.

With a job, you aren’t, necessarily, as emotionally in it for the long haul … or at least you don’t want to admit it. Now, remember, this is all in our subconscious — so on the rational surface-level, this may not seem true. But, truly, these aren’t things we think about consistently every day. It also doesn’t mean that jobs are any less significant or any more demeaning. It’s a mindset thing. So, yes you can have a career in being a restaurant server, but did you start your employment journey knowing or telling yourself that is what you were going to do for the long haul? Probably not. And that’s okay. One of our clients is a national restaurant chain and the difference in mindset between managers, bartenders and servers, is stark. (Selfish plug for why all companies should do qualitative audience research). This is an intentional cliffhanger. Stay posted for part two of this amazing blog topic. Also, I feel like I need to caveat that sometimes people take jobs because they don’t have a choice — they just need to pay the bills. But no matter the reason, as marketers, we need to realize there are different ways of communicating with job-seekers vs career-seekers. And, also, a job is more stagnant (not the same as boring) where there is less opportunity to move up. You aren’t claiming this as a part of your identity or you don’t find as much pride in it. A job is your way of making money so you can do things outside of work.

In my past life, I would help facilitate a nationwide survey that was reminiscent of MRI or Simmons-type of data. Annually, we’d ask these questions about work, “Do you consider your work to be a career or just a job?” “Which of the following is most true for you: I work because I’m passionate about what I do OR I work so I have the means to pursue other passions” “Which would you rather have: A job you hate that pays enough for a comfortable lifestyle OR a job you love that pays only enough to cover the bills, but not much more.” I love that set of questions because it speaks volumes about personal goals, priorities and differing mindsets. The numeric results aren’t important because I’m not trying to tell you how many people have a certain mindset over another (also because it’s proprietary). But I wanted to point out the main difference in our approach to finding work. Are we trying to find meaning and fulfillment through work or so we can support our outside-of-work fulfillment?

A career seems more focused on where you want to end up. You have a mindset that you have the option and opportunities to move up within your chosen career path (food for thought: I think this is why people can say ‘career path’, but if someone says ‘job path’ then they’ll get some strange reactions). It’s about professional development and how that becomes a part of your identity. And this goes along with happiness too, because you are much less likely to admit a job is a career if it’s not fulfilling something emotionally. A career is likely something you can see yourself doing for a long amount of time and accept it as part of your life’s definition. I’m not saying that people need to have a vocation as part of their identity, but when you see yourself in a career, then you are more likely to include that as part of who you are (hence the gauge on how comfortable you are with the question at the top of this post). And one more thing, you can have a career in a specific area, not at a certain place. For example, I’m a brand strategist. That’s my chosen career. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stay at the same company for the rest of my life … in fact, I think that’s frowned upon in this day and age. We are getting more and more wired to believe that the grass is always greener —and we should expect it to be greener too. And this is where there is some overlap with jobs too, but overall the desire for building a long-term skill set is a key identifier for a career.

In short, the concrete difference is that a job can represent a physical place where a career is more amorphous. The difference, psychologically, between a job and a career is admitting you are or aren’t in something for the long haul. Stay tuned for more blog posts where we discuss commitment-phobia, millennials, hiring companies and more.

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