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Job vs Career: What’s the Difference?
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Leah Thomas image
Leah Thomas
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You’ve heard both words and used them yourself in everyday life, but do you know that they mean different things? Whether you have a job or you have a career, that’s okay! 

There are many differences between the two definitions. A job can sometimes lead to a career, but it doesn’t have to. And a career can sometimes be put on hold in order to take a job. We’ve outlined exactly what differentiates the two  enterprises and advice on pursuing one or the other.

What is a job?

Jobs typically pay you based on the amount of work you do and hours you are putting in. They may offer benefits, but it is mainly hourly pay, versus salary, which is common for careers. A job is also less likely to provide growth in that field or with that particular employer. 

People who have jobs are likely to be more invested in their personal lives outside of work, rather than focusing on moving up in a company or accomplishing goals in the workplace. They probably also see their job merely as a way to afford the lives they want to lead outside of work. 

A job is simply exchanging your work and labor for money from your employer. While some jobs are used to simply get by while pursuing the education you need in order to begin your career, others are viewed as more long term. 

What is a career?

The main purpose behind having or pursuing a career is normally based more in oneself. This could mean turning a passion into a business, going after personal goals, working for a company that you believe in or working for one that is chasing after something you care about. 

Careers normally provide the opportunity for growth. You may have mentors who you look up to and who offer you advice on your career. In a career, you are looking for your next step in the field, whether that means achieving a professional goal, receiving a promotion, changing companies for the better, etc. 

A lot of the time, careers offer more long-term opportunities than jobs do, and more security when it comes to keeping the same position through the years. Careers also require formal education most of the time. 

Key differences between a job and a career

There are many differences between a job and a career — some outlined above — but there are three main discrepancies in these two tracks.

1. Income

As we mentioned before, jobs are mainly hourly wages, and careers are typically salary-based. Those who have what would be considered a career typically earn more, on average, than a job. This is due to multiple factors, including education, hourly versus salary and required expertise. 

2. Education

Speaking of education, careers generally require more formal education as a prerequisite for consideration than do jobs. But jobs may require a specific type of training. Employers for both types of work are looking for different backgrounds in experience levels and professional knowledge. 

3. Passion

Careers are typically driven by a passion in a certain subject or area of expertise. Perhaps you are impassioned by the overall goal of the company you are working for, or the message they give out to their customers, whereas the pursuit of jobs is typically driven by money (not that this doesn’t play a factor in one’s chosen career, because it probably does!).

Jobs versus careers, via Elizabeth Gilbert

You may know Elizabeth Gilbert from her book, Eat Pray Love, which tells the story of a woman who finds herself while traveling the world alone after a devastating divorce. Gilbert also dabbles in giving career and life advice to women. In a video where she discusses jobs, careers, passions and more, she offers her opinions on these topics, how to differentiate them and gives her reasoning on why it’s okay to have a job and not a career. We’ve gathered her best and most relevant advice on these subjects:

Don’t be ashamed to have “just a job”

Gilbert believes having a job is sometimes necessary in order to pursue your career. She elaborates: “Most of the things of beauty and value that were made in this world were made by people who are not landed gentry, they were people who had to get by other ways. They were farmers, they were businessmen, they were Melville — when he was writing Moby Dick he was working in the customs office. He had a job his whole entire life, he was never able to just be a novelist.”

It’s also okay to want to just get by

“Here’s the great thing about a job,” she said, “it doesn’t have to be awesome. It doesn’t have to fulfill you. It doesn’t have to be joyful. It just has to pay.” It’s acceptable to not know what your passion is yet, or to not be able to pursue it at the moment. 

A job may be your stepping stone to your career

“I’ve had so many jobs that I didn’t love, I’ve had so many jobs that I didn’t like. Whatever. You go and do it, give them the thing you’re giving them and take the money in return. That is the exchange. If it is killing you, if it is toxic. If you are being abused and manipulated, if it is terrible you can get out of it, if you can get a better job. Do it. Just recognize your job doesn’t have to be your whole life. Your life can be outside of that.”

But you also do not need to have a career, ever, if you do not want to

“Career. Here is another thing you do not have to have. A career is a job that you are passionate about and that you love. A career is something you are willing to make sacrifices for. You are willing to work extra hours for. You are willing to put your life on hold for this thing because you believe in the mission of what your career is.”

If you don’t love your career, change it

“You should love your career or not have one. If you are in a career that you can’t stand my suggestion is that you quit that career and just go get a job, just go get a regular job to pays the bills, so you can do other things.”

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