As we talk about our job, our work and our career, we often use the terms interchangeably. In reality, though, these 3 items are unique descriptions of 3 parts of our life, each with their own concerns, demands and direction. As a way of clarifying my own thinking, and providing some insight for you, let’s explore the differences between job, work and career and how understanding those differences can greatly effect all of them.
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Books by Douglas E. Welch
At its most basic level, your job is what you are doing right now. We get up each morning and go to our workplace, where we perform a series of tasks outlined by our management and our company. For this work we are rewarded with a paycheck and benefits. If you want to succeed in a job, you do your best to meet the goals provided by management in the most expedient way possible. In some of the best jobs, you might have significant input into the process, improving your work and the business of the company over time. More importantly, a job is all about the company and the day-to-day tasks you perform.
As you can see, while a job is part of a career, it certainly isn’t the career itself. In fact, as you build your career, you will find that older jobs have little continuing effect on your career. Many of us work in relatively low-level positions earlier in our career and while they might generate significant experience, it is a rare first or second job, that is mentioned in our resume 20 years later.
On the other hand, your “work” is less about the present and more of a short term continuum. It is what you might be doing over several years and perhaps even several different jobs. Furthermore, thoughts about your work should be divided equally between your own needs and those of your current employer. You need to decide which work is best for you while still balancing those needs with those of your employer. Over time you will establish the work to which you are the best suited and also which type of work you most enjoy. This knowledge guides your job choices over time, constantly refining your work into something that begins to turn into a career.
Finally, your career — the sum total of all your individual jobs and your decisions about your work — is all about you. Your career is the work you have decided to do for extended periods of your life. You might not have one career forever, but careers usually span years, if not decades. In my own case, my career of computer consulting has lasted over 20 years, while my writing career spans over 15 years.
Most importantly, your career is totally under your control. When you are making decisions about your career, you need to divorce yourself from one particular job or employer. You must place their needs behind your own when developing your career. These jobs might help you achieve your career, but your career is more than the sum total of these parts. Too often, we allow ourselves to be pushed from job to job, allowing others to develop a “career” for us. Allowing this de facto career creation is dangerous, though. Often it leads us into career we don’t enjoy, unchallenging work and a succession of meaningless jobs. A career is yours to control, if you take ownership of it.
Let us take a typical IT staffer as an example of these concepts. The job for a network manager in a typical company is focused on today, or perhaps, this week. Fix that router. build that server, install that network link.
Her work, though, reaching further out into the timeline, might be to become a network designer or freelance consultant, fulfilling the day to day needs of her employer, but also exploring other areas of interest to her — balancing her current job with her other life desires.
Finally, her career might include forays into other areas of technology, gradually adjusting the type of jobs and type of work she seeks until she has focused her career on the type of work she desires most. Eventually, she might find another career that interests her even more and the entire process begins to repeat itself.
There is a wide difference between your job, your work and your career, and each area requires different attention and thought. Don’t confuse your current job with your career or you might find yourself following someone else’s agenda and ending up with a career you don’t really want.
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