What Is a Career?

Definition

A career refers to your profession or chosen line of work, which can include one job or multiple jobs. It also refers to the education, training, and experience needed to grow in your current role or move on to another one.

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Key Takeaways

  • A career is a profession or chosen line of work.
  • Many people invest in ongoing education and training to grow in their careers.
  • In comparison, a job is work you do for a company that compensates you.
  • Both a job and a career are good options depending on your current needs and goals.
  • Building a career is a lifelong process of improving your skills and doing meaningful work.

How Does a Career Work?

A career refers to an individual’s chosen profession or occupation. Your career can include one or many jobs throughout your lifetime and the actions, decisions, and paths you take to develop in your profession. A career usually uses your skills and talents while providing personal fulfillment and a sense of purpose.

  • Alternate names: Profession, occupation

A career doesn’t require a college degree. About 60% of new jobs between 2020 and 2030 will be in occupations that don’t typically need an associate, bachelor’s, or graduate degree, according to June 2022 research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Services. These include careers in construction and installation, maintenance and repair careers, and transportation. However,  these jobs could require moderate- or long-term on-the-job training.

Note

If you’re feeling stuck in your career, a career counselor acts as a resource to identify your skills and interests and apply that information to achieve your career goals. Career counselors may administer tests, help with resume writing, and offer job-search assistance.

Many people begin their first career exploration while young, whether in high school or college. Individuals consider their interests, needs, personalities, and values. Career explorers then seek information on possible paths that align, including various occupations and professions.

An internship, volunteering, or job shadowing can provide real-world experience in the desired career, and mentors can help provide insights and connections.

Young professionals ambitiously develop their careers and seek new opportunities or jobs within their careers. As a person ages, their career goals and path may change due to family obligations, personal interests, or financial needs.

Some estimate that people will change careers three to seven times before finding the job they’ll stay with until retirement. A career may move along a ladder, or it may zigzag. Career shifts may naturally occur due to life changes such as having a child or approaching retirement.

Example of a Career

For instance, let’s say you start as a journalist at a newspaper or online publication before moving into the role of associate editor. Later, you may become an editor, followed by a senior editor, eventually to be promoted to editor-in-chief. This can happen at the same company, or you may move to several different companies over the years.

Career vs. Job

Career   Job
Your profession or chosen line of work The work you do for a company and are compensated for
An ongoing process of building your skills and experience A one-time event or short-term solution
Has a clear trajectory based on your passions and long-term goals Most people do a job to meet their basic needs
Requires ongoing personal and professional development Doesn’t usually come with ongoing training

It’s important to distinguish between jobs and careers because they aren’t the same thing, although they can be interrelated. Both are viable options depending on your needs and what you want personally and professionally.

A job refers to your work for a company compensating you with an hourly wage or salary. It’s usually a short-term solution to meet your basic needs and provide for yourself.

A career path is a long-term plan based on your passions and goals. Most people engage in ongoing personal and professional development to continue career advancement. 

For example, employers typically hope to fill open positions with fair attendees. Career fairs tend to be more exploratory and an opportunity for fair attendees to network and make connections.

Note

Individuals held an average of 12.4 jobs from ages 18 to 54, with nearly half of these jobs held before age 25, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Services.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the best definition of a career?

A career is the ongoing growth and development you put into advancing your profession, which can involve personal investments of time and energy. Career planning is an ongoing process throughout an individual’s working years.

What is the difference between a career and a job?

A career is your chosen line of work and usually includes ongoing training and development. In comparison, a job is work you do and are compensated for. Most people engage in a job to pay the bills and meet their basic needs, but there may not be a clear long-term trajectory.

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Sources
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Fast-Growing Occupations That Pay Well and Don’t Require a College Degree."

  2. Utah State University. "Career Exploration."

  3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Number of Jobs, Labor Market Experience, Marital Status, and Health: Results From a National Longitudinal Survey."

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