The Key Difference Between a Job and a Career

At times we talk about our career and our job interchangeably – as if they were the same thing. So are they the same thing? What exactly is the difference between a "career" and a "job"? Or are the two words just different ways of saying the same thing? In fact, they are not the same thing. There are many differences between a career and job, but the defining difference between the two is level of engagement.

When you were sixteen you got a job as a cashier at the local supermarket. When you turned eighteen you went off to college and paid your way through by waiting tables at the campus diner and working part time as a tutor. When you graduated college with a degree in business, you took an entry-level position with an investment firm as an associate. You did okay as an associate. You came in on time every day, met the minimum quota, and didn't do a bad job – but you didn't do a great job either. After three years of tedium, boredome and misery you quit, started an innovative ski rental business in Park City, Utah, which you sank your time, resources and heart into. You finally found a totally engaging occupation – you found a career.

The key difference between a job and a career is engagement. When you're involved in an occupation you love, you're engaged and challenged on a daily basis. When you love your job, and consequently look at it as long-term endeavor, it becomes your career. Not surprisingly, the majority of U.S. workers who believe they are involved in a "career" really just have a job. According to, over 70% of American employees are not engaged in their career. Employee engagement levels remain stagnant. Most employees are not engaged in, enthusiastic about, or committed to their workplace -- and it's impacting the economy.

Gallup's State of the American Workplace: 2010-2012 divided American workers into three categories:

  • ENGAGED workers have passion for their work and a strong connection with the company they work for. In many instances, they view their company as their own and take personal ownership in its performance and reputation. They aren't dead weight. They help to drive the company forward through hard work and innovation.
  • NOT-ENGAGED workers are physically present and responsive, but they've emotionally "checked out". They go through their daily routine but there's not passion in their work and their performance is lackluster.
  • ACTIVELY DISENGAGED are disatisfied with their job, and it usually shows. They complain about their job, the company and are gossipers. They undermine their own effectiveness as well as that of their co-workers. They actively undermine the progress and success of the company they claim to represent.

Of the 70% of employees who are not engaged, about 50% are "not engaged" and the remaining 20% are "actively disengaged". Gallup estimates that just the actively disengaged workers alone cost the U.S. roughly $500 billion in lost workplace productivity on an annual basis.

So do you have a job or a career? Are you among the not-engaged group of workers, or do you find yourself among those who are actively disengaged. If you now recognize you just have a job, don't frett, just take steps toward finding yourself a career. Don't misunderstand, it is okay in certain situations to have a job. We've all had jobs at one point or another – sometimes a job is all we can get at the moment. Just don't confuse a job with a career. Understand the key difference between the two and make a concerted and ongoing effort to find a career – and not just any career, but a career where you're constantly engaged.

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