Career Searching – What Is the Difference Between Jobs and Careers?


Career searching is the term I apply to actively pursuing a career position rather than looking for a job.

I can’t tell you how many times I would interview someone, and when I would ask what they are looking for in a job, they would reply, “I’m not looking for a job. I’m looking for a career.”

And while I can appreciate the intentions of an applicant with this response, I need to stop to tell you how wrong this is – to the recruiter with whom you are speaking, but more importantly, how much this will hinder your job search.

Let me explain the difference:

  • A job is something a company offers you.
  • A career is something you build in an industry.

There is no such thing as a career position.

To emphasize this point, here is the definition for “career” according to Webster’s dictionary:

a person’s progress or general course of action through life or through a phase of life, as in some profession or undertaking

I might describe my career thus far as being a “recruiter,” but please understand I am not saying that simply because a company hired me to be a recruiter. In order to satisfy having a career, you need to meet three specific qualifications:

  • You have spent a significant numbers of years learning a particular industry.
  • You have specialized skills making you valuable in that industry.
  • You have a proven track record of success in that particular industry.

Examine those qualifications carefully. These qualifications are determined based on one thing – you! You can choose the career path you want to take, but understand that building a career is the sum total of your own efforts. No company can simply award you a career.

I remember interviewing an entry level applicant several years ago who was presently working for McDonald’s. When I asked him why he wanted to leave, he explained that McDonald’s was just a job – he wanted a career.

While I understand that this example is the essence of reduction to ridiculous, McDonald’s is one of the greatest providers of career opportunities worldwide. You can grow from an entry level role into all different directions including Human Resources, Accounting, Operations & Logistics, Marketing, and more… ! In fact, McDonald’s will from time-to-time take exceptional candidates and pay internally for additional training to advance their skill sets. In time, they too may advance in their career of choice – and it is the hope of McDonald’s that those skill sets will be applied internally.

Again, I emphasize the importance of understanding that a job is something you can get. A career is something you must build. The reason why this is so important is because millions of people are searching Google every month for a “career” – and I’m sorry to say – you will never find one just by looking. Yes, you may find many companies wanting career-minded individuals, or who may offer career advancement opportunities, but at the end of the day you are applying for a job.

That being said, if you wish to begin building a career in a particular industry, you will need to do three things:

  1. Decide in which industry you would like to develop your career.
  2. Look at what different career paths are available in that industry.
  3. Plan to acquire some specialized training in that industry, whether through formal education, apprenticeship, a mentor program, promote-from-within, etc.

For example, let’s say you decide that Business is your industry of choice. Next, you look at available career paths and decide that Marketing is where you are the most interested. The next step would be to look at how you can begin to learn more about marketing, whether that be through an internship or going to college.

Now – and only now – are you ready to begin acquiring some experience in this particular industry. Believe me – you are more than likely going to begin in a very entry Sales level role to really understand Marketing from the ground up. And that is okay. It takes time to build a career.

My first experience in interviewing was a completely unpaid internship. And I spent hours a week interviewing, watching other people interviewing, taking notes on interviewing techniques, reviewing resumes, calling references, etc. The more I could get my feet wet and collect experience, I knew the better prepared I would be to grow in my chosen career – and ultimately the more marketable I would become to other employers within that industry.

So the next time you are thinking of cutting to the front of the line by just looking for a career, think again. You need to look for a job first. Jobs are the only things that companies can offer you. But those jobs, in turn, become stepping stones. They are the vehicle to help you build the career you truly desire.