Job versus career: What's the difference and why should I plan ahead?

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A dictionary entry defining the word career to show the difference between a job and a career

At the moment, you’ll be surrounded by parents, teachers and careers advisors, all telling you that it’s time to think about your career. But what does this mean, and why is it about more than just getting a job?

In this advice article, we answer the key question “what is the difference between a job and a career?” and provide you with a step-to-step guide to planning your career.

What is a job?

Your job is the role you have at your place of work. Firefighter, airline pilot, teacher, politician – these are all jobs. In a nutshell, a job is about the here and now.

A job can be something you do just to earn money. But it can also be part of something much bigger. This is called a "career".

What is a career?

A career is about more than just earning a wage. It is to do with your long-term aims and ambitions, and what you want to achieve in your life.

In a career, each job you have helps you achieve this goal. This is called your career path.

Why pursue a career?

There are probably as many reasons to pursue a career as there are people pursuing them! Here are just a few examples:

  • Personal goals: Maybe you have a personal goal you want to achieve. For example, you might want to be an astronaut because you have always dreamt of doing a spacewalk!
  • Fulfilment: Maybe you want to be a carpenter because you find woodwork fulfilling, and want to spend as much time doing it as possible. What better way than to turn it into your livelihood?
  • The bigger picture: Perhaps you are driven to make a difference in the world. Charity workers often sign up because they want to make life better for other people or animals.

Why think about your career now?

So why bother? Surely there’s plenty of time to think about your career when you leave school, or when you get to university – or even after you graduate. After all, it does sound like a lot of effort when you’ve got GCSEs or A-Levels to revise for.

A student reading a book
The best way to avoid a boring job is to plan your career

Well, you’re right – it does take time and effort. But the rewards of thinking about it now make it well worthwhile.

And here’s why. Have you ever asked Uncle Colin why he’s always so grumpy? Or Mum and Dad why they look so frazzled on a Monday morning? Well, perhaps it’s because they’re doing a job and not pursuing a career. (OK, so there are other reasons why you might look frazzled on a Monday morning, but hopefully you get the point).

There’s nothing worse than doing a job you don’t want to do. Most people spend about 35-40 hours of their week at work, and that doesn’t include travelling time.

If you spend time now thinking about your personal aims and ambitions, you can plan how to join them up with your working life. This way, you can pursue a career you love and believe in, instead of spending every day living for the weekend.

But how can I plan the rest of my life today?

With so much to think about, it can be hard to know where to start. But once you know where you’re headed, you make a plan based on the key milestones along the way. Things will come along that will change your plans because that's the way life works – the trick is to prepare as best you can.

1. What is your goal?

When you’re thinking about the big picture, you have to start with some big thinking. First of all, decide what your goal is.

A student reading a book
Start with your goal – maybe you want to be a footballer!

For some people, this is simple. It might be to start your own business, become a train driver or to work with animals. If this is you, skip to step 2.

For others, it’s not so easy. If this is you, think about your interests and hobbies. With a bit of creative thinking, and help from friends, teachers, parents and careers advisers, you can turn your passion into a career plan.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

2. Find out what you need to do to get there

Next, find out what qualifications and experience you need to get there. This could range from GCSEs to A-levels, a university degree to an apprenticeship, or just lots of work experience.

Depending on the scale of your ambitions, you might need to work in other roles before you get to your dream job.

For example, engineers and doctors have to work in a junior role before qualifying, while car mechanics and carpenters have to work as apprentices. And train drivers have to work in other jobs in the rail industry for a number of years before they can become drivers. This is all part of your career path.

3. Choose your subjects

A vet cares for a dog
If you want to be a vet, you'll need to think about what A-levels
and university degree you need to take

What subjects you choose will depend on what stage you are at in your education. Focus on subjects that help you gain the qualifications and experience you need to get to the next step on your career path.

The earlier you start, the better. For instance, if you want to work with animals, then you may need to study veterinary science at university. And in order to do that, you will probably need to study biology and some other key subjects at A-level. In turn, this will be much easier if you take separate sciences at GCSE. You may also need to have work experience volunteering at a vet’s surgery or a zoo – depending on exactly what you want to do.

If you’ve already chosen your GCSE subjects, don’t worry. Whether you need to study A-Levels or a vocational qualification next, you can almost always switch focus at this stage, although you might need to do a bit of catching up.

4. Get work experience

For many careers, work experience can be immensely valuable, even if it’s not compulsory. For example, if you want to be a police officer, work experience will give you a flavour of life in the force, and also set you apart from other candidates when you come to apply for jobs.

5. Be prepared to adapt

Getting your plan straight will give you direction. But don't expect everything to go as planned – and don't panic when it doesn't! Opportunities will come along, and so will the occasional crisis. You might find your plans change with experience, and that's OK. You might even get an amazing job offer out of the blue. It's a natural part of anybody's career.

As long you are realistic about what you can do with your experience and qualifications, adapt to change, don't resist it.

Find your journey!

If you've got a few minutes spare, we recommend watching this interview with Apple CEO Tim Cook.

He offers some words of wisdom we could all learn from: "The only thing you can do is prepare. The world is going to change many times... You have to have a North Star... Find your journey".

The rewards of good career planning

If it’s what you truly want to do and you are successful, your career will bring you a lifetime of fulfilment. It can seem a like a long journey, but if you put the time and effort into preparing now, then you’ll know that every day brings you a step closer to where you want to be.

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