What is a Career?


Thinking About the Definition of Career
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Let's try a little experiment. Go to your favorite search engine and type in the word "career." What do you see on your results page? Your search will have brought up over one billion resources. Among them will be lists of occupations along with details about each one, job listings, career advice, and job search advice.

Why has your simple search turned up such a variety of resources? It is because there are multiple definitions of the word "career." We'll discuss just two of them here. Although these definitions are related to one another, it is important to understand the differences between them.

Career Definition 1: A Synonym for "Occupation"

We often use the word "career" as a synonym for occupation, trade, profession, or vocation. This definition refers to what a person does to earn a living. There are thousands of careers. They range from those that require extensive education and training to others for which you need hardly any preparation. Examples are engineer, carpenter, doctor, ​​veterinary assistant, cashier, teacher, and hairstylist.

Career Definition 2: A Series of Jobs or a Career Path

The second meaning of "career" is much more complex. It concerns a person's progression through a series of jobs over that individual's lifetime.  One's education and unpaid work experiences, such as internships and volunteer opportunities, are included. 

When we define it in this context, we are covering everything related to career development including career choice and advancement.  

There are many different paths your career can take. Next, we'll examine three possible ones.

3 Career Paths: Which One Will You Take?

Here are three career paths on which you may find yourself. The first involves a string of entirely unrelated jobs; the second, a series of increasingly responsible positions that are related; and finally, the third, a path filled with different jobs in the same industry, each, possibly, with more responsibility.

  • Path 1: Your career might be made up of a bunch of random jobs that are unrelated to one another. For example, you may first work as a cashier in a grocery store, then as a server in a restaurant, and next as a home care aide. With such disparate occupations in your work history, it is impossible to predict what your next job will be. These careers don't have a lot in common, so your experience in one job will rarely lead you to a subsequent one that pays more, or carries with it, more responsibilities.
  • Path 2: If you were to continue to work as a cashier, in different establishments or the same one, you might move up the ranks as you go from job to job or stay on with one employer. Your experience in that occupation will allow you to do that. As you move up the ladder, your salary will increase, and you will qualify for more responsible positions. Perhaps you will be promoted to a position at the customer service desk. Eventually, you may be eligible for a job that involves supervising other cashiers.
  • Path 3: This third scenario will allow you to move up the corporate ladder without continuing in the same occupation. Instead, you can have a variety of positions in the same industry. If your ultimate goal is to become a retail store manager, for example, you can begin your career as a cashier, a job you can easily get that doesn't require prior training. Your experience in retail will qualify you to get a job as a salesperson next. Several years later, your efforts could pay off, and you may become a store manager.

    You may not see your career path represented here. It would be impossible to cover all the situations that might exist. For example, lateral career moves—when an individual transitions between jobs with different, but not necessarily greater, responsibilities—haven't been discussed. Neither have career changes that involve a transition to an entirely new occupation for which additional training or education is necessary. When you enter a new profession, as would be the case here, you may have to start at the bottom.

    Careers, as you can see, take on many different forms. You can usually have a successful one by making careful and well thought out decisions.