A Job, A Career… Which Do You Really Want? Why?

When someone asks me for job search advice, my first question is: What are you looking for? A job or a career?

So we are on the same page:

  • A career is a professional journey centred around a particular field, industry, and skill set.
  • A job is an activity you do for an employer for money.

Earning money is the primary goal of every career and job. I have yet to meet anyone who would do their career or job for free.

Increasingly, I am seeing job seekers searching for career jobs (e.g. marketing, social media management, financial services) but who are not career-driven, which savvy hiring managers take into account when assessing a candidate. 

INTERVIEWER: “I see you got your PM certification in 2014; how have you been updating your knowledge and skills since then?”

INTERVIEWER: “Are you a member of any industry associations? Do you sit on any boards?”

Despite what your well-meaning parents, high school guidance counsellor and social norms have told you, it is okay not to want a career—careers are not for everyone. So long as you can support yourself financially doing a job (e.g., carpenter, bricklayer, server, taxi driver, warehouse picker, mechanic), which you absolutely can, you do not need “a career.”

Career success involves climbing a ladder and navigating cutthroat office politics, which is not everyone’s cup of tea. I have been knocked off “the ladder” more than once. In increasingly hostile workplaces, where everyone is fighting for survival, job seekers would greatly benefit from reflecting on whether they have the ambition, skills, social acumen, and mental fortitude to maintain a career.

Few people ask themselves, especially in their late high school years, whether they want a job or a career when it comes to earning a living. 

It is never too late to reassess whether you want to remain in your career versus finding a job/learning a trade by asking yourself, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” I know several people who have given up their career and opted for a job where they can clock in and out, resulting in less stress, being happier, and even making more money. Do you know what an AZ truck driver can make these days?     

Generally, people underestimate how difficult establishing and maintaining a career is. The time, sacrifices, continuous learning, and cultivating professional networks, particularly if you’re trying to break into a field other than IT, finance, or sales, takes effort. In hindsight, I admit most of my failures were due to underestimating the work required. My failures were caused by the leading reason people fail: Not working hard enough. 

(Readers of my column know I don’t play the “I’m a victim!” game.)

There is no shame in not being career-driven. Millions of people live meaningful and fulfilling lives without a career. Perhaps it is just me, but I feel a waitress who smiles and makes small talk with a customer who appears lonely or sad makes the world a better place compared to a VP of Marketing whose job is to figure out how to manipulate consumers into buying products, often stuff we do not need which end up in landfills, or nutrient-deficient processed food, we should not be consuming.

Your parents’ definition of success and seeing what others have accomplished— whether they are happy and fulfilled is another matter—and, of course, your ego influenced whether you are now chasing a career. 

Passion versus money is an internal debate that everyone has at some point in their life, if not throughout their life. From one side, you probably have parents, relatives, friends, and even strangers (I raise my hand) telling you to be realistic and find a well-paying job. However, on the other side, you likely have well-meaning friends, Internet talking heads giving reconstituted job search advice, and TED talks of successful people telling you that “following your passion is the foundation for success.” It is no wonder so many people anxiously question whether they should follow their passion, which is unlikely to earn them a living or choose a career that looks reasonably promising and has a somewhat stable future; this especially applies to artistic endeavours or being a social media influencer. Recently, I overheard someone say to a journalist who had been laid off, “Learn to code.” The advice was not encouraging, but it was pragmatic. Due to my pragmatic nature, I nodded in agreement.

“Being pragmatic is not surrender. Being pragmatic is not cynicism. Being pragmatic is not selling out. In truth, being pragmatic is often the only real path to progress in an uncertain, complicated world.” ― Tom C.W. Lin, Jack E. Feinberg Chair Professor of Law at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law.

The end goal of most people is to have a steady paycheck and benefits; hence, the question I mentioned earlier: Is the juice (a career) worth the squeeze? The competition for career jobs is fierce and likely to intensify. In contrast, competition for blue-collar jobs is not nearly as fierce. Do you know what plumbers make these days?

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Nick Kossovan, a well-seasoned veteran of the corporate landscape, offers “unsweetened” job search advice. You can send Nick your questions to artoffindingwork@gmail.com.

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