What’s the Difference Between Job, Work, and Career?

This article explains the differences in meaning between career and job, work and career, job and work. Let’s start with a quick overview of the definitions.

JOB (countable noun)

A job is a paid position of regular employment. There are easy jobs like farmer or nurse and hard jobs like English teacher. There are full-time jobs (35-40 hours per week) and part-time jobs. You need to send a good resume to get a good job.

Synonyms: occupation, employment, profession, position, role.


  • I had three part-time jobs after university.
  • Edward has had three jobs in the last five years.

WORK (noun or verb)

Work (as a noun) is an activity that a person uses physical or mental effort to do. Sounds pretty identical to a job, right? Wait, though! Work is sometimes paid, but not always. For example, cleaning my cat’s litter tray is work but nobody pays me to do it. And I work in the garden but I’m not a gardener.

Which leads us neatly to using work as a verb. A simple definition would be: to be engaged in physical or mental activity in order to achieve a result. Example: my cat has spent the day pooping into a box. My task is to remove the poop. It isn’t hard work but it’s unpleasant work.

Another meaning of work as a verb is ‘operate in a satisfactory way’. That’s why we can say things like ‘this bloody phone doesn’t work!’


  • I have so much work to do this weekend.
  • What time do you finish work today, baby?
  • My Dad travels frequently for work.
  • Volunteering for a charity was the most rewarding work I’ve ever done.
  • This pen doesn’t work, do you have another one?

Exception: works of art

Job vs Work

The key differences are: jobs are paid whereas work can be unpaid; job is specific (I’m a gardener) while work is more general (I have to mow the lawn).


CAREER (noun)

You can think of your career as a series of jobs you have over a long period. In the olden days your first job pretty much determined your whole career. If your first job was as a mechanic you’d probably be a mechanic for your whole career. Maybe you’d move into that garage’s office when you got older.

These days people move from career to career more easily. You might have 3 jobs in hotels (your hospitality career) before trying to become an Instagram star (a short, useless career) before moving into your most rewarding career: a series of jobs as a cocktail mixer in high-value casinos.

I never expected to have a career as a teacher. Let’s face it, I’m much too cool. But after trying different office jobs and bizarrely not making it as a model I took a job teaching English in China. 20 years later I’m still teaching, so I suppose that was my career.

Excuse me while I go and cry in the shower.

Useful Vocabulary and Collocations

Vocabulary Associated with Jobs

job search/hunt – actively looking for a position/role

job listings – named positions plus descriptions and requirements, instructions on how to apply

job openings/opportunities – an employer is actively recruiting for a position

job application – official forms containing details of qualifications, skills, experience etc.

job offer – a proposal of employment

job description – a document that contains all the duties and responsibilities of the job

Collocations with Job

a demanding job – it’s hard! You feel exhausted at the end of your shift

a rewarding/fulfilling job – a person feels useful, satisfied, productive, worthy, valid

a dream job – the best one you can imagine

an entry-level job – a first position

a dead-end job  – a job that has no opportunities for advancement or promotions

a high-powered job – a dynamic and important job

a lucrative job – produces a great deal of profit (money)

Collocations with Work

work like a dog – work really hard for a long time

work tirelessly – work non-stop

work collaboratively – work as a team

work closely – work with another person with a lot of contact and discussion

work against – try to stop something e.g. a political opponent. “All decent people must work against the president.”

work in someone’s favour/work to someone’s advantage – events which help you achieve your goal. It worked in Zuckerberg’s favour that no-one understood how much data he was stealing from them.

Collocations with ‘career’

pursue a career –  to follow a course of activity; to engage in a career

a promising career – a vocation progression with good potential

embark on a career – begin a profession (suggests a long journey)

when a career takes off  – a career starts to become successful

at the peak/height of your career –  at the most successful point (the most meteoric high point)

a varied career – incorporating a number of different/assorted/mixed jobs

career path – move from one job to another within an industry or organization

advance your career – progress forwards, improve your prospects

flagging career – becoming less successful

chequered career – involving both success and failure

change of career – shift/alter direction

a career break  – interruption of activity, discontinue, pause


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