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.
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).
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