What’s the Difference Between a Job, a Career, and a Profession?

In today’s job market, terms like job, career, and profession are often used interchangeably. However, there are significant differences between the three that should be understood to make informed decisions about your work life. While some might think that the difference is simply a matter of semantics, being able to distinguish between these three terms can help you make informed decisions about your professional aspirations.

What is a Career and how can it be Defined?

To start, let’s take a closer look at what constitutes a career. A career can be defined as a path of employment that one follows over an extended period. To have a career, one often attends a trade school or university to acquire knowledge about a subject, such as finance, carpentry, engineering, or any other field. The knowledge acquired is then utilized to do good work in an organization, where one gains experience, is rewarded for a job well done, and moves up the ladder with promotions and/or raises in income.

In some cases, a person may venture into various segments of their industry, but the focus remains in the area of their expertise, and they acquire new knowledge as the laws of their industry change. For others, the goal is to eventually become a manager, where they are given the opportunity to manage the output and career trajectory of others.

But what about those who become bored with their career? They may seek greener pastures in a new industry, hoping for greater remuneration and more exciting challenges. This pattern can be followed for 30-40 years, and retirement provides relief from a career that provided financial gain and knowledge. However, since most people are not happy with their job/career, those 30-40 years occur as a trade-off, and they often believe they could have done something better with their time. Retirement may or may not allow them to explore those possibilities.

The Life-long Journey of Becoming a Professional

Now let’s look at how a profession differs from a career. A professional is someone who may have started training when they were a child, like a musician, athlete, or entrepreneur. They distinguish themselves by being the best, breaking records, setting new precedents in the legal profession, or producing breakthroughs in medicine. They are driven to outdo themselves each week, month, and year. They are the minority of the population, and very few make it to become the professional athlete, musician, or manager.

While professionals may or may not possess educational credentials, they have the capacity to invent new knowledge for others to follow. Albert Einstein did have a college degree, while Steve Jobs did not. However, they both revolutionized their industries. To ensure they made a difference, they consistently and continuously carved out time to develop themselves as a professional, even after they had established a reputation for being the best. It is the same for a dancer, athlete, or doctor.

Your Life-Long Journey of Continuous Development

Professionals never stop developing themselves, and they incorporate some form of practice in their daily routine. When you contrast them with someone who has a career, the career person may depend on vocational or college training. They are more likely to increase their knowledge through job experience or as regulatory agencies require it.

Many professionals never retire, and they continue to practice their craft well into old age. Musicians still play, athletes and dancers may become teachers or coaches, and professional managers go from being CEOs to board members and/or consultants.

The 5 Keys to Building a Professional Career

Building a successful professional career takes more than just hard work and dedication. It requires a strategic approach and a willingness to invest time and effort in developing oneself. Here are five key ways to build a strong professional career:

  1. Set goals and make a plan: The first step to building a successful career is to set specific goals and make a plan to achieve them. This involves identifying one’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in the chosen field. A well-crafted plan provides direction, helps prioritize tasks, and serves as a roadmap to achieving career goals.
  2. Develop new skills: One of the most effective ways to build a strong professional career is to continuously develop new skills. This involves staying up-to-date with the latest trends and technologies in one’s field and seeking out opportunities to learn new things. This not only helps to enhance one’s current job performance but also opens up new career opportunities.
  3. Build a strong network: Networking is essential for building a successful career. Building relationships with colleagues, mentors, and industry professionals can help create new opportunities for growth and advancement. Attending industry events, participating in professional organizations, and connecting with others on social media are all great ways to expand one’s professional network.
  4. Seek feedback: Constructive feedback is critical for identifying areas for improvement and fine-tuning one’s professional skills. Seeking feedback from colleagues, supervisors, and mentors can help identify blind spots, address weaknesses, and improve overall job performance.
  5. Take calculated risks: Building a successful professional career often involves taking calculated risks. This may involve pursuing a new opportunity or stepping out of one’s comfort zone to take on new challenges. Taking calculated risks helps to expand one’s skills, knowledge, and experience, and can lead to new and exciting career opportunities.

The Pursuit of Excellence

The pursuit of excellence is a defining characteristic of the best professionals in any field. They understand that their greatest competition is themselves and they constantly strive to surpass their own past achievements. This drive for self-improvement is what sets them apart from the majority of the population. While many people may have talent or natural ability, it is the willingness to put in the hard work and dedication that separates the best from the rest.

Becoming a professional athlete, musician, or manager is a goal that only a small percentage of people achieve. It requires not only talent, but also a tremendous amount of effort and persistence. Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” popularized the concept that it takes at least 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve mastery in a particular field. This means dedicating oneself to a specific skill or craft for several hours each day, over a period of years.

Mastering Your Skills and Craft

However, it’s important to note that the 10,000-hour rule is not a guarantee of success. It’s simply a guideline that suggests that achieving mastery in any field requires a significant investment of time and effort. Other factors such as access to resources, luck, and opportunity also play a role in determining who ultimately becomes a professional in their chosen field.

Regardless of whether someone becomes a professional or not, the pursuit of excellence through continuous self-improvement is a valuable mindset to adopt in any aspect of life. It not only helps individuals achieve their goals but also fosters personal growth and satisfaction. The best professionals understand that success is a journey, not a destination, and that the real reward lies in the process of striving to be their best selves.


  • Ted Santos

    Mr. Ted Santos is skilled at reinventing companies and individuals. Over the past 25 years, he has reinvented himself several times. From sales trainer, executive manager, entrepreneur, executive coach to currently Chairman of an organization that provides high-value services to CEOs of midsize to large corporations, Mr. Santos is experienced with change. As Chairman of the Board of Veteran CEOs, Mr. Santos is responsible for developing strategic direction. He also recruits former CEOs of Fortune 1000s to lead roundtable discussions to provide guidance and mentorship to sitting CEOs of mid-cap companies. In addition, he offers direction to scale BoV's value proposition beyond NYC and into major cities throughout the US. BoV has expanded its offering to middle market CEOs by creating innovative platforms designed to educate and develop CEOs in a confidential environment with peers. Mr. Santos is a native of New Jersey and attended Howard University as a marketing major.