Jobs vs Careers. What's the difference?

While the words job and career seem like they are describing similar terms, there are important differences between the two. Knowing the difference between them and planning your future with a career-oriented mindset can help build a better future for you and your family.

What’s The Difference?

A job is something you do to earn money. It could be a short-term situation or an occupation you have for the time being which may or may not be a part of your future goals. Jobs make up careers, which is defined as a long-term strategy. To build a career, you take jobs to gain experience and move you forward to a particular goal. Careers can run through a company, industry, an occupation, or any combination of the three.

Why Does This Matter?

When deciding which jobs to apply for and accept, it is best to approach it with a long term, career-oriented mindset. Instead of taking any entry level job that is offered to you, you should apply for jobs which help build toward a goal career. Pursuing a career rather than jumping from job to job can make you happier, as careers can align with worker’s interests. Careers can also help you earn more money in the long run, as building on experience and working your way up a career ladder will allow you to progress further than taking several unrelated jobs.



Adopt a Career-Oriented Mindset

There are two ways to think about building a career, start with the beginning in mind or start with the ending in mind. Starting at the beginning means that you start with your current job, or you know what you want to be your first job, and the identify another job that will advance you in a career. The Next Step tool on can help you identify occupations that are advancements from your current job. A user can find advancements for multiple jobs using the tool and ultimately create a potential career path.

Starting from the end means that you identify a job that is out of your reach at this point. Maybe it requires more education or experience than you currently have, but you now have a goal, and you can determine what steps, i.e. jobs and/or educational opportunities, you should pursue to give you the experience and education needed to achieve it.’s First Step tool can help you identify jobs that are one step below your desired job. A user can use the First Step tool to create a potential career path.

Things to Remember:

  • Think a step ahead - When pursuing a job consider how it fits into your long-term plan. Will there be opportunities for advancement? Will it give you the opportunity to try out an occupation and help you decide whether you would want to do this for a career?

  • You are never too old to learn something new - Your ideal career pathway may require you to pursue additional education, which may be costly. Take advantage of any professional development opportunities that are offered. This is a win-win scenario where you receive training to help you gain new skills and advance and your employer has an employee they know will be an asset in the future.

  • Do your research - Another way to better understand the experience and qualifications required for your desired job is to read current job listings in your area. This gives you a good idea of what experience, education, and skills are required to achieve your goals. With this knowledge, you can start to develop these skills and will be well prepared once you meet the qualifications.

  • Find a mentor - Once you’ve discovered your career goals, finding a mentor to offer guidance and keep you on track can be helpful. You can reach out to someone you already know in this career, someone you’ve met on LinkedIn or social media, or could even email a local firm or employer in the area.

  • Be Flexible - Life happens! Sometimes unexpected opportunities or challenges arise that were not a part of your career plan. When these things happen, be sure to research and see how you can capitalize on them.

How to start a job search

Getting organized for a job search

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A job search is a never easy and takes a lot of time, focus as well as a positive attitude.   It can be made less frustrating by getting organized at the start.  


The first step is to ensure you have access to or have thought about some items you will need to be successful:


  • Identification – Some examples include a driver’s license/ID Card, passport, Military ID

  • Social Security Card

  • Resume

  • References – have a list of at least three people who can talk positively about your skills and work ethic.

  • Phone or a way to receive messages from potential employers

  • Email address – make sure it is a professional looking address. Someone with the address, for example, may not be looked upon as a quality candidate.

  • Transportation – How will you get to/from an interview and report to work daily

  • Clothes for an interview and for work


The second step is to understand experience, skill, and abilities that you possess and how you can bring these to a potential employer. There are major types of skills: Hard Skills, Soft Skills, and Essential Employability Skills.


  • Hard Skills – These are also known as job specific skills and the ones that are required depend on your job interest.  They are skills you have learned through both formal as well as informal training and/or work experience

  • Soft Skills – These are skills you have gained throughout your life that can be used in your job.  Many employers report that transferrable/soft skills are a major key to long term success for potential employees.

  • Essential Employability Skills - These are a set of defined expectations and competencies for career readiness. The essential employability skills provide a “common language” to guide and demonstrate identification, evaluation, and development for career readiness and successful employment. These are common skills employers seek in new hires: Communications, Ethics, Problem Solving, Professionalism, Resource Management, and Teamwork.  


What are your top ten skills?  Use the ‘Identifying Your Skills’ worksheet, which includes examples of both Hard and Transferrable/Soft Skills, to help you think about the skills you currently possess and the skills that you may need to work on developing to achieve your career goals.

Thinking about all these items before you start a job search can be overwhelming.  You can use the assessments on , or get one-on-one assistance from professional career counselors  through your local NCWorks Career Center. If you are a current student or alumni of a NC Community College or University, you can also reach out to the appropriate career center

Where to find jobs

Searching for a job takes multiple steps

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Searching for a job has multiple steps that may be competed several times before you are able to finally land the job you wanted.  The steps in a job search include:


  • Assessment of your career goals, experience, skills and abilities

  • Research to find the available jobs and potential employers that interest you

  • Writing resumes, cover letters and follow-up thank you notes

  • Completing applications and other required documents

  • Arranging interviews, both for open jobs as well as with prospective employers to find about opportunities that may open in the future

  • Negotiating compensation packages; salaries, benefits, vacation & sick leave

  • Accepting or declining an offer of employment


When looking for jobs in an area, if is helpful to understand the best opportunities and where to find them.  Many jobs are posted publicly on job search boards, such as NCWorks, and on employer websites under links listed as Work for Us, Apply, etc., which is considered the Open Market. 


Many jobs are often not posted publicly, this is called the Hidden Market. Why would an employer not post jobs publicly?  There are many reason, but some include that the position requires specialized skills that may not be possessed by a large number of people, the company is small and they don’t have the ability to go through a large number of applications that could be received, etc.  The only way to find about these Hidden Jobs is to network.


Networking is reaching out to your family, friends and acquaintances, basically anyone you know, to let them know that you are looking for a job.  If you know what kind of job you want, think about anyone you know who works in that field, or anyone who works in a company that hires those jobs.  Ask them to help you by seeing if there are any jobs available, recommending you for any open positions or asking their manager to speak with you about any opportunities that may open in the future.  To think about and identify your existing network, use the Networking Activity Map worksheet.


Networking doesn’t have to be done face-to-face, using social media is another great way to reach out to your network.  LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are all platforms that can be used.  When using social media, there are some things to be aware of, everything you put online can be seen by everyone, be sure that you only post items that you want everyone to see.  Surveys show that as many as 90% of companies check online profiles of their candidates.  Also, be sure to not share personal information with people that you do not personally know.


Other places to look for jobs:


  • School and university publications

  • Government publications

  • Professional or trade organizations

  • Community bulletin boards

  • Newspapers

  • Business and trade newspapers

Eight (3+5) ways to use and not to use Social Media Accounts for Job Hunting

Social media is used a lot in our everyday life and provides the ability to share information about what your passions, connect with friends and more. Jobseekers need to understand that many employers check social media to learn more about potential employees. Before applying for a job, review your social media for any content that could raise concerns.

Note: If you don’t want to change what is on your social media accounts, consider making your current account private and create a second more professional public online presence. In addition, be sure to check if you are tagged in any potentially unflattering photos or posts by friends or family members and ask them to remove the tag or make the photo private.

Three ways to use social media during a job search:

  1. Display creativity- If your social media is professional, there is no problem with maintaining a public profile and it can even add to your application. When applying for a job in a creative field, such as marketing or communications, a well-run social media account is a great way to demonstrate strong communication and creative skills. Social media management is also a key responsibility for many jobs, and a well-run social media account shows capability and experience in this important skill.

  2. Network & build a brand - LinkedIn and Facebook allow you to make posts which can show interest in your career field, provide updates on your latest accomplishments, and why you would be a good hire. You can also seek out and contact leaders in your chosen field. Over time, you can help build a brand in the industry and demonstrate your skills. This can confirm to employers that your interest and excitement about the field is real. 

  3. Keep up to date - By following the feeds of people currently working in your chosen industry, you can learn more about a career and the industry itself. Interacting with others and sharing recent and emerging trends, articles, or studies is a great way to stay current and supplement your education.  It also gives you a lot of information to talk about in an interview.


Five ways to put up red flags to employers in your social media feeds:

  1. Unprofessional content - Delete or mark private any unprofessional photos. Social media is meant to be fun, remember that social media is public unless you mark it as private. What you post can be reviewed by anyone, including potential employers, and job seekers want to project a professional image. Photos of you partying or engaging in unprofessional or extreme behavior could be an immediate concern for a potential employer.

  2. Divisive or Political Content - Political or divisive social commentary has the potential to alienate a prospective employer. You can have your own opinions but consider keeping political comments private or not including it on public social media accounts.

  3. Unprofessional Interactions - Be sure that all interactions with other users are positive. Behavior that comes across as rude or negative, even if intended in a joking manner, could be viewed negatively by a potential employer.

  4. Grammar or Spelling Errors - Remember you want to appear professional and as a good candidate. Posts which display poor writing skills could leave a bad impression with a potential employer.

  5. Conflicts with Resume or Cover Letter -Your cover letter and resume make up the first impression with a potential employer, but any social media posts or behavior which seem in conflict with the information included on them can raise questions about your background and trustworthiness to an employer.

Reference Tips for all Workers

A list of references is an important part of a job application. The right reference could be the difference between getting that job or not. Your resume, cover letter, and interview say a lot about your character and accomplishments, but that is you talking about yourself. A reference is a hiring manager’s opportunity to confirm with someone else that you are as good as you look on paper and perform in an interview.

Who Do I Ask for a Reference?

It is best to choose people who are familiar with your character and work who you are sure will give a positive assessment. When it comes to references, the more recent is always better.

  • While many people choose not to ask their current boss for a reference, it is a good idea to have a recent employer on your list. They can provide a current overview of your character and work ethic.

  • If you feel uncomfortable asking your current employer, a trusted coworker who is familiar with your work can also be a good reference. The best coworkers are the ones you work closely with on projects or on a regular basis as they can speak confidently on your workplace behavior and character.

  • If you work in a client-based industry, you can also ask current or former clients for references who you have a good relationship with for a reference.

How Do I Ask for a Reference?

Once you’ve chosen who you would like to use as a reference, be sure to ask them before submitting their name and contact information to a potential employer.

  • Ask your preferred contacts to be a reference before you list them on an application. In person or by phone is preferable so they can ask you questions. Asking via email or text can be acceptable depending on your relationship but...

  • …If they agree, send them the details regarding the job as well as your resume so that they are familiar and can tailor their comments to needs and requirements of the position.

  • Greet your reference and remind them of your relationship if you have not spoken to them in a while.

  • Remember, you are asking for a favor, they can say no. Be polite and friendly and be sure to ask rather than demand.

  • If the reference seems hesitant or unwilling, thank them and find someone else. You want all your references to be positive and a hesitant individual may not be the best person to speak to a potential employer on your behalf.

  • If you think a prospective employer will call your reference, try to let them know in advance. This way they can be prepared to speak and are also on the lookout for a phone call or email.

  • As they agree, ask how they would like to be contacted and compile their full name, job title, and a preferred method of contact.

  • Be sure to keep your references updated on how your job search progresses and send a personalized note to thank them afterward.