Understanding the World of Work and Careers – 5 Key Definitions

When I ventured into the world of career development, one of the things I struggled with was navigating all the terms. This is an introductory blog that I hope will make it easier for those who are interested in proactively and professionally managing their careers to know what they are talking about when they use these terms. We will cover the definition of a career, occupation, profession, job and industry/sector. I will conclude with demonstrating the importance of understanding these terms when we use them as part of proactive career management.

Career – what is it?

Most people associate career as their paid job and nothing else. This is a traditional definition of careers and with the changing world of work there is an expanded definition of career. The definition below is comprehensive as it considers the changing nature of the relationship between work and personal life spaces, which are now more fluid than in the past. Time and space use have shifted due to flexi working hours, working from home arrangements and the growing focus on holistic life wellness as part of workplace programs and policies.

A career is any work that you do that is paid or unpaid. It is the total of our work activities, at home, at work, at school, at our business, and in our community activities. A career also includes the time we spend learning new things.

A career includes the time we spend at out paid jobs and side hustles. It includes the unpaid reproductive role of taking care of the home, children and the elderly or sick. It includes any form of volunteering or social contribution, which is work and uses your time. Anyone who has spent time working at anything, whether paid or unpaid, has a career.

[source: https://alis.alberta.ca/media/2993/careerplanner.pdf]

This expanded definition will require a mindset shift for one to fully grasp this and move away from the traditional definition of a career. In the latter, the perspective was to view only paid work or a job as a career and every type of work we do as personal and therefore separate and unrecognized as being part of one’s career. If this is how we define a career, what then is an occupation, a profession and a job.

black and white business career close up
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

What is an occupation?

We do not use the term occupation a lot, except when filling in forms, as most people ask: “what work do you do, or what’s your job?”.

An occupation is a specific category of work. It is a group of similar jobs for which people usually must develop knowledge and skills. E.g. electrician, engineer and teacher. People can have several different types of jobs within an occupation.

[source: https://alis.alberta.ca/media/2993/careerplanner.pdf]

An occupation is an economic activity undertaken by the person to earn their livelihood. It is a broader term that has three categories, it can be a business, a profession or employment (a job) that a person undertakes to make money.

[source: https://keydifferences.com/difference-between-occupation-and-profession.html]

What then is a profession?

Another category under the umbrella term occupation is “profession”. Sometimes you are asked “what is your profession” and many, especially those who are not in “mainstream and recognized” professions such as lawyer, doctor or farmer struggle with this question. This is because it is tied to your career identity and the core skills and value you are expected to offer that is associated with that profession or name.

A profession is a category of occupation, and a paid economic activity that requires specialised training, knowledge, qualification and skills. It implies membership of a professional body, and certificate of practice. The individuals who undertake a profession of rendering personalised services are called professionals, who are guided by a certain code of conduct, set up by the respective body.

[source: https://keydifferences.com/difference-between-occupation-and-profession.html]

Professions can also be seen as a discipline of work activities. They are portable as they can travel across industries and organisations/companies.

So what is a job?

Job is the more popular term that we use often, and it is also covered by the umbrella term, “occupation”.

A job is a paid position a person holds doing specific duties as part of regular employment. It is a task or piece of work, especially one that is paid.

A job is a group of homogeneous tasks related by similarity of functions. When performed by an employee in an exchange for pay, a job consists of duties, responsibilities, and tasks (performance elements) that are (1) defined and specific, and (2) can be accomplished, quantified, measured, and rated.

[source: What is job? definition and meaning – BusinessDictionary.com]

orange and black tractor next to piles of rocks
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Where does one practice – industry and sector?

You practice your profession or do your job in a space, which we call an industry or sector. An industry or sector is a field of work that exists to provide certain essential products or services, and has definite boundaries. For example: construction, development sector, hospitality, real estate, manufacturing, publishing, education, learning and development or social services.

[source: Ken Lawson, K.I.S.S Guide to Managing Your Career, Dorling Kindersley, 2000]

When you are introducing yourself, for example in elevator pitches, when you say “I am in construction or marketing”, it does not communicate specific details to serve your purposes of marketing your value.


We covered 5 key definitions, namely career, occupation, profession, job and industry or sector. Understanding these definitions is important for your career management. For example, when you say I am focusing on career development, it means you are focusing on all the paid and unpaid work that you do. This includes your activities at home, at work, at school and in the community. It is therefore a holistic plan covering most of your life roles. When you say I am doing a job search, in this career action you are focusing on securing a paid position with specific tasks and responsibilities that are measured. Words and their meanings therefore matter as they relate to specific and different career actions.

Ennie pictureWritten by: Ennie Chipembere Chikwema, Career Coach and Learning Expert

E-mail: ennielifecoach@servicesgalore.co.za

LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ennie-chipembere-chikwema/

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/EnnieCareerCoach

Twitter: @EnnieChipembere


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