Two Meanings of the Word Career and Paths You Can Take

Try this little experiment. Go to your favorite search engine and type in the word “career.” Your results page likely lists more than two billion items. Among them, you will find pages containing different occupations along with details about each one, job listings, and career and job search advice.

Why has your simple search turned up such a variety of resources? The reason is that there are multiple definitions of “career.” The search engine doesn’t know which one you mean when you type in the word. Here are two meanings. Although they are related to one another, there are substantial differences between them.

Definitions of Career

A Synonym for “Occupation”

We often use the word “career” as a synonym for occupation, trade, profession, or vocation. This definition refers to what a person does to earn a living. There are thousands of careers. They range from those that require extensive education and training to others for which you need hardly any preparation. Examples of careers are engineer, carpenter, doctor, ​​veterinary assistant, cashier, teacher, and hairstylist.

A Series of Jobs or a Career Path

The second meaning is much more complicated. It concerns an individuals progression through a series of jobs over his or her lifetime and includes that person’s education and unpaid work experiences, such as internships and volunteer opportunities. 

When it is defined in this context, it covers everything related to career development including career choice and advancement. Your career can take a variety of paths. Next, we’ll examine three possibilities.

3 Career Paths: Which One Will You Take?

You may find yourself on one of these three career paths. The first involves a string of entirely unrelated jobs; the second, a series of increasingly responsible positions that are related to one another; and finally, the third, a path filled with different jobs in the same industry, each, possibly, with more responsibility than the one before it.

  • Path 1: Your career might be made up of a bunch of random jobs that are unrelated to one another. For example, you may first work as a cashier in a grocery store, then as a server in a restaurant, and next as a home care aide. With such disparate occupations in your work history, it is impossible to predict what your next job will be. These careers don’t have a lot in common, so your experience in one position will rarely lead you to a subsequent one that pays more, or carries with it, more responsibilities.
  • Path 2: The second path involves moving up within the same occupation. If you continue to work as a cashier, whether in different establishments or the same one, your experience will grow. Doing this will allow you to move up the ranks in the same organization or get better jobs in others. Perhaps you will be promoted to a position at the customer service desk. Eventually, you may be eligible for a job that involves supervising other cashiers. As you move into increasingly responsible positions, your salary should go up as well.
  • Path 3: The third scenario has you moving up the corporate ladder through a variety of positions in the same industry, but not in the same occupation. If your ultimate goal is to become a retail store manager, for example, begin your career as a cashier. This won’t be a difficult job to get. Because there is a lot of turnover in that field, openings are easy to come by and little training is required. With your experience in the retail industry, you may next qualify for a job as a salesperson. After gaining more experience, you may become an assistant department manager, then a department manager, an assistant store manager, and maybe eventually a store manager.

You may not see your specific career path represented here. It would be impossible to cover in depth all the situations that exist. For example, lateral career moves—when an individual transitions between jobs with different, but not necessarily greater, responsibilities—haven’t been discussed. Neither have career changes that involve moving to an entirely new occupation for which additional training or education is necessary. When you enter a new profession, as would be the case here, you may have to start at the bottom. Careers, as demonstrated here, take on many different forms. Make careful and well thought out decisions to increase your chance of success.

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