Skip to content

Are you settling for ‘just a job?’

Matt Tarpey, CareerBuilder writer

Why do you stay in your current job? Everyone loves a paycheck and insurance, but what else keeps you coming back day after day?

The answer to that question is one of the biggest differences between people who have a career and people who are settling for just a job. Someone with a career can typically point to a strong passion for the work they do at their job, while someone with “just a job” is often motivated mainly by the paycheck.

If you identify more with the latter category, you’re in good company. According to a recent CareerBuilder survey, 55 percent of U.S. workers feel that they have just a job, not a career.

Motivation is often the key identifier, but there are other ways to tell whether you have a career or “just a job.” Ask yourself these questions:

How often do I think about work outside of the office?
Work-life balance is tricky, and many workers find themselves working beyond normal hours and staying connected 24/7. So, there’s a good chance you think about work from time to time outside of work. The more important question, however, is why.

Is work creeping into your personal time because of something external, like work emails delivered directly to your phone or the boss asking you to stay late? Or does it creep up from your own mind? Do you find yourself thinking about how new ideas and experiences can relate to the work you do?

A job is something that you think about because you have to. A career is something that you think about because you like to.

Do I want a promotion in my current job?
This might seem like a strange question, but take a minute to seriously consider the prospect of advancing within your current company. Where would you go from here? What’s the next rung on that ladder?

A key difference between a career and just a job is that careers, by definition, include multiple jobs or positions over a long stretch of time. This is more than just semantics – a person with a career is likely actively seeking, creating and following new opportunities that interest them through their work.

In other words, “just a job” is an endpoint. You get the job and then that’s pretty much it. A career, on the other hand, is something you actively, continually build.

Who am I networking with?
If thinking about your work outside of the office doesn’t come naturally for you, then there’s a good chance you have a hard time building a professional network, too. These two questions are closely linked – if thinking and talking about your job is something you like to do, you might find yourself accidentally networking all the time.

Of course, talking shop isn’t always fun, and just because you’re dreading an upcoming networking event doesn’t mean your career is stalling. But when you’re in “just a job,” talking about anything work-related rarely feels like anything but more work.

What are my short- and medium-term goals?
What do you hope to accomplish at work over the next three months? Do you have personal performance metrics you’d like to improve, new ideas you’d like to test or skills you’d like to hone?

Coming up with goals is easy. You can do it and not really mean it. So, once again, the really important question is why. Did you come up with a list of goals just because we told you to? Or did you set those goals with the aim of improving your resume and opening new potential opportunities for yourself?

What are my long-term goals?
Where do you see yourself in five years? If you haven’t thought about that since interviewing for your job, that job is definitely “just a job.” In most cases, careers are driven by long-term goals and passions. To tie it back to the question of why you do what you do – someone with a career will often point to a long-term goal and identify how their current position and the work they’re doing helps bring them closer to that goal.

What now?
It’s probably pretty clear whether you have “just a job.” If so, remember that it’s not inherently a bad thing. Fifty-five percent of people have “just a job.” Twenty-eight percent of people (including people who feel they have “a career”) say they tolerate or hate their job.

That difference shows that there are plenty of people who feel like they have “just a job,” but still essentially like what they do. For some people, “just a job” is all they’re looking for from a job.

But if you’re looking for more out of your nine-to-five, here are a few things you can do right now to start building a career:

  • Explore your company. Learn about other departments and teams. If your current role doesn’t excite you, maybe there’s something else that will.
  • Follow your passions. Seek out groups centered around things you care about or enjoy, get involved and start networking. You won’t find new opportunities if you’re not looking.
  • Work backwards. Start with long-term goals, then develop medium-term goals that will help you achieve them. Try to keep your goals quantitative and measurable, so that you can track progress.
  • Find your calling. Fill out the questionnaire at for some help identifying jobs and career paths that fit your skills, interests and personality.

Need some inspiration? Check out some examples of people who stumbled into their dream career.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply