A Job, Career, and Profession

Karthikeyan suggested that I explain the difference between profession, career and a job.

A Job

We seek jobs to earn a livelihood and to earn money for a more comfortable life.

For a student, if the school is boring, if studies are meaningless, and the education system is a necessary evil, then schooling is a dull job. He could be attending school to escape parents’ wrath or just not knowing what else to do. Some poor children are attracted to the school by free meals and clothes, friends, games, non-curricular activities, etc.

Many teachers too dislike their job. They resent teaching and all the related work. They could be seeing the lessons for the first time after entering a class-room. For some, teaching is reading the lessons aloud in the class. If a student does not understand, the teacher repeats the same sentences, a little louder each time. Unluckily, the student has difficulty in understanding – not in hearing. Answers to questions are found from guide books. The teacher does not care to understand what she teaches. Such teachers need the job for the money it brings, the prestige in the community, or to escape other responsibilities at home.

Some who are complacent about life in general are not affected by their disinterest and neutral attitude about their job. Their conscience does not trouble them; lack of respect in workplace does not matter to them. They do not seek gratification and are resigned to their position and fate. They are inactive and passive people.

Another set of people go to work each day to a job they hate. They have “Monday blues” and TGIF. The difficult emotions they accumulate at work place disturb their own peace of mind and health and also affect their family members. One may end up in this situation due to several reasons, some due to circumstances. But, with a resolve and sense of self-worth, anyone can get out of such a situation. If we find meaning only in the money we earn, that will block our exit from the job. If we expect someone else to raise us out of the tar-pit, we will sink deeper.

A person working as a receptionist in a clinic once told me candidly that she regularly refused appointments to patients so that she could leave the clinic on time. “Oh no, another customer!”  attitude is not uncommon in many service industries. The employees watch the clock, count the money and go home sans gratification.

A Career

In a career we look for growth in our chosen job. Apart from the money we earn, position and prestige count. We are ever conscious of what would help our promotions, and progress in the eyes of community and society. Not all we chase is for the gratification from the work itself, but for gratification with the increments in salary, appreciation from the bosses and applaud from the family members and friends. External rewards matter more than self-worth. We are keen to please the bosses, bend rules to please people who matter, tow the company lines even compromising our own values. Being noticed becomes important. Policies, procedures and conventions are quoted and observed by letter and not by spirit.

A student with this mindset considers how to score better in the examinations, how to stand first in the class, how to get a rank, how to prepare for interviews, etc. He would choose the subjects in which he can score better irrespective of his passion. He would study medicine or engineering though his love could be in literature or journalism. He would calculate the salary he would earn and the positions he can reach by taking certain courses. He would enrol in different coaching classes and exam-cram projects. He would employ various gimmicks to remember facts and figures and memorise answers to questions without understanding. Study guides, internet resources, SMS chats with friends and old question papers are dear to him. He would do ABC Analysis of study topics based on the likelihood of being asked in the examination. Things that do not directly translate to measurable results do not attract him.

“I want to become a doctor because my father is a doctor” is what he would say and not out of his passion and commitment to the profession. There are many parents who consider it their ‘cause’ or duty to ‘make’ their children a doctor, an engineer etc.

Some teachers ask “How does it matter if the students have understood the subject so long as their examination scores are excellent?” To this end, the teachers make the children cram and score well in exams. For them effectiveness of teaching is measured only by the marks the students get in external exams. Unluckily, parents and students appreciate this more than emphasis on real learning.

Career oriented people take new courses that will help their promotions, increments and market value. They evaluate their market value continuously. Some people interview for new jobs to get practice, and not to seek a change!

A Profession

According to various survey reports, more than 70 percent of our engineering graduates are not employable. Dr Kalam has said that India does not have problem of unemployment but unemployibility. Our education system is not producing professionals. The graduates lack other skills beside the academic or technical skills. The top three most important general skills identified were integrity, reliability and teamwork, while the top three most important specific skills are entrepreneurship, communication in English and use of modern tools and technologies.

Many organisations depend on their own training programs to build basic minimum skills in fresh employees. A new Employability Industry is born in India, estimated to spend $80 billion by 2012.

A student with professional mindset is focused and clear-headed, learns every aspect of the subject, carefully discovers what is needed, does not ignore or hide own mistakes, completes homework and projects as soon as possible, and produces more than expected by the teacher. He remains level-headed and optimistic, emotionally enthusiastic, cheerful, interested and content.

Different prime attitudes are necessary in different professions. A soldier has to face extreme hardship and strict adherence to hierarchical authorities, a teacher needs passion for studies, and a medical professional requires compassion above all. Aptitude tests aim to ascertain that a candidate has the core qualities and capabilities needed for a profession. We do not have to wait for the aptitude tests to see if we have the aptitude for the profession he seeks. Some reflection would help.

Certain qualities apply to all the professionals.

Professionals are responsive, knowledgeable, competent, take pride in and care about what they do, and continuously learn and teach others something. They have a focussed approach, are confident, and committed.

A good professional is not affected much by emotional upheavals and is not stressed by his work. His decisions and actions are based on the context/situation, facts, and logic. He shows grace under pressure.

Professional behaviour happens naturally once we understand and value professionalism. Good professionals also have rewarding and satisfying careers.

Building a Culture of Professionalism

Individuals, institutes and organisations are all responsible in nurturing professionalism.

  • Parents and teachers can emphasise on learning rather than exam scores. They need to be students themselves and be partners in learning. Curiosity and commitment is a part of student culture.
  • An institute needs to provide facilities and environment to promote studies and scientific temper. Good libraries and laboratories are essential complements to studies.
  • Just dumping computers in campuses has not helped schools. If we provide certain facilities, let us see that they are gainfully used. Involvement at all levels is important. Armchair charity does not bring pride or professionalism in the receiver – but diminishes his spirits and accountability.
  • Respect professionalism in every profession. Respect merit and dignity of labour as a social responsibility.
  • Do not accept mediocrity and less-than-good results as normal.

Let us feel “Thank God; it is Monday Morning” and ardently seek opportunities to perform any time any day.

“…education with a value system, religion that transforms into spirituality and economic development for social transformation…”                                          Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam

See Principle of Professional Conduct on AICPA, US website for some definitions related with Professionalism.


About pgbhat

A retired Naval Officer and an educationist. Has experience with software industry. A guest faculty at different institutes and a corporate trainer with software development companies.
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3 Responses to A Job, Career, and Profession

  1. Karthikeyan Subramanian says:

    Thank you so much PG for this write up. You have clearly characterized the difference between Job, Career and Profession. I would like to share this with a few of my friends as well.



  2. Prithwiraj Ghosh says:

    Excellent article PG. Please write something about right attitude to work – how important that is.



  3. Kartik says:

    Very well expressed, uncle. I always thought about two high-level distinctions (those who work to earn a living and those who work because they are passionate about it). Your article clarifies there are actually 3 very different approaches to ones profession.

    My take is that pre-liberalization India had a majority of people pursuing a job. And liberalization and rampant consumerism have led many to switch to careers. Very few pursue a profession. The challenge with school teaching is that you only get the vast majority of people who view it as a job and a small minority who view it as a profession. There are few monetary or other external rewards so we have almost no one who views it as a career. Even if we can get some of the “job teachers” to switch to “career teachers”, it may provide a big lift in educational quality. The end goal is of course the ones who view it as a profession.


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