When you're exploring different types of jobs or examining your current job, you may encounter many terms relating to the title and responsibilities. Occupation and job title are two terms that many professionals use interchangeably, but they actually have different meanings. Learning about the differences between these terms can help you refine your job search. In this article, we explain the differences between occupation and job title and why they're important.
Occupation vs. job title
Occupation and job title are terms used to describe what position an employee holds in an organization, but there are some key differences. Here are six ways in which job title and occupation differ:
A job title describes someone's specific job or position, like "podiatrist," whereas an occupation refers to a broader title or the entire industry in which someone works, like "doctor." Many people can share the same occupation without sharing the same job title. For example, "teacher" is an occupation, but there are many different types of teachers, like special education teachers and biology teachers.
When looking for jobs, you may encounter both job titles and occupations listed on postings. In some cases, the job posting lists the occupation, then gives the specific job title when you look at the description. It's helpful to look for the job title when applying for roles so you know exactly what to expect in the position.
Even though an occupation is a broader definition of what someone does for a living and a job title offers more specifics, different job titles also range in their specificity. For example, someone who works at a newspaper may describe their occupation as a journalist and their job title as an editor There are also several different types of editors that can make the job title more specific, like editor-in-chief, managing editor or fact-checker.
If you are beginning your job search and are open to a wide range of jobs that could apply to your background, try searching by occupation. You can also try searching by the general job title, like "editor" if you want more focus. For a targeted search, try using the exact job title you want, like "managing editor." Being as specific as possible allows you to find positions that clearly match your interests and qualifications.
Related: Q&A: What Is an Occupation?
Another difference between occupations and job titles is that job titles can give insight into your hierarchical position in your workplace. Some companies use numerals to show the different levels of one job title. For example, someone's occupation may be “engineer,” but their job title is “engineer I” or “engineer II.” Another way to show hierarchy is by adding the seniority level before the job title. For example, a person's job title could be “junior account executive” or “senior account executive” depending on where they are in their workplace's hierarchy.
Specifying the levels for each job title has benefits for current employees and job candidates alike. Establishing a hierarchy is important for companies because it allows new employees to figure out who to report or ask questions to. Job titles are an asset when searching for jobs because they can help you determine if a position is entry-level or whether you need more experience to apply.
Just as someone's occupation title offers a broad definition of what they do for a living, it also offers a broad salary range. For example, if you search for the salary range for a developer, you'll probably get a wider range than if you search for a senior software developer. When researching average salaries before the negotiation portion of the hiring process, narrow down the job title as much as possible, which should help give you an accurate salary that you can use to negotiate.
One thing to remember is that salary also depends on the location of your job and the company you work for. These factors can change the salary range for both occupations and job titles.
Related: 40 Effective Salary Negotiation Tips
An occupation title doesn't usually give specific details about the tasks you would perform on a daily basis, but a job title typically does. For example, if you search for the occupation "retail associate," you may find a wide variety of responsibilities, but searching for "cashier" or "stocker" might return more specific results.
Job titles are also beneficial when a job listing doesn't include duties or tasks. You can look at similar job postings and search results to see if the responsibilities interest you before applying.
If you're looking for examples of occupation titles to broaden your job search but don't know exactly where to begin, you can find various official sources listing all government-defined occupations. For example, the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, or DOT, is a publication produced by the United States Department of Labor that defines different types of work.
The Department of Labor Job Categories, also known as the Standard Occupational Classification System, contains every government-recognized occupation. This list is a great tool for helping you search for different occupations or even just to figure out how to define your occupation. The occupations are split into 23 categories:
- Business and Financial Operations
- Computer and Mathematical
- Architecture and Engineering
- Life, Physical and Social Science
- Community and Social Service
- Educational Instruction and Library
- Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports and Media
- Healthcare Practitioners and Technical
- Healthcare Support
- Protective Service
- Food Preparation and Serving Related
- Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance
- Personal Care and Service
- Sales and Related
- Office and Administrative Support
- Farming, Fishing and Forestry
- Construction and Extraction
- Installation, Maintenance and Repair
- Transportation and Material Moving
- Military Specific
The list goes on to separate these categories further, providing a great resource for examples of what qualifies as an occupation rather than a job title.