Finding a Job

Q&A: What Is an Occupation?

December 24, 2020

There are several terms employers use when talking about someone’s professional experience. With so many ways to talk about experience, it’s important to clearly understand the word "occupation" so you can speak about yours clearly and accurately.

In this article, we discuss what an occupation is and how it differs from other forms of professional experience. We also provide examples of occupations and associated jobs.

What is an occupation?

Occupation is a general term that refers to the field or industry you are a part of or the work you are interested in. It can also refer to your role within an organization. Stating your occupation in an interview holds implications for you, your job, your profession and your career in a single answer.

An occupation is a work situation had by a person who has a specific field of interest and distinct skills that benefit that field. That person could look for a job within a specific occupation, they could be interested in continuing a career in that occupation, and if the occupation requires licensing and certification, they could pursue it as a profession.

The difference between occupations, jobs, careers and professions

It is difficult to define what an occupation is without also discussing other terms that contribute to its definition. Below we’ll examine the nuanced differences between occupations, jobs, careers and professions:

Occupation

Occupation is a broad term that describes a field of career interest. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic divides occupations into 23 categories that include different work situations and offer jobs, careers and professions.

Job

A job is a specific position you hold within an organization. Jobs are the most narrow way to describe your professional experience, and they may refer to something an individual does on a full-time, part-time or freelance basis.

Career

This is a macro way to define the series of positions you’ve held during your working life. Often a career takes place in a single industry, but work experience across industries can also contribute to an overarching career. For instance, someone who has worked in recruiting for a proprietary college could use that experience to become a volunteer manager for a nonprofit. The two work experiences are in different industries, but paint the picture of a strong career in recruitment. Experiences that don’t relate to one another usually indicate a career change.

Profession

A profession typically refers to a path that mandates individuals have specialized skills or knowledge. Professions often require education, certification or licensing. Professions are broader than job titles but not as broad as an occupation. For example, your job title may be assistant district attorney, but your profession is a lawyer.

Occupation categories and job examples

The BLS views occupation in terms of 23 categories that are used to determine data about the occupational outlook and career growth in America. Those categories are listed on their website as follows. In the next section, we’ll look at the categories and provide an example of a job and salary for each. All salary projections are based on a 40-hour workweek:

Example occupation titles

Management: Marketing manager

National average salary: $60,397 per year

Primary duties: A marketing manager creates, develops, implements and manages all aspects of marketing campaigns. They often lead a marketing team and are responsible for the growth and visibility of a company’s brand.

Business and financial operations: Cost analyst

National average salary: $68,651 per year

Primary duties: A cost analyst creates and monitors business against several metrics that show company cost effectiveness and resourcefulness. The analyst is responsible for keep businesses on a path to achieve revenue goals by estimating and analyzing costs for projections. 

Computers and mathematics: Software developer

National average salary: $104,912

Primary duties: Software developers play an important role in an IT team because they are responsible for all parts of the software development life cycle. Developers can program in many software programming languages and can seek certifications and education to advance their careers in the profession of information technology.

Architecture and engineering: Chemical engineer

National average salary: $92,923 per year

Primary duties: Chemical engineers work with chemicals in labs to create proprietary products and compounds, including things like plastic and pharmaceuticals.

Life, physical and social sciences: Food scientist

National average salary: $83,842 per year 

Primary duties: A food scientist tests food to determine makeup, nutritional value and screen for things like bacteria and toxins that should not be consumed. 

Community and social services: Substance abuse counselor

National average salary: $35,318 per year

Primary duties: Substance abuse counselors work with chemically addicted clients to help them overcome addiction and lead healthier lives with better coping strategies and behaviors.

National average salary: $50,179 per year

Primary duties: Paralegals assist attorneys with performing their specific type of law. This includes being highly organized and working with a variety of data, and can also entail investigations, witness interviews and other activities that help attorneys build cases.

Educational instruction: Kindergarten teacher

National average salary: $40,855 per year

Primary duties: A kindergarten teacher educates primary education students and providing a safe and healthy environment for them to grow.

Arts, design, entertainment, sports and media: Floral designer

National average salary: $28,413 per year

Primary duties: Floral designers create floral arrangements for special events, typically for retail sale.

Healthcare practitioners: Registered nurse

National average salary: $70,366 per year

Primary duties: RNs specialize in patient care. They can work in hospitals, doctor’s offices, home care, at nonprofits or in other settings where people seek medical care. They are licensed to practice their profession and can handle most medical operations activities involved in patient care.

Healthcare support: Massage therapist

National average salary: $59,093 per year

Primary duties: Massage therapists are licensed professionals who provide a therapeutic and relaxing experience specializing in different massage techniques.

Protective services: Private investigator

National average salary: $47,944 per year

Primary duties: A private investigator works with clients offering detective services independently of law enforcement. This includes investigating people and incidents and providing feedback to the client. They can work for individuals or corporate clients.

Food preparation and serving: Bartender

National average salary: $24,440 per year

Primary duties: A bartender can work in several hospitality or recreational establishments from restaurants and bars to hotels and golf clubs. They serve customers by mixing drinks and often serving food, and taking care of other customer requests. Sometimes bartenders are certified mixologists, and this distinguishing factor can make a difference in the establishment that they work in.

Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance: Pest control technician

National average salary: $39,857 per year

Primary duties: Pest control technicians can work with commercial or residential clients using chemicals and other methods to eradicate pests.

Personal care and service: Cosmetologist

National average salary: $37,648 per year

Primary duties: Cosmetologists specialize in hair and makeup services for clients and can work in several establishments and industries, but commonly work in hair salons where they are employed or rent a space.

Sales and client services: Account executive

National average salary: $66,852 per year

Primary duties: An account executive role combines account management and sales to service existing clients and gain new ones.

Office and administrative support: Human resource assistant

National average salary: $33,862 per year

Primary duties: Human resource assistants work with human resource management and general employees to implement human resource initiatives and perform clerical duties.

Farming, fishing and forestry: Wildlife specialist

National average salary: $42,149 per year

Primary duties: Wildlife specialists are environmental care workers who specialize in several topics having to do with animal and plant biology like conservation, rehabilitation, behavior and support education on such topics.

Construction and extraction: Stonemason

National average salary: $41,080 per year

Primary duties: Stonemasons design, implement and construct projects out of stone. They specialize in bricklaying and work with several tools required for the job.

Installation, maintenance and repair: Automotive technician

National average salary: $41,163 per year

Primary duties: Primary duties of automotive technicians are to repair all aspects of a vehicle, or to specialize in an area like tire replacement and repair. Automotive technicians sometimes only work with certain makes and models while others are more general. This role often requires certification.

National average salary: $37,086 per year

Primary duties: A welder is an essential part of a fabrication team. They apply heat to metal to construct objects necessary in several industries like construction, automotive and manufacturing.

Transportation and material moving: Boat captain

National average salary: $43,285 per year

Primary duties: Boat captains operate boats in several industries like government, fishing and wildlife and recreation.

National average salary: $37,812 per year

Primary duties: Infantry officers command the infantry and play an essential role in developing missions and strategies according to standard operating procedures.

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