What Is the Difference Between a Profession & an Occupation?

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During your career, you'll want to move from an occupation to a profession if you want to make more money. While these words are just terms that describe your broad work background, they can send a signal about where you are in your career, so you'll want to use them carefully. Understanding the difference between "profession" and "occupation" will help you use the terms correctly to describe your status, and help you evaluate where others are you might need to interact with.


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What Is an Occupation?

The word "occupation" stems from "occupy," such as how you occupy your time. An occupation (also known as working at a trade) usually doesn't require a bachelor's degree, any advanced training or professional certification. An occupation is more a description of your specific job, rather than your industry or field. Examples of occupations include plumber, clerk, receptionist, electrician and bookkeeper.


What Is a Profession?

A profession is a career tied to a specific field and one that typically employs professionals. A professional is typically a person who has a bachelor's degree or higher, is certified by his industry's or profession's trade association, continues to climb the corporate ladder and works in management. Professions include the law and medicine, with lawyers and doctors the professionals who work in those professions.


If a landscaper or plumber starts her own company and expands into other states, she moves from working at an occupation to working as a professional – an entrepreneur – because she is no longer mowing lawns or fixing leaky plumbers for someone else at an hourly wage.

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Pay Differences Between These Two

Someone working in an occupation vs. profession is often paid by the hour or job. For example, a plumber who works for a plumbing company gets paid a certain dollar amount per hour worked. If the plumber has his own small business, he might get paid by the job, such as being paid ​$100​ to fix a leaky sink.


Professionals usually earn salaries and receive benefits, such as health insurance, free parking, paid vacation and a 401(k) match. Those who have an occupation are often hourly wage workers or independent contractors who receive no benefits. Contractors pay higher Social Security and Medicare taxes as a percentage of their income than professionals because their employers do not pay half the cost (as they do with employees).


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Extra Work for Professionals

Because they are paid higher incomes, professionals are expected to do more for their companies. They are not limited to working 40 hours per week and are often expected to work more than that with no extra pay. Professionals also work to increase their knowledge and skills by taking continuing education courses. Many professionals, especially those who are certified or licensed, must take a minimum number of continuing education courses per year to keep their certification or license.


Professionals often manage other people. This requires them to not only have expert knowledge of their field or area (e.g. HR, sales, IT, accounting), but they must also have "soft" business skills such as interpersonal communications skills, project- and time-management skills and leadership training.