What is an occupation?

Posted December 02, 2021

An occupation is the term you would use to explain the industry or field you work in that might also explain your role within an organization. Your occupation holds implications for your skills, your job experience, your profession and your career in a single term.  

What is an occupation

One way to think of an occupation is as a position in a specific field of interest with distinct skills that benefit that field. Someone could look for a job opening within a specific occupation and if the occupation requires a license or certification, they could pursue it as a profession.

Occupation vs. job, career and profession

Defining the meaning of occupation requires us to discuss the other terms used to define it. Here are the nuanced differences between occupations, jobs, careers and professions:


An occupation is a person’s field of career interest. For example you might say you are an educator, this is the occupation but the job you have might differ from someone else within the same occupation.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics gives 23 categories of occupations that include different work situations, jobs, careers and professions.


A career differs from person to person because it describes the series of positions you have held throughout your work life. A career is usually used to describe the positions you’ve held within a single industry, however it can also include work experience across industries that blend together to form an overarching career. 

For instance, someone who has worked in graphic design for a digital marketing company might have the experience to join the design team at a video game company. The two industries are different but the experience from both shows a strong background in graphic design. If the experiences weren't related to each other, this would indicate a career change. 


A profession is similar to occupation however it is less broad in that it refers to a path that requires individuals to have specialized skills and knowledge. As a result professions are usually indicative of positions that require extensive education, certification and licensing that requires renewal. Professions are more broad than a job title but more specific than an occupation. For example your job title might be district attorney but your profession is a lawyer, and you are in a “legal occupation.”


A job is the specific position you hold within an organization with specific responsibilities and requirements. When describing what you do for a living, your job is the most narrow way to describe your professional experience. A job may refer to a full-time, part-time, or freelance position.

Occupation categories and job examples

The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists 23 categories that are used to determine occupational data to predict the outlook and career growth in America. Here is a look at the 23 categories of occupation with an example of a job and salary for each. The following salary projections are based on a 40-hour workweek:

Management: Human Resources Manager

National average salary: $102,780 per year

Primary duties: A human resources manager is in charge of the administrative activities associated with the company’s personnel. This could include developing a hiring strategy, dealing with high level personnel disputes, creating systems for managing staff benefits, and onboarding new employees.

Business and financial operations: Accountant

National average salary: $62,410 per year

Primary duties: A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) ensures the accuracy of financial documents, and maintains their compliance with relevant laws and regulations. This includes preparing important financial reports, tax returns and ensuring that taxes are paid properly and on time. A CPA can conduct forecasting and risk analysis assessments to offer guidance on cost reduction and profit maximization.

Computers and mathematics: Software Engineer

National average salary: $108,249 per year

Primary duties: A software engineer can also be considered a developer, they are responsible for developing programs that run on computers, cell phones, and game consoles. Software engineers develop applications and systems using analysis and critical thinking skills to determine and assess the needs of the user and then create software to meet the requirements. 

Architecture and engineering: Aerospace engineer

National average salary: $118,610 per yearPrimary duties: Aerospace engineers work on the mechanical, optical, and aeronautical design of aircraft, spacecraft, missiles, and defense systems. Jobs in aerospace engineering can be found at private companies, public companies contracted by the government, or work for a federal agency such as NASA.

Life, physical and social sciences: Epidemiologist

National average salary: $74,743 per year

Primary duties: Epidemiology is the study and control of communicable diseases. Epidemiologists carry out research to investigate the transmission methods of disease in order to develop a means of control and prevention. 

Community and social services: Probation Officer

National average salary: $55,690 per year

Primary duties: Probation officers are responsible for supervising people who have been placed on probation instead of in prison. They work to make sure the person is not a danger to the community and that the person is following their plan of action for rehabilitation. 

Law: Paralegal

National average salary: $50,179 per year

Primary duties: A paralegal will assist an attorney in performing their specific type of law. Paralegals are highly organized and work with various types of data that is related to their cases. They can also entail investigations, witness interviews and research lawsuits that might help their attorney build a case.

Educational instruction: Middle School Teacher

National average salary: $58,600 per year

Primary duties: A middle school teacher educates elementary students throughout the school year and provides a safe and healthy environment for them to learn and grow.

Arts, design, entertainment, sports and media: Interior Designer

National average salary: $48,167

Primary duties: Interior designers transform the feel and look of a home, room, office, or space using both decorative and functional materials like furniture and artwork. 

Healthcare practitioners: Registered nurse

National average salary: $70,366

Primary duties: Nurses specialize in patient care and work in hospitals, doctor’s offices, home care, or in other settings where people seek medical care. They are licensed as a registered nurse and handle most medical operations involved in patient care.

Healthcare support: Physical Therapist

National average salary: $89,349

Primary duties: Physical therapists are licensed professionals who provide diagnoses and treatment plans for people who are injured or have limits to their ability to function physically in their daily life. 

Protective services: Bodygaurd

National average salary: $55,828 per year

Primary duties: A bodyguard is hired to protect the client at all or specific times of the day. They are highly trained in martial arts, situational de-escalation, and have extensive weapon skills. 

Food preparation and serving: Bartender

National average salary: $24,440 per year

Primary duties: A bartender knows has training in mixing drinks, serving food, and taking care of customer requests. You might find a bartender at different types of hospitality and recreational establishments such as restaurants, bars, hotels, wedding venues, golf clubs, and more. Some bartenders are certified mixologists, which can make a difference in the establishment that they work in.

Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance: Pest control technician 

National average salary: $39,576 per year

Primary duties: Technicians in charge of pest control work with commercial or residential clients homes or businesses using chemicals and other methods to eradicate pests.

Personal care and service: Cosmetologist

National average salary: $37,649 per year

Primary duties: Cosmetologists do hair and/or makeup for clients, and may work for a single celebrity or be hired at a salon or production company. Many cosmetologists pick up freelance work and specialize in hair and makeup for a specific industry events such as wedding events, television shows, or live events. 

Sales and client services: Account Executive

National average salary:$66,892 per year

Primary duties: An account executive is responsible for account management and sales in order to service existing clients and prospect new ones.

Office and administrative support: Front Desk Assistant

National average salary: $28,220 per year

Primary duties: The front desk assistant is in charge of answering business phone calls, receiving and scheduling appointments, administering check-in requirements, and completing sales transactions. 

Farming, fishing and forestry: Wildlife Specialist

National average salary: $42,149 per year

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

Construction and extraction: Contractor

National average salary: $83,374 per year

Primary duties: A general contractor is responsible for overseeing the entire construction job, whether it's new construction or a major remodel job. The contractor manages all aspects of the job including purchasing the materials and hiring the sub-contractors. 

Installation, maintenance and repair: Automotive technician

National average salary: $41,163 per year

Primary duties: Automotive technicians repair all aspects of a vehicle, or specialize in a specific area like tire replacement and repair. Automotive technicians can choose to only work with certain makes and models while others are more general.

Production: Welder

National average salary: $37,086 per year

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

Transportation and material moving: Boat captain

National average salary: $43,286

Primary duties: Boat captains lead crews and operate boats in several industries such as government, transportation, fishing and wildlife, and recreation.

Military: Infantry officer

National average salary: $37,812

Primary duties: Infantry officers command the infantry, develop missions and strategies according to standard operating procedures, and write reports on the missions and service members they are in charge of. 

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