How To Have a Career Instead of a Job

How To Have a Career Instead of a Job

How To Have a Career Instead of a Job

I mentor college students at my alma mater. When I attended school there as a computer science major, the primary language I learned was COBOL. COBOL was one of the most common computer programming languages for business applications in the 1970s and 80s. As web-based applications came into play in the 1990s, few new applications were developed in COBOL.

However, still today, there are millions of lines of COBOL code on mainframes in insurance companies and major banks. And all that code needs to be maintained.

Answering a desperate need

While I was at a mentoring gathering recently, I had a conversation with one of the instructors at my old university. Not only did he tell me that COBOL is still taught there, there are still students taking the classes. He told me that there are some companies desperately looking for COBOL programmers.

He told me the story of a company that flew in from many states away, interviewed their COBOL programming students, and hired them all.

A job or a career?

I thought about those students. They studied, presumably, for four years to get a degree in Information Technology (it’s not called computer science anymore). Unlike many of their peers, they found jobs right out of college. They had learned a skill. It filled a niche. And there were companies that were willing to gobble them up.

But consider the chances of career advancement for these people. If they want to continue to be programmers long-term, they will have to figure out how to retool in newer, more modern languages. They may have learned some of those languages, along with COBOL, in college. But those languages will get stale quickly.

They may have opportunities in management after a few years in programming. But those opportunities aren’t as frequent for maintenance programmers. How much new code is written in COBOL?

What does one do to make sure that their life’s work becomes a career rather than just a job?

For more information, check out Career Management for Mentors

Focus on growth

There are people who have twenty years of experience. There are others who have one year of experience, repeated twenty times. If you’re not growing, and everyone else is, you’re going backwards.

Identify ways to grow in your job. That can include learning new skills or seeking out new responsibilities.

The most effective form of growth is incremental. Growth doesn’t have to mean a promotion every year. It’s more about what you are learning and how you are applying it.

Seek leadership opportunities

One of the best ways to grow is to lead people. Leadership allows one to see a broader picture. It turns one into a decision maker. Being in the position to make decisions creates challenges that can’t be attained at lower levels.

Have a target

Set goals for growth. You may not know where you want to be in ten years. As technology changes at a more rapid pace, some of today’s jobs may not exist anymore. New jobs may be created by then that you’ve never heard of.

But setting goals for what you want to accomplish in the next one-to-three years is quite reasonable. Goals can be set for skills you want to attain, a job you would like to hold, or a relationship you would like to establish with a prospective client.

Setting stretch goals, and writing them down, has been proven to increase the chances of success.


There are people who are perfectly content to work the same job for twenty or thirty years and retire. There is actually nothing wrong with that as long as you enjoy what you do. The sad part is people who do something they hate for thirty years.  Not only is that just a job instead of a career. It’s a bad job at that.

College tuition rates have nearly doubled over the past twenty years. If someone is going to spend as much money as a degree costs now days, why not maximize the value? You can also increase your enjoyment and satisfaction exponentially.

Do you work at a job, or a career?

If you would like to learn more about mentoring between Millennials and Baby Boomers, get Lew and Jeff’s book The Reluctant Mentor on Amazon.

I welcome your questions and comments.

Image courtesy of stockimages at

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