How To Interpret Occupational Information

The Occupational Outlook Handbook is best used as a reference; it is not meant to be read in its entirety. Instead, start by looking at occupation clusters, which you can access using the buttons on the left side of each page. Look in the alphabetical index for specific occupations that interest you or search for a specific occupation using the box at the top of every page. For any occupation that sounds interesting, use the Handbook to learn about the type of work; education and training requirements and advancement possibilities; earnings; job outlook; and related occupations. Each occupational statement, or description, in the Handbook follows a standard format, making it easier for you to compare occupations.

Two other sections - Tomorrow's Jobs and Sources of Career Information, highlight the forces that are likely to determine employment opportunities in industries and occupations through the year 2008, and indicate where to obtain additional information. This section is an overview of how the occupational statements are organized. It highlights information presented in each section of a Handbook statement, gives examples of specific occupations in some cases, and offers some hints on how to interpret the information provided.

Unless otherwise noted, the source of employment and earnings data presented in the Handbook is the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many Handbook statements cite earnings data from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey, while other statements include earnings data from outside sources. OES data may be used to compare earnings among occupations; however, outside data may not be used in this manner because characteristics of these data vary widely.

Significant Points

  • This section highlights key occupational characteristics.

Nature of the Work

This section discusses what workers do. Individual job duties may vary by industry or employer. For instance, workers in larger firms tend to be more specialized whereas those in smaller firms often have a wider variety of duties. Most occupations have several levels of skills and responsibilities through which workers may progress. Beginners may start as trainees performing routine tasks under close supervision. Experienced workers usually undertake more difficult tasks and are expected to perform with less supervision.

The influence of technological advancements on the way work is done is mentioned. For example, the Internet allows purchasers to acquire supplies with a click of the mouse, saving time and money. This section of Handbook statements also discusses emerging specialties. For instance, sales engineers, who combine the education of an engineer with the challenge of sales, comprise a specialty within manufacturers and wholesale sales representatives.

Working Conditions

This section identifies the typical hours worked, the workplace environment, susceptibility to injury, special equipment, and physical activities and the extent of travel required. In many occupations people work regular business hours-40 hours a week, Monday through Friday-but many do not. For example, waiters and waitresses often work evenings and weekends.

The work setting can range from a hospital, to a mall, to an off-shore oil rig. Truckdrivers might be susceptible to injury, while paramedics have high job-related stress. Electronic semiconductor processors may wear protective clothing or equipment, some construction craft laborers do physically demanding work, and top executives may travel frequently. 


This section reports the number of jobs the occupation provided in 1998 and the key industries where these jobs are found. When significant, the geographic distribution of jobs and the proportion of part-time (less than 35 hours a week) and self-employed workers in the occupation are mentioned. Self-employed workers accounted for nearly 9 percent of the workforce in 1998; however, they were concentrated in a small number of occupations, such as lawyers, health practitioners, and construction craft workers.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

After knowing what a job is all about, it is important to understand how to train for it. This section describes the most significant sources of training, including the training preferred by employers, the typical length of training, and advancement possibilities. Job skills are sometimes acquired through high school, informal on-the-job training, formal training (including apprenticeships), the Armed Forces, home study, hobbies, or previous work experience. For example, sales experience is particularly important for many sales jobs. Many professional and technical jobs, on the other hand, require formal postsecondary education-postsecondary vocational or technical training, or college, postgraduate, or professional education.

In addition to training requirements, the Handbook also mentions desirable skills, aptitudes, and personal characteristics. For some entry-level jobs, personal characteristics are more important than formal training. Employers generally seek people who read, write, and speak well; compute accurately; think logically; learn quickly; get along with others; and demonstrate dependability.

Some occupations require certification or licensing to enter the field, to advance, or to practice independently. Certification or licensing generally involves completing courses and passing examinations. Many occupations increasingly have continuing education or skill improvement requirements to keep up with the changing economy or to improve advancement opportunities.

Job Outlook

In planning for the future, it is important to consider potential job opportunities. This section describes the factors that will result in growth or decline in the number of jobs. In some cases, the Handbook mentions the relative number of job openings an occupation is likely to provide. Occupations which are large and have high turnover rates, such as food and beverage service occupations, generally provide the most job openings - reflecting the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or stop working.

Some Handbook statements discuss the relationship between the number of jobseekers and job openings. In some occupations, there is a rough balance between jobseekers and openings, whereas other occupations are characterized by shortages or surpluses. Limited training facilities, salary regulations, or undesirable aspects of the work as in the case of private household workers can cause shortages of entrants. On the other hand, glamorous or potentially high paying occupations, such as actors or musicians, generally have surpluses of jobseekers. Variation in job opportunities by industry, size of firm, or geographic location also may be discussed. Even in crowded fields, job openings do exist. Good students or well-qualified individuals should not be deterred from undertaking training or seeking entry.

Susceptibility to layoffs due to imports, slowdowns in economic activity, technological advancements, or budget cuts are also addressed in this section. For example, employment of construction craft workers is sensitive to slowdowns in construction activity, while employment of government workers is sensitive to budget cuts.

Key phrases in the Handbook


This section discusses typical earnings and how workers are compensated—annual salaries, hourly wages, commissions, piece rates, tips, or bonuses. Within every occupation, earnings vary by experience, responsibility, performance, tenure, and geographic area. Earnings data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and, in some cases, from outside sources are included. Data may cover the entire occupation or a specific group within the occupation.

Benefits account for more than a quarter of total compensation costs to employers. Benefits such as paid vacation, health insurance, and sick leave generally are not mentioned because thay are so widespread. Less common benefits include child care, tuition for dependents, housing assistance, summers off, and free or discounted merchandise or services. Though not as common as traditional benefits such as paid vacation, employers increasingly offer flexible hours and profit sharing plans to attract and retain highly qualified workers.

Related Occupations

Occupations involving similar aptitudes, interests, education, and training are listed.

Sources of Additional Information

No single publication can completely describe all aspects of an occupation. Thus, the Handbook lists mailing addresses for associations, government agencies, unions, and other organizations that can provide occupational information. In some cases, tollfree phone numbers and Internet addresses also are listed. Links to other (non-BLS) Internet sites are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement. Free or relatively inexpensive publications offering more information may be mentioned; some of these may also be available in libraries, school career centers, guidance offices, or on the Internet.

About those Numbers at the End of Each Statement

(For additional sources of information, read the earlier chapter, Sources of Career Information.)


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