The Occupational Outlook Handbook enters the 21st Century

By Kristina Bartsch

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) has been helping students and jobseekers make career decisions for more than 60 years. This national resource was originally developed in 1946 to guide World War II veterans with career choices as they entered or re-entered the workforce. Today’s OOH customers include high school and college students, adult jobseekers and career changers, school and career counselors, and career information delivery systems.


First published as a “Handbook,” the OOH quickly outgrew its title. BLS added more occupations and content over the years until, by 2010, the print version boasted nearly 900 pages and weighed in at 7 pounds.


The ever-growing size of the OOH also presented problems as Internet use became widespread in the 1990s. Customer usability tests and focus group feedback confirmed that OOH text length and density were difficult to read and information difficult to find online.


BLS decided in 2010 to redesign the OOH as a Web product by improving several areas: the presentation and readability of information, the search options, the navigation within the OOH site, and other features. BLS staff spent 2 years creating prototypes for the new online version. Reaching out to customers, the staff conducted usability tests with students and adults; held focus groups with high school and college counselors; sought feedback after demos at professional conferences, including the National Career Development Association and the American School Counselors Association; and invited comments from visitors to the OOH website Beta version.


In March 2012, BLS released the new OOH online at www.bls.gov/ooh. The 2012-13 OOH introduces these major changes:


Presentation and readability

  • Pages are less cluttered and draw attention to the most important information first.

  • Occupation profiles consist of eight separate “pages”: a summary page highlighting key characteristics of the occupation and seven additional pages, each describing one aspect of the occupation (such as pay or job outlook).

  • A “Quick Facts” table on the summary page shows median wage, typical education needed for entry, required work experience, type of on-the-job training, employment, and job outlook.

  • At least three pages of each profile include color photos of workers in the occupation.

  • The information is presented in a reader-friendly, writing-for-the-Web style, which includes the use of headings and subheadings, bulleted lists, and shorter sentences and paragraphs.

  • Each profile includes charts showing median pay and job outlook in relation to other occupations.


Search options

  • An occupation finder makes it easy to search for occupations by median pay, typical entry-level education, typical on-the-job training, projected number of new jobs, projected employment growth, or a combination of any of these characteristics.

  • An occupation group search allows readers to browse by group of interest. Clicking on an occupation group links to a “landing page” of similar occupations together with their respective job summaries, typical entry-level education, and 2010 median pay.

  • An A–Z index search allows readers to search by occupation title.

  • A featured profile on the OOH homepage changes multiple times a day and allows readers to click and learn more about the occupation.

  • Readers may search by occupation title via the “Search Handbook” box on the homepage.



  • Readers may use links on the occupation summary page to navigate to each page of the profile.

  • Readers may navigate via tabs across the top of each profile. Each tab corresponds to one of eight profile pages.

  • Readers may use “forward” and “back” arrows at the bottom of each profile page.


Other features

  • New links on the homepage take readers to three distinct pages: highest paying occupations, occupations projected to be the fastest growing, and occupations projected to have the most new jobs.

  • An OOH Glossary includes terms frequently used in the occupation profiles and related pages. The terms include general economic concepts, such as employment and replacement needs; definitions of BLS resources, such as surveys and classification systems; and terms particular to the OOH, such as education and training categories.

  • Certain terms in the profiles—including ones in the Quick Facts table, on the Home Page, and in column headings in tables—have question marks next to them. Users can click on the question mark to read the term’s definition.


Since releasing the new OOH, web use has averaged 7.6 million page views per month. In August, an online survey asked customers to identify what they like about the new OOH and what needs improvement. Of the more than 1,500 survey responses received in 1 month, most were overwhelmingly positive about the revamped OOH. However, BLS welcomes all comments, particularly those that will help us continue to improve the OOH.


Regardless of how the OOH has changed its look, its goal has remained unchanged since 1946: to provide comprehensive, current occupation information for jobseekers and career planners.


Kristina BartschKristina Bartsch is the Chief of the Division of Occupational Employment Projections in the Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Since 2007, she has overseen the development of biennial long-term employment projections for about 800 occupations in more than 300 industries; the preparation of education and training assignments for occupations; and the publication of the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the Occupational Outlook Quarterly, and green jobs career information.




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1 Comment

Niel Carey   on Sunday 12/16/2012 at 04:55 PM

Thanks for this update on one of our most important career counseling tools. The OOH links to occupations that are fastest growing, highest paid, with the most new jobs are especially valuable.

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