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Using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ “Occupational Outlook Handbook” in Your Job Search

Updated: Dec 9, 2023

When it comes to managing your own career and launching a successful job search, you’ll likely get the greatest return on your efforts by (1) building a strong professional network and (2) keeping a close eye on the dominant and growth-oriented industries in your local market. The first tip is fairly straightforward: most jobs are filled by personal referrals, so the stronger your network, the greater your chances of landing a fulfilling position in the shortest amount of time. But you already know that. Here’s what you might not know: The second tip is particularly effective as well, especially if you may not have much of a professional network to rely on (for example, if you’re just graduating from school, transitioning from the military to the private sector, or are new to a geographic area). That’s where the Bureau of Labor Statistics website—www.bls.gov/ooh—comes in particularly handy.


What are You Looking for in Your Job Search?


We often hear, “What are you planning on doing when you graduate?” We likewise hear, “Do you have your eyes on any particular companies out there that you’re pursuing right now?” And those are certainly legitimate questions from concerned family members and friends. What we don’t hear, however, is “What are the dominant and growth-oriented industries that you’re pursuing right now?” First, it’s a bit of an awkward question. More important, though, is that people don’t think to ask it because they’re not as in tune with criticality of the industry you choose—even more so than the company or career path you pursue.


When it comes to career management, industry trumps company and position. In other words, industries dictate job growth and security more than just about anything else these days. Sure, working for a great company could provide tremendous career advantages and job security, but don’t get complacent: organizations can shed personnel quickly with a mere stroke of a pen. Always be prepared for change in your career, and don’t get too comfortable for fear of being blindsided by large-scale layoffs and reductions in force that could come your way over time.


Since I come from the HR world, we can look at human resources as a prime example. HR, as a discipline, has become significantly elevated in the eyes of business owners and senior corporate executives because of its focus on talent management. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, talent availability has become a key driver of company growth. Thanks to the talent scarcity that we continue to face in this post-Covid reintegration phase, organizations realize that people are not expendable and that accessing talent through new sources is the key, not just to beating the competition but to keeping the doors open. Yet, HR may still be regarded as an “overhead” discipline in times of economic slowdown or other challenges. Your greatest career defense mechanism will lie in knowing where the jobs are across industries. Likewise, keeping your resume and LinkedIn profiles updated at all times and garnering achievements and credentials to keep you on the cutting edge of competitiveness is a smart career strategy, especially when you’re not in active job search mode.


For example, I truly enjoyed my career path in the entertainment industry, but entertainment continually struggles with downsizing and “right-sizing” in light of the ongoing challenges from streaming platforms, saturated consumer markets, copyright infringement and piracy issues, and even “image and likeness” challenges posed by artificial intelligence. In fact, the industry has had challenges monetizing the changes posed by the Internet from the turn of the millennium when Napster disrupted the music industry, which still has never recovered to its 1980s and 1990s highs.


Career Strategy 101


My strategy: add healthcare and biotech experience to my resume, which was much more stable and showed a lot more opportunity. In fact, in my last full-time role as CHRO, I worked for the Motion Picture and Television Fund (MPTF) for five years, a healthcare nonprofit primarily focused on the needs of entertainment industry retirees and others requiring social services. MPTF’s requirements for the job at the time I hired on: a combination of entertainment and healthcare experience, primarily with a union focus. And voila—my combination of experience at City of Hope Cancer Center and Paramount Pictures provided me the opportunity to combine my diverse experiences into what I loved doing best in the HR world—entertainment plus healthcare.


The Occupational Outlook Handbook: The Best Kept Job Search Secret in Town


To keep abreast of what’s happening in the HR world relative to the hottest industries, visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/. A quick site visit will reveal “Occupational Groups” like “Business and Financial” and “Management,” which is where you’ll want to focus. The “Business and Financial” section will provide entries similar to these: “Human Resource Specialists,” “Labor Relations Specialists,” and “Training and Development Specialists.” Likewise, the ”Management” page will reveal an entry for “Human Resources Managers” that you’ll want to click on. (Note that the BLS portal only tracks managers—not directors, vice presidents, or other corporate titles or levels in order to make apples-to-apples comparisons across industry sectors.)


Here's where it gets interesting. . . The Occupational Outlook Handbook projects job growth over the coming decade. At the time of this writing, for example, it tracked the 2021 – 2031 time period. (That changes every few years with updated information.) Once on the Human Resources Manager page, you’ll find an overview that includes median pay, typical education requirements, and sections on “What HR Managers Do,” “How to Become an HR Manager,” “Pay,” and the like.


Job Outlook Tool


But click on the “Job Outlook” tab, and you’ll be blown away by some of the data you’ll find. For example, you’ll see at the top of the page the job growth prospects for “All Occupations” (for example, five percent). You’ll then see that the job growth prospects for HR Managers come in at a different number (for example, seven percent). That’s a healthy trend for an HR management career path relative to the overall job market because it shows HR growing faster than average.


Next, scroll down to the “Get Data” tab under the “Employment Projections Data for Human Resources Managers, 2021 – 2031” section, and there you’ll find your treasure. Click on the “Employment Percentage Change” column, and you’ll find that—relative to the seven percent overall growth that the HR management role will experience over the next ten years—the fastest and slowest growing HR management roles by industry might look like this:



Employment Projections Data for Human Resources Managers, 2021 – 2031


Total job growth, all occupations: 5%

Total job growth, Human Resources Managers: 7%

Total job growth, Operations Specialties Managers: 12%

Industry

Employment Percentage Change, 2021 – 2031

Casino hotels

41.7%

Services for the elderly and persons with disabilities

34.7%

Non-store retailers

29.9%

Professional, scientific, and technical services

28.2%

Colleges, universities, and technical schools

22.0%

Data processing, web hosting, and related services

15.9%

Securities, commodities, and investments

13.8%

Management, scientific, and technical consulting services

13.6%

Retail trade

12.9%

Remediation and waste management

9.9%

Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing

9.1%

Plastics and rubber products manufacturing

7.7%

Chemical manufacturing

6.7%

Hospitals; state, local, and private

5.3%

Rail transportation

4.8%

Insurance carriers

4.3%

Software publishers

3.7%

Real estate and rental and leasing

3.2%

Construction

1.9%

Government

0.6%

Oil and gas extraction

-0.6%

Aerospace product and parts manufacturing

-1.4%

Skilled nursing facilities

-3.3%

Federal government, excluding postal service

-3.8%

Utilities

-4.4%

Postal service

-4.8%

Paper manufacturing

-5.0%

Radio and TV broadcasting

-6.0%

Machinery manufacturing

-9.6%

Newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers

-20.4%

Coal mining

-24.5%

Apparel manufacturing

-36.9%



Job Search Gold


You get the idea. . . You can perform a similar search for positions in sales, marketing, IT, finance, or any other functions or disciplines covered.


A seven percent average of job growth for HR managers over the following decade is a nice number to have in your back pocket, but the value of the exercise lies in understanding the specific job growth trends by industry. Just because apparel manufacturing, in this example, reveals negative 36.9% HR manager job growth over the coming decade doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t accept a position in that field. However, you might not want to tie your career to becoming a specialist in that particular industry because there will likely be little room for upward mobility or overall job security in that space. Likewise, knowing that casino hotels are projecting 41.7% growth in hiring doesn’t mean you should move to Las Vegas and make that your career goal, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to know that job growth expectations are exceptionally high in that particular field. In short, a +40/-40% span tells you that anchoring your career planning to a particular industry or industries is a critical factor in your longer-term career planning considerations. And this certainly makes for some fascinating interview discussions, doesn’t it?

The BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook data changes every few years, and the numbers can shift—sometimes significantly—over time. Remember, these are only projections. But tweaking your career focus from paper to digital publishing or targeting pharmaceutical versus paper manufacturing can have a substantial impact on your longer-term career trajectory. So, keep this website and spreadsheet in mind when mapping out your longer-term career path and goals. This is truly “the hidden job market,” and candidates armed with this level of intelligence will be well prepared for the swiftly changing markets to follow.


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