Career Research Tools

This is where I admit to one of my favorite websites:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics site.

proud nerd

Who am I kidding? Of course I’m proud of that. I’m awesome.

Honestly though, I have spent a lot of time on that thing. Specifically in its Occupational Outlook Handbook. For a person like me who randomly loves to research careers and education, it’s a gold mine of information.

I talk to a lot of people who don’t know anything about their chosen major and career paths other than a couple obvious choices. People who study Psychology want to be therapists, people who study exercise science want to get into med school, people who study English want to be Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, etc. I don’t know who wouldn’t want to be Robin Williams in that movie, BUT there are other options. Realizing during your senior year that you don’t actually want to do what you’ve been planning on stinks. If you don’t believe me, talk to education majors who realize they hate being teachers when they’re doing their student teaching. Good times.

I love the BLS because it can help you open your eyes to the many options other than what you’ve been focusing on. If you haven’t been focusing on anything in particular, it is also an excellent place to learn more of what’s out there. So let me show you a few things in the Handbook!

First, the website:

On this home page there are a few ways to begin your search. If you know a specific job title, just go to the search box and type it in. It will then bring up related occupations to what you typed in. Click on each one to find the specific details.

BLS search box

If you have a field you’re interested in learning more about, on the left side of the page there is a section title “Occupation Groups” that you can click through to learn more.

BLS occupation groups

When you select on a group it will bring you to a new page with a list of careers in that category.

BLS groups 2

You can click on the individual occupation to learn more about it.

Back on the Home page there are a few other useful ways to search.

BLS searches

If you feel like you really have no idea what you’re looking for, the A-Z search is pretty fun because you can see everything. I find looking at the job growth projection to be very valuable. There are many things you may love to do, but if the job prospects aren’t there then you need to evaluate your plans a bit more before you make the decision. For example, I know more than one Art History major who went back to school for a Nursing degree.

Ok, so now that you’ve been searching you can open up an occupation to look at the details more closely.

The opening page has a Summary that briefly goes over each of the sections.

BLS summary

This is great to get a brief snapshot of the career. Sometimes it’s enough for you to say “nope” and move on, but it’s also enough to raise interest into learning more. I do think that each of the individual sections provide valuable information as you consider your career path. I wish they gave a little more of the “day-to-day” in the “What They Do” section, but that can be hard to find in general depending on the field. For example, what a speech pathologist does in a school setting is different from a hospital setting.

The pay section is interesting to me, but I don’t think it’s complete. Of course it’s helpful to see the brief information for how it compares to other careers, but it leaves a lot to be desired.


For better pay information I like to go to another awesome website:  It pulls a lot of its info from the BLS, but it goes into more depth in some parts. I’m pretty sure the BLS has most of this info, but it’s easier to find on the O*net. Once you pull up a specific career it will have a long page going over career details, experience, education, work environment, etc., and at the very bottom you’ll see the following section on pay.


The extra great part is clicking on those individual state boxes. There are definitely states that pay better than others. When you’re considering what to pursue, it’s extremely helpful to know what the market is like in your state.


If I ever decided to move to Colorado, then I would feel pretty good knowing that the minimum earners in this field made more than $10k a year than minimum earners on average in the country. These charts also help to compare multiple career options. If I plan on staying in my state, am considering multiple fields that I think would be satisfying, and then find out that one pays significantly better–that makes my decision easier. Same thing goes for the chart showing job growth by state.

One other thing to keep in mind about pay is that this doesn’t account for years of experience in the field. Just because it is the median income in that state doesn’t mean that your starting pay will be in the median. If you’re starting a new career with only 15 years before you plan on retiring, but the pay you want generally takes 20+ years to achieve, then you need to consider that as well. It shouldn’t be your only deciding factor, but it should be included. There are charts in other places on the BLS website that can break things down a little bit more for you, but there are also other websites you can Google for that information. Better yet, start reaching out to people in the field, shadow them, and ask lots of questions!

So, this was a brief explanation of the BLS and a little bit of the O*net. These really are excellent resources in helping you to learn more about different fields and you can get lost in here for hours researching and thinking to yourself:

legolas awesome

Or maybe that’s just me.


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