Things to Know About Job Outlook

What It Is It and How Can You Use It to Help You Choose a Career

Creative businesswoman brainstorming
•••   Hero Images/Hero Images/Getty Images  

Job outlook is a forecast of the change in the number of people employed in a particular occupation over a set period, for example, two years, five years or ten years. Economists at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a division of the United States Department of Labor, predict whether—and by how much—the rate of employment will increase or decrease between a base year and a target year. The BLS publishes this information for hundreds of occupations in the Occupational Outlook Handbook and updates it every two years.

The BLS compares an occupation's projected employment change, usually over 10 years, to the average projected change in employment for all occupations over the same period. They describe a career's projected job outlook by saying it will:

  • grow much faster than average (an increase of 14% or more)
  • grow faster than average (an increase of between 9% and 13%)
  • grow about as fast as average (an increase of between 5% to 8%)
  • grow more slowly than average (an increase of between 2% and 4%)
  • have little or no change (a decrease or increase of 1% or less)
  • decline (a decrease of at least 2%)

Why You Must Consider Job Outlook When Choosing a Career

It is essential to consider an occupation's employment outlook, among other labor market information, when you are choosing a career. After determining a career is a good fit based on the results of a self assessment, take the time to learn everything about it before investing money and time preparing for it. That must include determining whether you are likely to find a job when your training and education are complete. While there are no guarantees even for occupations with an exceptional outlook, the odds should be in your favor.

Also investigate the job outlook for your current occupation when you are thinking about changing careers. One of the reasons to make a career change is a worsening job outlook. If employment opportunities are few and it looks like they will get even worse, it may be time to prepare to work in a different field.

Limitations of Job Outlook Figures

While it is important to find out whether an occupation has a positive job outlook, this projection alone does not give you all the required information to know about your chances of finding future employment. Look at job prospects as well. The same economists who estimate employment growth also compare the number of job seekers with the number of job openings to determine job prospects. Although the BLS may project employment in a particular occupation will grow much faster than average over the next 10 years, the number of available jobs may be few.

One reason may be that some fields don't employ many people. Even if economists expect high growth, it may not translate into a significant number of opportunities for those hoping to enter a field or industry.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that, despite economists' ability to make educated predictions, job outlook and prospects can change unexpectedly. Employment growth can slow down, and it can speed up, due to the influence of a variety of factors. For example, if more job candidates are available than there are job openings, it will be harder to find work. Likewise, when there are fewer qualified applicants, it will be easier to get hired. Additionally, a downturn or upturn in an industry will change the outlook.

While looking at national data is an essential first step in researching the job outlook for an occupation, don't skip also investigating the forecasts for that occupation in the state in which you want to work. Use Projections Central: State Occupational Projections to find long- and short-term occupational predictions that will also affect your ability to get a job.