Dictionary of Occupational Titles

The Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) was originally developed in 1939 by the U.S. Employment Service (USES) as a means to organize occupational information into one volume using a standardized format. It was produced to assist with job placement, employment counseling, and labor market estimations; the latest edition was published in 1991. With each revision, the number of jobs included fluctuated as markets and jobs change periodically. The 1991 edition included almost 13,000 general and 20,000 separate jobs. Each job is classified according to a 9-digit number, creating a taxonomy designed to ease use.

The first of the nine digits referred to one of nine occupational categories: professional, technical, and managerial; clerical and sales; service; agricultural, fishing, forestry; processing; machine-trades; bench-work; structural; and miscellaneous. These nine categories were further divided into over 80 occupational divisions, which were further divided into over 500 occupational groups, representing the second and third digits. For example, the professional, technical, and managerial category is divided into types (e.g., architecture and engineering), which are then further divided into additional categories (e.g., civil engineering, marine engineering). The middle three digits relate to ways of doing tasks: ways to deal with data (e.g., synthesizing, compiling) and people (e.g., supervising, serving) and how a person uses things (e.g., precision working, manipulating). These occupational classifications were based on assessments of tasks conducted by people in the particular occupation. The final three digits represent the alphabetical list of titles based on the previous six-digit code numbers and were unique to a specific occupation. Thus, two or more occupations could have the same initial six digits because they are in the same general area, but would differ in the final three.

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In order to help job seekers, each of the occupations included a paragraph defining what an individual conducting that work would do. Readers could look up these occupations based on their purposes. For example, someone could review information in a field closely related to what they are already doing, in another industry, or simply by occupational title if he or she is interested in finding more information about a specific occupation. For 70 years the DOT has not only been used to match people to jobs, but also for disability decisions, educational program design, vocational rehabilitation, personnel classification, vocational research, counseling, and employee selection procedures.

The DOT is not published anymore largely as the result of budget cuts; an ever-increasing need for accurate, timely market information; and a realization that employers began searching for workers with abilities across settings or even across industries. The DOT is not used much anymore, except by government agencies to determine disability benefits such as by the Social Security Administration and by companies working with insurance claims brought by injured workers. A newer computer-based vocational system run by the U.S. Department of Labor called the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) is currently in use and offers more flexibility and can be updated more frequently. However, the DOT filled a need for decades, paving the way for newer systems to assist workers, employers, and market projectors.


  1. Brown, D., & Brooks, L. (1991). Career counseling techniques. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
  2. Herr, E. L., & Cramer, S. H. (1996). Career guidance and counseling through the lifespan (5th ed.). New York: HarperCollins.
  3. Sharf, R. S. (1992). Applying career development theory to counseling. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

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