Job Typologies

A frequent need in organizations and organizational research is to classify individual positions or jobs into groups, with each group internally homogeneous in terms of a profile of relevant psychological characteristics (e.g., abilities) and situational characteristics (e.g., job requirements) and at the same time externally distinct from all other groups. A job typology is either an established framework—and several major ones will be reviewed here—or it is derived through analytic procedures applied to data at the individual and/or job level, but in either case job typologies contain groups of jobs that, to a greater or lesser extent, adhere to the aforementioned principle of internal consistency and external distinctiveness. This classification process is similar in spirit to factor analysis, in the sense that it results in a small yet sensible number of groups to simplify and amplify relevant similarities and differences. Rather than serving as an end in itself, however, job classification is a tool that can assist in a whole host of personnel-related functions, such as appraising employee job performance, validating employee selection tests, evaluating jobs, planning career paths, and counseling individuals seeking vocational guidance. There are many practical benefits of grouping jobs effectively. For example, rather than having to develop distinct measures to assess employee performance for each individual job in an organization, job grouping can justify developing measures for a smaller set of job groups. Thus, grouping transforms a potentially cumbersome, costly, and time-consuming task into a more manageable, less expensive, and less time-consuming task that is, one hopes, just as useful. Of course, the practical benefit of reducing the total number of jobs to a manageable and appropriate number of job families depends on theoretical notions of generalizability, first that jobs can be aggregated into job families on characteristics that are relevant across jobs (versus those unique to jobs and job positions), and second that whatever unique information about jobs might be sacrificed through grouping jobs does not adversely affect the purposes to which the resulting job groups are put. Of course, unique job information can serve to supplement the organizing scheme provided by a job taxonomy.

Occupational Information Network (O*NET) and the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) System

Established in 1998, the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) is the Department of Labor’s computerized replacement to the longstanding Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). The O*NET is intended to be a comprehensive and flexible taxonomic system to categorize jobs in the United States along a multitude of dimensions for the purposes of work-related activities such as employment testing, training, compensation, recruitment, and vocational education and counseling. Rather than using the data-people-things framework the DOT relied on for classifying jobs, the O*NET database is organized around a framework called the content model, which comprises six broad areas, the first three being worker-oriented and the last three being job-oriented:

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  • Worker requirements (e.g., basic skills, cross-functional skills, education)
  • Worker characteristics (e.g., abilities, interests, work styles)
  • Experience requirements (e.g., training, experience, licensing)
  • Occupation requirements (e.g., work content, organizational context)
  • Occupation-specific information (e.g., occupation-specific knowledge, skills, tasks, and tools and equipment)
  • Occupation characteristics (e.g., labor market information, wages)

Ratings of the level and importance of worker and job characteristics from these six major areas are collected from workers and supervisors across jobs on a continual basis, with most data being collected on relevant cross-job characteristics, versus the task-specific and worker-specific emphases found in the DOT. Research investigating the reliability, interrater agreement, factor structure, and validity of the data is ongoing. The O*NET system uses the Standard Occupational Classification System (SOC), which is the standard toward which all U.S. government agencies are moving.

Guide for Occupational Exploration

The Guide for Occupational Exploration (GOE), developed by the U.S. Employment Service in 1979, is an occupational typology that arises from a rational-empirical approach to measuring occupational interests, and it is still in use for career exploration and vocational counseling purposes. The interest framework contains 12 factors that can be grouped by pairs into the Holland RIASEC framework of interests (realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, and conventional interests). Jobs within this framework incorporate most if not all jobs within the O*NET; they subdivide into 66 groups when groups are further differentiated by educational, physical, task-based, and situational factors; and the groups fractionate further into 348 subgroups. For the purpose of career exploration, the 66-group level of categorization is the main emphasis in the GOE, where both ability profiles (e.g., from the General Aptitude Test Battery, or GATB) and occupational interest profiles (e.g., from Holland RIASEC codes) can be assigned to jobs. This job taxonomy is perhaps more theoretically focused than the O*NET, although the O*NET contains a crosswalk of codes to structure its occupational data into the GOE framework. The Occupational Aptitude Patterns (OAP) Map complements the job groups of the GOE by arraying them into four major categories based on ability profile requirements (physical, bureaucratic, social and economic, and artistic) and into five levels of general cognitive ability requirements. Both abilities and vocational interests are found to fit within the OAP Map. Other taxonomies also apply theoretical interest and ability structures to occupational structures. The American College Testing (ACT) Program’s World-of-Work Map (which makes use of the Holland RIASEC structure) and the Minnesota Occupational Classification System III (MOCS-III, which inte-grates interests, ability, and motivational characteristics in matching individuals and jobs) are two major exemplars for the purpose of matching individuals to jobs in vocational counseling.

Occupational Outlook Handbook

The Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), first published in 1948 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), is updated yearly and contains a wide range of occupational information, with jobs classified by SOC codes (similar to O*NET) and SOC codes comprising approximately 270 occupations that are grouped into 10 broad clusters: management, professional and related occupations, service, sales, administrative support, farming and related occupations, construction, installation and related occupations, production, and transportation, with additional discussion about careers in the U.S. armed forces. Each occupation contains seven major sections describing it:

  • Nature of the work (e.g., job duties; level of responsibility by industry and by job type)
  • Working conditions (e.g., hours worked; physical environment; level of safety; amount of travel required)
  • Employment, training, other qualifications, and advancement (e.g., type and length of training; required degree, license, or certification; continuing education needs)
  • Job outlook (e.g., projected growth or decline; number of jobs; level of competition for jobs)
  • Earnings (e.g., how workers tend to be compensated, whether by salary, commission, or bonuses and tips; how income varies by experience and geographic region; typical benefits)
  • Related occupations
  • Sources of additional information (e.g., referrals to other agencies or organizations, publications, and Web sites)

Occupational Employment Statistics

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES), also produced by the BLS, is a primary source for those seeking detailed information on earnings, as the OES collects data on employment and wages semiannually from 200,000 establishments, sampling across approximately 800 full-time and part-time occupations (excluding farm-related) that represent the U.S. workforce. Occupations are organized into 22 groups by SOC code. Wages and employment levels are provided at the national, state, and metropolitan area levels; they are provided by hourly wage and annual wage, as well.

North American Industry Classification System

In addition to the OES and OOH, in 1997 the BLS created the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), as the updated replacement of the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system. As the name implies, NAICS is the product of a joint cooperation between the United States, Canada, and Mexico (the trading countries of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement), and occupations are grouped by industry in a manner that reflects similarities in production processes or how things are produced, not in what: is produced. Multiple U.S. government agencies collect and organize data on employment, wages, turnover, and occupational safety and health under the NAICS system; the system is separate from the SOC but shows clear and direct linkages. Linkages among several classification systems can be obtained online from the National Crosswalk Service Center.


Job taxonomies such as O*NET, the GOE, the OOH, and NAICS allow a number of important psychological and situational factors to influence the resulting job groups—both explicitly and implicitly. Researchers and practitioners in areas such as personnel selection and training, wage compensation, and vocational counseling may want to pay close attention to their choice of a job taxonomy—specifically the type and the narrowness or breadth of job groups—because the choice of taxonomy may have important effects on the decisions that result from them.


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  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2004). Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) user guide. Retrieved March 8, 2006, from
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  9. Oswald, F. L., & Ferstl, K. L. (1999). Linking a structure of vocational interests to Gottfredson’s (1986) Occupational Aptitude Patterns Map. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 54, 214-231.
  10. Pollack, L. J., Simons, C., Romero, H., & Hausser, D. (2002). A common language for classifying and describing occupations: The development, structure, and application of the Standard Occupational Classification. Human Resource Management, 47, 297-307.
  11. Sanchez, J. I., Prager, I., Wilson, A., & Viswesvaran, C. (1998). Understanding within-job title variance in job-analytic ratings. Journal of Business and Psychology, 12, 407-419.
  12. US. Department of Labor. (1991). The revised handbook for analyzing jobs. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

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