O*NET Online as a Valuable Tool for Academic Advising

Frank P. Igou, Louisiana Tech University

As The Mentor’s April 2006 “Advising Forum” revealed, there is a tremendous overlap between career counseling and academic advising (Advising Forum, 2006). The academic adviser often serves as the first line in helping students choose a major related to their future careers. Bates (2007) suggests that because students often associate majors with career choices, advisers need to have at least a basic knowledge of career counseling to be effective. Harris-Bowlsbey, Riley-Dikel, and Sampson (2002) tout the centrality of information resources in career decision making. The career resources available to the academic adviser may be somewhat limited as may be the adviser’s training in the use of the resources. An online resource that Bates recommends is the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) (Center, 2012), along with a series of activities to assist in career exploration. While Bates’ (2007) suggestion is an excellent one, she does not provide specifics about how general advisers unfamiliar with this career-oriented tool can employ O*NET.

O*NET is a website maintained by the Employment and Training Administration division of the United States Department of Labor. O*NET replaces the print-based Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT).  Since O*NET is web based, the information is easier to access and is updated more frequently than is the DOT. It is an easy-to-use, cost-free comprehensive source of information for academic advisers and advisees.

Ease of Use

The O*NET main page is easily accessed at http://www.onetcenter.org. Of particular interest to advisers is a web-based application called O*NET Online, accessed at http://www.onetonline.org. At the top of the O*NET Online main page is a search box labeled Occupation Quick Search. Simply entering an academic discipline title such as “English major” or “psychology major” will produce a list of occupations rank-ordered using relevance algorithm for that discipline. For each occupation title listed, a relevance score (0–100%) appears, as well as the federal occupational code, title, and the job demand outlook for that occupation. The listed occupation title is actually a hyperlink to helpful information about that occupation. By clicking on the occupation title, O*NET Online displays a wealth of details. This resource’s ease of use also benefits the student. Gordon (2006) asserts that the most important use of career information is “to teach students how to obtain, evaluate, and use it” (p.74). O*NET Online easily accomplishes this.

Organized and Detailed Information

One of the great benefits of O*NET Online is that it addresses aspects of a career that may never appear in an employer’s job advertisement or in a catalog description of a major. O*NET Online includes the softer side of career information, including information that relates directly to an advisee’s personality and values.

The information contained in O*NET Online is divided into six domains. The domains include Worker Characteristics, Worker Requirements, Experience Requirements, Occupational Specific Information, Workforce Characteristics, and Occupational Requirements (Center, 2012). Although all of these content areas may be potentially useful for advising, the area of greatest interest to academic advisers is contained under Worker Characteristics. The characteristics contained under this dimension include:

  • Abilities. Enduring attributes of the individual that Influence Performance.
  • Occupational Interests. Individuals’ different preferences for types of work environments. The occupational profiles presented are compatible with Holland’s Model of Personality Types and Work Environment (Holland, 1997).
  • Work Values. Global aspects of work as specific needs based on Dawis and Lofquist’s Theory of Work Adjustment (Dawis & Lofquist, 1984).
  • Work Styles. Personal characteristics that can affect how well individuals are able to perform a job.

For more detailed information about the O*NET Online Content Model, visit http://www.onetonline.org/help/onet/database.

For more detailed information about the O*NET Worker Characteristics, visit http://www.onetcenter.org/content.html#cm1.

As noted, the information in O*NET Online goes well beyond the tasks, activities, and requirements of occupations. It also contains information of a more personal nature that may interest students, such as descriptors of work environments, styles, and values. Because advisers often get to know advisees on a more personnel level than do career counselors, it may be more appropriate for advisers to play a role in this area. This may be especially true after a student has decided on a specific major and needs more guidance than simply knowing what the educational and skill requirements are.

For a more detailed description of O*NET Online occupational content, visit http://www.onetonline.org/help/onet/database.

Using O*NET Online in Activities to Assist Students

Bates (2007) also briefly lists a number of activities to assist advisees in career exploration. These activities may be facilitated using information from O*NET Online. These include “Asking Questions”, “List Elimination” and “Typical-Day-at-Work Fantasy.”

In the “Ask Questions” activity, Bates suggests that advisers ask students to think about potential majors and career choices such as:

Which classes do you like best and least? Why?

What do you do in your free time?

What is most important to you in a career?

How long are you willing to go to school?

To expand on Bates, this exercise can be modified by asking students to record their answers so their responses can be used to search O*NET Online. O*NET Online’s references to values can be correlated with a student’s recorded values. The classes that students indicate are their most and least favorites could reveal which occupations or occupational areas might fit them best. In addition to helping students choose a major, this may also be useful when selecting the best or most useful electives. A hobby or pastime that students engage in during their free time may have important career implications and may shed light on an appropriate major, specific courses to take, or a particular track to follow within their major. When answering the question about what is most important in a career, advisees are likely to list things related to their personal styles or values. This type of information appears on each occupational page. Also, on every O*NET Online occupational page is a description of occupational requirements, which include complementary degree programs. O*NET Online contains information about which majors are needed, whether a bachelor’s degree is sufficient, or if a master’s or doctoral degree is required.

Another activity suggested by Bates (2007) is “List Elimination.” The student is given a list of all possible majors and asked to immediately cross out all majors that do not interest them. They then look at course descriptions from a university catalog for the remaining preferred majors and cross off any of those that they can eliminate due to course descriptions. The idea behind this activity it to reduce the list to a more manageable size.

Bates (2007) recommends that advisees then explore the remaining majors by using online and career library resources and by talking with faculty members in each major area. She does not specify resources. However, O*NET Online may serve as an excellent online resource here. The student can look for information from O*NET Online pertaining to the remaining majors on their list. Again, to examine the O*NET Online information, a student needs to merely access O*NET Online, type the name of the major in the Occupational Quick Search window, and O*NET Online will display associated occupations. In most cases, the degree type related to that major will be displayed when accessing the individual occupations. Degrees and educational requirements are also displayed. Students can make a list of potential majors, and the adviser can direct them to the appropriate department. Simplicity of O*NET Online frees the student to engage in independent exploration. Thus, the student is free to commit more time to his or her exploration than might be available with an academic adviser. The adviser then would be available for specific referral, clarification, and discussion rather than spending extensive time on computer searches.

Course selection at registration and general academic advising may also be facilitated. Students may be willing to move beyond their comfort zone and schedule more challenging courses if they see the course has direct applicability to their career interest. This is especially true if they perceive the target careers are in an occupational area that addresses their preferred working style, personal interests, and values.

Another activity suggested by Bates (2007) is “Typical-Day-at-Work Fantasy,” when advisers ask advisees to close their eyes and guide them through a typical day at work. In this activity, an adviser asks the advisee to picture important details, including the time of day the work begins, clothing styles in the work environment, and the types of interactions with others that occur. Bates suggests asking students to describe what they envision. The student or the student and adviser can write down and examine the “Work Style” and “Work Context” areas of occupations to find career that seem to fit the student’s descriptors. For occupations that seem to fit, the student or student and adviser can look at the knowledge, experience, and educational requirements, and develop or refine a plan of study using O*NET Online. O*NET Online can serve as a check to make the imagined resemble the real.

For more detailed information about Bates (2007) activities to assist advisees in career exploration, visit http://www.dus.psu.edu/mentor/old/articles/070725sb.htm.

The suggestion here is not that academic advisers attempt to replace career counselors, but as Bates (2007) suggests, advisers could acquire sufficient knowledge to integrate academic advising with knowledge of career advising. Suggestions in this article barely scratch the surface of the utility of O*NET Online for academic advisers. Given the breadth of information contained in O*NET Online as well as its accessibility and ease of use, it may be the most useful tool available for providing advice to help advisees achieve academic success and develop to their fullest potential.


Advising Forum. (2006, April). What’s the difference between academic advising and career counseling? The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal. Retrieved from http://dus.psu.edu/mentor/archives/advising-forum-2006 http://dus.psu.edu/mentor/old/forum/foru0604.htm

Bates, S. D. (2007, July 25). Career advising: What academic advisers need to know. The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal. Retrieved from http://dus.psu.edu/mentor/old/articles/070725sb.htm

Dawis, R. V. & Lofquist. L. H. (1984). A psychological theory of work adjustment: An individual-differences model and its application. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Gordon, V. N. (2006). Career advising: An academic adviser’s guide. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Harris-Bowlsbey, J., Riley Dikel, M., & Sampson, J. P., Jr. (2002). The Internet: A tool for career planning (2nd ed.). Tulsa, OK: National Career Development Association.

Holland, J. L. (1997). Making vocational choices: A theory of vocational personalities and work environments. Lutz, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources, Inc.

National Center for O*NET Development (Center). (2012). O*NET Resource Center. Retrieved from http://www.onetcenter.org.

About the Author(s)

Frank Igou, Louisiana Tech University

Frank P. Igou is a professor of psychology in the Department of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, LA. He can be reached at figou@latech.edu.

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