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I am working on a web application that will use occupation as an interesting way to present users with demographic information. In the spirit of minimalism and ease of use, I'd like to allow users the least number of "occupation" choices while not alienating them.

I'm thinking the best experience is a drop box with major categories of occupations (Education, Entertainment, Legal, Medical, Engineering, Labor, Retail, etc.)

Have any of you encountered this type of experience? How can I make it easy and accessible?

::Edit::

The application isn't centered around occupations. Imagine if the stack exchange network were to break down users by occupation for interesting metrics. How would it categorize occupations and allow the user to choose one?

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Can you provide us some more details about the application? Without knowing the context, it's difficult to imagine whether the organization you've proposed will really work or not. –  Jimmy Breck-McKye Feb 25 '12 at 0:12
    
Also, just to clarify - I'm guessing that the service tells users the typical demographics within a particular occupation group? i.e. the number of men and women in a particular sector? This stuff matters. –  Jimmy Breck-McKye Feb 25 '12 at 0:14
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2 Answers 2

Restricting your users choice is something I like to avoid, so as to not insult the user.

It's very easy for you to leave a profession off the list and then the poor user has to settle for "other..." which can leave them feeling as if their profession is not good enough to be considered.

Best practice in my mind would be to allow a freeform field that uses autocomplete to pull suggestions in from the database that are based on occupations others have entered, which would allow them to select an existing one or create a new one.

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This is what LinkedIn does, very fast, very easy. –  Andrew Bacon Feb 28 '12 at 13:55
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One thing you'll need to consider is allowing users to select more than one option. For example, think about:

  • someone who processes insurance claims at a hospital (is that clerical, or medical?)
  • a marketing director who works for a radio station (marketing, or entertainment?)
  • a network administrator who works at a university (technology, or education?)
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Great point! Though this doesn't help me narrow down the scope of occupation fields to actually present the user. –  DexterW Feb 28 '12 at 3:37
    
@DexterW: Sorry, Dex, I realized that - but I couldn't think of a good way to solve that for you. Maybe check around the web, at places such as the IRS, or the Census Bureau, and see what kind of lists you find there? –  J.R. Feb 28 '12 at 10:10
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