Media Briefings

FINDING WORK ON THE INTERNET: New evidence of the growing effectiveness of online job search

  • Published Date: December 2014

Jobseekers who go online to find work experience 25% shorter unemployment spells than people who do not use the internet. That is one of the conclusions of research by Peter Kuhn and Hani Mansour, published in the December 2014 issue of the Economic Journal. Their study also finds that internet job search is most effective in reducing unemployment when workers are actively sending out resumes and filling in application forms.

Does looking for work online help workers find a job faster? Perhaps surprisingly, an influential early study of this question found that the answer was ‘no’: comparing unemployed US workers who searched for jobs online to those who searched offline between 1998 and 2000, Kuhn and Mikal Skuterud found that the internet searchers spent longer periods of time in unemployment.

The authors attributed their surprising results to two main factors. First, internet job search tools such as job boards were not yet very developed at that time. And second, partly because perusing online job sites is a relatively low-cost activity, the population of workers who looked for work online at that time may have consisted primarily of casual ‘window shoppers’ who were not highly motivated to find work.

In the new research, Kuhn and Mansour conducted a follow-up study of unemployed workers looking for jobs between 2005 and 2008, going to great lengths to use strictly comparable measurements and methods to the earlier work. In sharp contrast to the results for 1998-2000, they find that workers searching online in 2005-08 experienced 25% shorter unemployment spells compared with workers who did not go online.

What explains this dramatic change in the relative job search outcomes of workers who search online and those who don’t? One explanation offered by the authors is that at least by 2005-08, internet job searchers were not casual window shoppers.

Indeed, their study is the first to provide insights on how the internet is used to look for jobs. They find that 48% of workers who used active search methods (such as actively contacting employers and posting resumes) used the internet to do so, a similar share to the level of internet use in passive search methods.

Another important change in the last decade that might explain the increasing effectiveness of online job search is the improvements in technology over the decade, making job boards more accessible and efficient at matching employers with employees. The emergence of industry- and occupation-based niche sites could further improve the internet’s ability to facilitate the job search process by targeting specific applicants and offering specialised services.

But according to the authors, the most likely explanation is just the rapid spread of internet connectivity between 1998 and 2008. The simple fact that many more firms had an online recruiting presence in 2008 made looking online more useful to workers. And the simple fact that many more workers were searching online made it more advantageous for firms to post vacancies.

This huge increase in connectivity is reflected in the authors’ finding that the share of unemployed workers looking for work online tripled between 1998 and 2008, from 24% to 74%.

Co-author Peter Kuhn comments:

‘Despite the increasing dominance of the internet as people’s main tool for finding work, our research suggests that it has considerable further potential to improve job search outcomes.

‘Specifically, while we find that contacting friends and relatives online is a very effective job search tool, very few workers actually used the internet in this ‘social’ way to look for work during the period 2005-08.

‘This suggests that the explosion of social media like Facebook and LinkedIn since then – and the introduction of job search tools on those platforms – may have already expanded workers’ job search prospects significantly.’

ENDS


Notes for editors: ‘Is Internet Job Search Still Ineffective?’ by Peter Kuhn and Hani Mansour is published in the December 2014 issue of the Economic Journal.

Peter Kuhn is at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Hani Mansour is at the University of Colorado, Denver.

For further information: contact Romesh Vaitilingam on +44-7768-661095 (email: romesh@vaitilingam.com; Twitter: @econromesh); Peter Kuhn via email: peter.kuhn@ucsb.edu; or Hani Mansour via email: mansourecon@gmail.com