New study helps employed and unemployed job seekers prepare for and cope with challenges

New research on the challenges and demands that job seekers face may help professionals better navigate their job-search experience. The study, conducted by the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management and TheLadders, and today published in Personnel Psychology, found five layers of context-related, job-search demands encountered by both employed and unemployed job seekers.

"There is a lot of information on specific job-searching techniques, but there is very little about the process itself," said the paper's lead author Connie Wanberg, the Industrial Relations Faculty Excellence Chair at the Carlson School. "This study provides a realistic preview of the job-search process, as well as lessons about coping with the challenges and surprises people faced."

The authors conducted a rigorous, qualitative investigation of the experiences of 40 unemployed, 23 employed and nine partially employed white-collar, managerial-level job seekers. Interviewing professionals seeking positions in finance, human resources, marketing, operations and sales allowed the researchers to focus on the difficulties of the job search, rather than economic challenges.

Analyzing the responses, researchers determined that five major types of context-related, job-search demands existed within employed and unemployed job seekers: omnibus, organizational, social, task and personal. These types, or layers, contained 13 common categories:

1. Economic conditions
2. Employment status
3. Insistence on a perfect match
4. Lake of professionalism, competence or efficiency
5. Vague/dated advertising
6. Demographic discrimination
7. Social network
8. Depersonalization
9. Uncertainty
10. Repeated rejection
11. Monotony
12. Impact on the family and finances
13. Job decisions

According to Wanberg, one of the most common obstacles job seekers faced was feeling that they were in a black hole, stuck in a situation from which they cannot escape.

"Frequently, individuals talked about how they would send their resumes into a black hole and rarely heard back from a company - sometimes even after getting an interview," says Wanberg. "Additionally, we heard that it was challenging to find the right fit between a person's skills and the jobs they were applying for."

Many job seekers started their search too broadly and learned to become more specific over time. Conversely, others began their search with a too-narrow approach and were later forced to become less specific to achieve success.

Interview subjects also noted the depersonalization of the search process. Job seekers repeatedly experienced a lack of professionalism by HR departments, citing examples of last-minute cancelations, excessive waiting time, out-of-date job postings, and interviewers who lacked knowledge and experience.

Coping with Job Search Demands

While the job-seeking experience was a source of frustration, those who kept a positive attitude with successful coping behaviors found the hunt to be energizing, and were better at developing strategies to manage their situations. Positive responses included maintaining individual self-confidence, exercising, volunteering, seeking job-search advice from a career coach, or making time for fun activities.

"Job seeker responses indicated several examples of learning, increased insight, and changes of strategy in the search process, said Archana Agrawal, vice president of strategy at TheLadders. "For at least some members of our sample, the enjoyment of job search seemed to stem directly from the challenge involved. Some individuals remarked that they saw the search as a game, or a hunt to be mastered."
The study also suggests focusing on learning goals that can help job seekers overcome the likely setbacks in the process.

"Navigating the Black Hole: Explicating Layers of Job Search Context and Adaptational Responses" appears in the current issue of Personnel Psychology. A white paper, commissioned by TheLadders, can be downloaded here.