The early months of every calendar year represent one of the most popular job-hunting seasons. Bolstered by December bonuses and New Year’s resolutions, many US workers are now in the process of dusting off their resumes and diving headfirst into their searches for new job opportunities.
Job seekers are increasingly turning to the internet for information on those potential opportunities: since 2005, the proportion of Americans researching jobs online has more than doubled, according to the most recent comprehensive research on the topic. In addition to scouring job boards, individuals are creating profiles on professional social networking sites such as LinkedIn to communicate with recruiters and discover potential careers. Some are even using social media platforms such as Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) to build on existing connections and interests.
Yet not everyone can take advantage of these new resources. In this study, communications and media researchers Gökçe Karaoglu, Eszter Hargittai, and Minh Hao Nguyen at the University of Zurich use US national survey data on job search behavior to analyze how different populations use the internet to find and apply for jobs. The three co-authors find that individuals’ socioeconomic statuses, including their ages, incomes, and levels of education, relate to whether they are comfortable job hunting online. Factors such as access to the internet, frequency of internet use, and having digital job search skills also influence whether individuals conduct their job search using the internet.
- Older individuals, those with lower educational attainment, and low-income individuals are less likely to have flexible internet access as measured by having internet connections both at home and on a mobile device.
- These groups also are less likely to have digital job search skills, including the ability to create a professional resume, use email to communicate with potential employers, and fill out job applications online.
- Younger job seekers are more likely to use the internet, including social media, to find potential jobs in addition to having more flexibility in how and when they use the internet and higher digital job search skills, on average. Younger individuals also are more likely to submit applications for the jobs that they identify through social media.
- Social media use, frequent internet use, and flexible access to the internet all increase digital job search skills and make individuals more likely to apply for jobs online. These factors make it easier for job seekers to submit online applications, use social media profiles to highlight their skills, and find information on services and programs that can aid in the job search process.
- Individuals with higher incomes are less likely to find and apply for jobs online even though they are more likely to have internet access and digital job search skills. These individuals may use alternative strategies, such as networking and recruitment, to a much greater degree in their job searches.
- Individuals with higher educational achievement are more likely to look for information about potential jobs online and use social media in their job search process. Jobs that require applicants to have certain degrees may be more likely to have information online. Additionally, certain social media sites such as LinkedIn are marketed toward highly educated individuals, so other groups of job seekers, including those without advanced degrees, might not consider these sites useful.
- African Americans are more likely to have higher digital job search skills, use the internet to look for potential jobs, and submit online job applications compared to white Americans. This may be because they find that searching for jobs digitally may reduce discrimination in the recruiting and hiring process and prevent them from being rejected based on their race or ethnicity.
- Regardless of education, age, and gender, Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans are less likely to have digital job search skills than white Americans. However, Asian Americans are more likely to use social media to look for jobs than white Americans.
- Social media and related digital job search skills can positively impact job seekers by expanding their social networks, connecting them to relevant organizations and interest groups, and informing them of career opportunities.
- Regardless of sociodemographics, internet access, and frequency of internet use, increased job search skills are significantly linked to looking and applying for jobs online, as well as using social media in the process.
Policy and practice implications
WorkRise has identified the following implications for policy and/or practice:
- Policymakers should increase access to high-speed internet by passing legislation that expands broadband access, increases internet speeds, and makes broadband more affordable. State policymakers should award grants to encourage the deployment of broadband and increase minimum service thresholds. At the federal level, legislators should increase the benefits provided to low-income households through the Affordable Connectivity Program.
- Policymakers should expand programs that increase the affordability of digital devices, including computers and smartphones. The cost of digital devices is a major barrier to ownership and can prevent access to the internet. The Federal Communications Commission should expand its benefit program to cover smartphones and increase the discounts it provides to those who need financial assistance purchasing digital devices.
- Digital skills programs should focus on older job seekers, those without degrees, and low-income individuals. Programs such as AARP’s Older Adults Technology Services should continue teaching older adults necessary competencies such as email and virtual conferencing. Federal policymakers should expand State Digital Equity Planning Grants from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration given the grant program’s focus on low-income individuals and older populations. State and local governments should expand funding for free and accessible technology training programs such as The Learning Center in Chicago and Fairfax County, VA’s Computer Skills Center.
- State and federal legislators should expand funding for digital skills programs that target Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans. The federal Connecting Minority Communities Program awards, for example, fund minority-serving institutions offering relevant programs. State and local policymakers in areas with digital equity grants should funnel awards toward organizations that aim to serve these populations.
This study reveals significant and varied digital divides in online job searching and the use of social media in the job-hunting process. Although some job seekers are successfully gaining digital skills and social media savvy, many of those who are already disadvantaged in the US labor market still cannot use technology adequately to find and explore career opportunities.