If you're among the millions of Americans looking for a job right now and you're not using the internet, you're putting yourself at a big disadvantage.
That might sounds obvious, but some studies conducted over the last decade had found that looking for work online was either ineffective, or outright counterproductive. A new study reverses that claim (pdf) though, finding that people who used the internet while searching for a job landed one significantly faster than people who didn't.
The new analysis suggests that as the internet becomes more oriented around social and professional networking, its value as a job search tool is rising -- in much the same way that a rising number of people are finding their romantic partners online.
What does it mean, first of all, to use the internet for a job search? It's not just going to big job sites like Monster.com or Careerbuilder.com. Peter Kuhn of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Hani Mansour of the University of Colorado, Denver, looked at responses to survey questions that asked about various ways of looking for a job, all of which could be done either online or off. For instance: contacting employers directly; contacting public employment agencies; contacting friends or relatives; sending out resumes or filling out applications; and placing or answering ads. In other words, it could be as simple as sending an email to a friend.
Kuhn and Mansour looked at whether people had used these methods online or off--and at how long it took them to find work. (They considered both the unemployed and people who already had a job but were looking for a new one.) Their conclusion: "We find that, while [internet job search] appeared to be either ineffective or counterproductive a decade ago, it is now associated with about a 25 percent reduction in unemployment durations."
The authors attribute the change in part to improvements on sites like Monster and Careerbuilder, as well as the growth of "local and occupation/industry-specific job boards." But another explanation, they suggest, is "just the dramatic rise in overall internet penetration and connectivity, as reflected in the huge increase in internet job search documented in this paper."
In an interview with The Lookout, Kuhn explained that when he and a different co-author looked at the issue back in 2004, they found that the people who had the most successful job searches tended to exploit contacts through friends and relatives. At that time, Kuhn said, the only people who used the internet were those who didn't have their own contacts.
But as the internet has matured, that's changed. These days, social and professional networking plays a far bigger role on the internet, Kuhn said, citing websites such as LinkedIn. In other words, the internet has become more an extension of the normal relationships that exist in regular life, rather than a discrete sphere of its own. And as that's happened, a broader and better-connected group of people has begun to look for jobs online.
So, does that mean that the existence of the internet helps reduce joblessness, by better connecting workers to employers, just as it has reduced "frictions" in other markets? Not necessarily. That's because, as the authors write, "more effective search by some workers may reduce the job-finding rate of other workers." In other words, the trend may simply mean that more jobs are going to the people who use the internet--and fewer are going to the people who don't.