Searching for Work in the Digital Era
2. Job seeking in the era of smartphones and social media
As the internet has become an increasingly important resource for finding and applying for jobs, significant disparities persist when it comes to the devices and tools that job seekers have available to access these resources. As home broadband adoption has slowed in recent years, smartphones have become a key source of online access for as many as one-in-five Americans. And out of choice or necessity, many job seekers are now incorporating mobile devices into various aspects of their search for employment – despite the fact that these devices might not be ideal for tasks such as building a resume or cover letter.
In addition to the growing relevance of mobile devices, a substantial majority of working-age Americans now use at least one social media platform. Social media potentially offers a place for job seekers to tap into their networks for help finding work, alert their friends when they hear of jobs availabilities, or promote their own skills in a way that is publicly visible to potential employers. On the other hand, the public nature of these platforms puts potential job seekers at risk that something they say on social media could be used against them when applying for a job.
This chapter takes a closer look at the use and impact of smartphones and social media on job seeking in America today.
28% of Americans – and half of young adults – have used a smartphone during a job search
Some 68% of American adults now own a smartphone, and 41% of these smartphone owners have used their mobile phone in some aspect of a job search. That works out to 28% of all Americans (including smartphone owners, as well as non-owners) who have utilized a smartphone as part of a job search in some way or another. In the analysis that follows, we refer to this 28% of the public as “smartphone job seekers.”
Young adults are especially likely to use their smartphones to look for work: 53% of 18- to 29-year-olds have used a smartphone as part of a search for employment. This behavior is not limited to just the youngest job seekers, as 37% of 30- to 49-year-olds have done so as well. African Americans also tend to rely heavily on smartphones when looking for employment: 38% are smartphone job seekers, compared with 24% of whites.
Americans with high levels of income and educational attainment often have a number of devices and access options to choose from when they wish to go online. Yet interestingly, these Americans are actually more likely than those with lower income and education levels to use a smartphone when looking for work. For example, some 35% of college graduates (and 33% of those who have attended but not graduated college) are smartphone job seekers, compared with 18% of those who have not attended college.6
When asked about the overall impact of their smartphone on their ability to look for work and access career resources, fully 47% of smartphone job seekers say that their phone is “very important” to them and an additional 37% describe it as “somewhat important.” Fewer than one-in-five smartphone job seekers describe their phone as either “not too important” (13%) or “not at all important” (3%) when it comes to their ability to look for jobs. And a substantial majority of smartphone job seekers describe their phone as “very” or “somewhat” important across various age, income and educational categories.
Roughly one-quarter of “smartphone job seekers” have used their phone to create a resume or cover letter
When asked about specific ways in which they have used their phones during a job search, these smartphone job seekers report utilizing their mobile devices for a wide range of purposes. Three relatively basic job-seeking behaviors – browsing job listings, calling or emailing potential employers – stand out as particularly widespread:
- 94% of smartphone job seekers have used their smartphone to browse or research jobs online.
- 87% have used their smartphone to call a potential employer on the phone.
- 74% have used their smartphone to email someone about a job they were applying for.
More complex activities – such as filling out a job application or creating a resume on one’s smartphone – are less common, but are still done by a relatively substantial proportion of smartphone job seekers:
- 50% of smartphone job seekers have used their smartphone to fill out an online job application.
- 23% have used their smartphone to create a resume or cover letter.
As noted above, college graduates are more likely than Americans who have not attended college to incorporate their smartphone into a job search in one way or another. However, there are substantial differences between those with lower and higher levels of educational attainment when it comes to the specific ways that each group uses their mobile devices for job seeking.
Overall, college graduates who use their smartphone during a job search are more likely to use it for basic communication tasks. For example, they are more likely to have used their smartphone to call a potential employer on the phone (90% have used their phone in this way, compared with 78% of those who have not attended college) or to email someone about a job in which they were interested (80% vs. 64%).
On the other hand, smartphone job seekers lacking college experience are substantially more likely to have used their phone for relatively advanced tasks, such as filling out an online job application (61% vs. 37% among college graduates). They are also three times as likely to have used their phone to create a resume or cover letter – fully 33% of smartphone job seekers with a high school diploma or less have created a resume or cover letter using their phone, compared with just 10% of those with a college degree.7 And while the survey did not specifically probe people’s reasons for using their phones in this way, the availability of more traditional access options (or lack thereof) looms large: Among Americans who have used their smartphone as part of a job search, those who have not attended college are around three times as likely as college graduates to say that they do not currently have broadband service at home.
Many smartphone job seekers have encountered challenges using their phones during job search
Even as many smartphone owners are using their phones in various aspects of the job seeking process, the experience of navigating that process on a small screen lacking a dedicated keyboard can be a challenge for many users.
The survey asked about a number of problems or challenges smartphone job seekers might encounter while using their mobile devices and found that problems reading or accessing job-related content are among the most prominent. Some 47% of smartphone job seekers have had problems accessing job-related content because it wasn’t displaying properly on their phone, and an identical 47% have had problems reading the text in a job posting because it was not designed for a mobile device.
Many smartphone job seekers have also encountered problems with text entry or with being able to submit the required documents necessary to apply for a job. Some 38% of smartphone job seekers have had problems entering a large amount of text on their smartphone while searching for a job, while 37% have had problems submitting the files or other supporting documents needed to apply for a job. An additional 23% have had problems saving or bookmarking jobs on their phone so they could go back and apply for them later.
Social media has become an important venue for today’s job seekers
Some 65% of Americans now use social media platforms, and for many users these sites offer a venue for highlighting professional accomplishments to prospective employers, finding jobs through one’s networks and alerting friends to available employment opportunities.
- 35% have used social media to look for or research a job.
- 34% have used social media to inform their friends of an available job at their place of employment.
- 21% have applied for a job they initially found out about through their social media contacts.
Younger social media users are especially active when it comes to using these platforms to look for employment and alert their networks about available jobs, but this behavior is in no way limited to these younger users alone. Social media users ages 30 to 49 are just as likely as younger users to engage in each of these behaviors, and roughly one-quarter of social media users ages 50 and older have used these platforms to look for work and let their friends know about job openings at their own company.
African American social media users also report using these platforms for job-related purposes at higher rates relative to whites. This is particularly true when it comes to alerting one’s friend networks about available jobs via social media – fully 53% of African American social media users have done this, compared with 31% of whites.
Along with serving as a venue for finding and researching jobs, prospective job seekers can also use their social media presence to highlight relevant skills to prospective employers. Just over one-in-ten social media users (13%) say information that they have posted on social media has helped them to get a job.
On the other hand, information posted on social media can also have negative employment consequences, although the frequency is more limited: Some 2% of social media users say information they’ve posted on social media has caused them to lose a job or not get hired for a job they were applying for.8
- As will be discussed in more detail in the analysis that follows, these more highly educated users typically incorporate their mobile devices into relatively simple aspects of the job search process, such as calling employers or doing basic research. ↩
- Due to the relatively small number of African Americans (n=77) and Latinos (n=75) in this survey who have used a smartphone to look for a job, we are not able to include a stand-alone analysis of the specific tasks that people in these groups have conducted on their smartphones while looking for work. ↩
- Of course, this 2% figure represents the proportion of social media users who are aware their behavior or posts on social media have impacted them in this way. It is possible more have experienced these negative consequences, but are not aware of having done so. ↩