November 19, 2015

Searching for Work in the Digital Era

The internet is a central resource for Americans looking for work, but a notable minority lack confidence in their digital job-seeking skills

The internet is an essential employment resource for many of today’s job seekers, according to a new survey by Pew Research Center. A majority of U.S. adults (54%) have gone online to look for job information, 45% have applied for a job online, and job-seeking Americans are just as likely to have turned to the internet during their most recent employment search as to their personal or professional networks.

Yet even as the internet has taken on a central role in how people find and apply for work, a minority of Americans would find it difficult to engage in many digital job seeking behaviors – such as creating a professional resume, searching job listings online, or following up via email with potential employers. And while many of today’s job seekers are enlisting their smartphones to browse jobs or communicate with potential employers, others are using their mobile devices for far more complex and challenging tasks, from writing a resume to filling out an online job application.

Among the key findings:

The internet is a top resource for many of today’s job hunters: Among Americans who have looked for work in the last two years, 79% utilized online resources in their most recent job search and 34% say these online resources were the most important tool available to them

Roughly one-third of recent job seekers say the internet was the most important resource available to them during their most recent employment searchOnline employment resources now rival personal and professional networks as a top source of job information for Americans who are looking for work. Roughly one-third of Americans have looked for a new job in the last two years, and 79% of these job seekers utilized online resources in their most recent search for employment. That is higher than the proportion who made use of close personal connections (66%) or professional contacts (63%) and more than twice the proportion who utilized employment agencies, print advertisements, or jobs fairs and other events. Taken together, 80% of recent job seekers made use of professional contacts, close friends or family, and/or more distant personal connections in their most recent search for employment – nearly identical to the 79% who utilized resources and information they found online.

Indeed, 34% of these job seekers say resources and information they found online were the most important resource available to them in their most recent job search, which places the internet just behind personal and professional networks of all types on the list of Americans’ most important job resources. In total, 45% of recent job seekers indicate that personal or professional contacts of any kind were the most important resource they utilized in their last search for employment: 20% cite close personal connections as their most important source of assistance, 17% cite professional or work contacts, and 7% cite more distant personal acquaintances.

Like many other aspects of life, job seeking is going mobile: 28% of Americans have used a smartphone as part of a job search, and half of these “smartphone job seekers” have used their smartphone to fill out a job application

Americans increasingly reach for a smartphone when they need to accomplish a variety of online tasks and looking for work is no exception. Some 28% of Americans – including 53% of 18- to 29-year-olds – have used a smartphone in one way or another as part of a job search.1

  • 94% of smartphone job seekers (representing 26% of all American adults) have used their smartphone to browse or research job listings.
  • 87% (representing 24% of all adults) have called a potential employer on the phone using their smartphone.
  • 74% (representing 20% of all adults) have used their smartphone to email someone about a job they were applying for.

At the same time, many are using their phones for much more complex tasks:

  • 50% of smartphone job seekers (representing 14% of all adults) have used their smartphone to fill out an online job application.
  • 23% (representing 6% of all adults) have used their smartphone to create a resume or cover letter.

Smartphone job seekers with lower education levels are much more likely to use their phone to fill out a job application or create a resume or cover letterAmericans with relatively low levels of educational attainment tend to lean heavily on their smartphones for online access in general, and this also play out in the ways members of this group utilize their smartphones while looking for employment. Among Americans who have used a smartphone in some part of a job search, those with higher education levels are more likely to use their phone for basic logistical activities – such as calling a potential employer on the phone or emailing someone about a job. On the other hand, smartphone job seekers who have not attended college are substantially more likely to have used their phone for more advanced tasks, such as filling out an online job application or creating a resume or cover letter.2

Smartphone job seekers encounter a range of problems navigating online employment resourcesOverall, 47% of smartphone job seekers say their phone is “very important” in helping them look for job and career resources, and an additional 37% describe it as “somewhat important.” But despite the overall significance of smartphones to these users, many of them have encountered challenges navigating the job search process on a mobile device. Nearly half of smartphone job seekers have had problems accessing job-related content because it wasn’t displaying properly on their phone or had difficulty reading the text in a job posting because it was not designed for a mobile device. And more than one-in-three have had trouble entering a large amount of text needed for a job application or had difficulty submitting the files or other supporting documents needed to apply for a job.

Even as digital job seeking skills have become increasingly important, a minority of Americans would find it challenging to engage in tasks such as creating a professional resume, using email to contact potential employers, or filling out a job application online

Most Americans are relatively confident in their digital job-seeking skills, but a minority would find it challenging to accomplish tasks such as building a professional resumeDespite the importance of digital resources when it comes to looking for work today, a minority of Americans would find it difficult to engage in a variety of digital job-seeking behaviors.

Building a professional resume is among the most prominent of these challenges: Some 17% of Americans (not including those who are retired and/or disabled) indicate that it would not be easy to create a professional resume if they needed to do so. Another 21% say that it would not be easy to highlight their employment skills using a personal website or social media profile. Roughly one-in-ten indicate that it would be difficult for them to go online to find lists of available jobs (12%); fill out a job application online (12%); use email to contact or follow up with a potential employer (11%); or look up online services available to assist job seekers (10%).

In many cases, Americans who might benefit the most from being able to perform these behaviors effectively – such as those with relatively low levels of educational attainment – are the ones who find them most challenging. For instance, 30% of those with a high school diploma or less would have trouble creating a professional resume (compared with just 6% of college graduates), as would 28% of those who are currently not employed (double the 14% of employed Americans who would find it difficult to do this).

Many Americans now use social media to look for and research jobs, share employment opportunities with friends, and highlight their skills to potential employers; 13% of social media users say their social media presence has helped them find a job

Nearly two-thirds of Americans now use social media platforms of some kind, and a substantial number of social media users are utilizing these platforms to look for work – and also to pass along employment tips to their own friend networks. Some 35% of social media users have utilized social media to look for or research jobs, while 21% have applied for a job they first found out about through social media, and 34% have used social media to inform their friends about available jobs at their own place of employment. In addition, 13% of social media users say information that they have posted on social media has helped them get a job.

Social media users from a range of age groups use these platforms for employment-related purposesYounger users are especially active at utilizing these platforms for employment-related purposes, but many older users are taking advantage of social media when looking for work as well. Roughly one-quarter of social media users ages 50 and older have used these platforms to look for work or to let their friends know about job openings, and 11% of older social media users have applied for a job they first found out about on social media.

  1. 68% of American adults are smartphone owners, and 41% of them have used their smartphone as part of a job search in any way. This works out to 28% of all American adults.
  2. Compared with smartphone job seekers who have graduated from college, smartphone job seekers who have not proceeded past high school are three times as likely to indicate that they do not have traditional broadband service at home.