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Simple strategies that work for job seekers

Rachel Coleman's picture
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Action planning and the use of reference letters are two strategies that work for job seekers to improve their search effectiveness and employment outcomes. Moreover, reference letters have an important impact for women job seekers, who often face additional constraints stemming from differential access to key resources. (Photo: Dominic Chavez / World Bank)


Finding a job is a challenging process ---and it can be especially difficult and overwhelming for youth and people entering the labor market for the first time. Youth unemployment rates in Sub-Saharan Africa are double those of adult unemployment for both men and women. Estimates show that 11 million youth will enter the labor market in Sub-Saharan Africa each year for the coming decade. This offers the potential to dramatically reduce poverty. But to make the most of this opportunity, young people need to engage in productive employment that fuels economic growth. In this blog, we present two simple and effective strategies to support job seekers to find employment.


Having a plan makes a difference
Searching for a job is a self-regulated process. You decide how much time you are going to spend looking and how many applications you are going to submit each week. Sometimes you follow through on these intentions but other times you don’t. Given that many young people are not enrolled in education, employed, or searching for work it is particularly important to understand how to optimize the job search process.
 
With this context in mind, a team from the World Bank’s Africa Gender Innovation Lab and Jobs Group in collaboration with researchers from Middlebury College, Stellenbosch University and University of Cape Town, designed and tested an action-planning tool to promote greater job search intensity. Our results show this simple planning tool makes a difference. The tool layered on top of a 90-minute career-counseling workshop offered by the government of South Africa helped unemployed youth follow through on their job search intentions and adopt a more efficient and effective search strategy. Improved search strategy led to job seekers receiving 24% more responses from employers and 30% more job offers. Five to twelve weeks after the workshop and action planning, these job seekers were 26% more likely to be employed.
 
The power of a reference letter
Information gaps exist between work seekers and prospective employers.  Prospective employers often can’t easily tell if a worker is qualified or would be a good fit for a position.  Information asymmetries about workers’ skills can result in poorer matches, lower productivity and increased inequity. Even though employers find value in reference letters to make their hiring decisions, very few job seekers are using them.  
 
We launched a field experiment to test the impact of reference letters from former employers.  As outlined by research partner Martin Abel, our experiment showed the promising power of the feedback of former employers. Including a reference letter in a job application increased the likelihood of getting a response to an application (by 60 percent). Additionally, providing information to job seekers on the value of reference letters in the job search process increased the share of people who obtained one by 67 percent. Interestingly, reference letters may be even more important for women job seekers. Women with better reference letters were more likely to receive responses from employers and interview requests (the same was not true for men). Women who received reference letter templates were approximately 50 percent more likely to be employed with employment rates doubled for those who used the letters.

CONCLUSION
Action planning and the use of reference letters are two strategies that work for job seekers to improve their search effectiveness and employment outcomes. Moreover, reference letters have an important impact for women job seekers, who often face additional constraints stemming from differential access to key resources. These low-cost solutions can be easily implemented within existing employment services to improve the likelihood of youth job seekers finding employment.  
 
For more information on these studies, see the working papers: The Value of Reference Letters and Bridging the Intention-Behavior Gap?
 
Follow the World Bank Jobs Group on Twitter @wbg_jobs.