Carlson School of Management News

Looking for a Job? Success May Lie within Yourself

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

For those unemployed and actively looking for work, while factors such as a person's skills and industry matter, the success or failure in finding that new position lies within themselves to a considerable extent, according to recent research by the Carlson School's Connie Wanberg.

"After the Pink Slip: Applying Dynamic Motivation Frameworks to the Job Search Experience," by Wanberg, Jing Zhu of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Ruth Kanfer of Georgia Institute of Technology, and Zhen Zhang of Arizona State University examines the rise and fall of emotions of 177 unemployed job-seekers over 20 weeks.

The findings show that 53 percent of the variance found in motivation control, or the ability to focus on goal pursuit while continuing to overcome obstacles, resided within individuals rather than between them. In other words, this variance reflects a week-to-week flux in people's job search experiences more than inherent character traits distinguish one job-seeker from another. This finding highlights the importance of training individuals to employ self-regulation strategies that "pump up" attentional effort for job search activities.

The study also found that 41 percent of the variance in self-defeating cognition, or the self-talk engendered by feelings of hopelessness and defeat in a job search, is also within rather than between individuals.

"Both motivation control and the ability to keep self-defeating thoughts at bay are strongly related to the amount of effort devoted to the job search, which in turn is strongly related to success in landing a job," Wanberg says. "It is encouraging that both competencies are as widely distributed as this study suggests."

For the study, the authors recruited people who had been unemployed for three weeks or fewer and were seeking full-time employment. All participants were between 25 and 50 years old, had bachelor's degrees, and had not submitted an unemployment claim in the last four years. Each participant was required to complete a weekly online survey for 20 weeks or until they found a job. Within the study span, 128 out of the 177 participants found employment.

"We have found through our research that it particularly helps if individuals establish a strong daily routine," Wanberg says. "An individual might get up in the morning and exercise. Then, from 10-12 they might check key job boards for new postings. After a networking lunch (12-2), they may spend three hours in the afternoon applying for any new jobs, following up on other job applications, and setting goals for the next few days of job search."

Other findings from the study show that participants spent less time in their job search as their unemployment spell continued and their mental health showed a gradual improvement over the first 10 to 12 weeks followed by a slight downturn in later weeks as "individuals begin to feel burned out and frustrated as they encounter repeated rejections."

Overall, the study provides new evidence that, besides the difficulties of looking for a job, the outcome is to a considerable extent in the individuals' own hands, perhaps more than is commonly thought.

"Your resume, the type of job you want, and your work experience matters a lot," Wanberg says. "Beyond that, however, much is in your control. You won't find a job if you engage in the wrong job search methods or if you don't put time into your search. It is important to persist, keep your job search going, and change directions when needed. If you don't know what to do next in your job search or get stuck, make sure to ask several people for advice."

"After the Pink Slip" was published in the April/May issue of The Academy of Management Journal. The Academy of Management is the largest organization in the world devoted to management research and teaching.

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