In part I, Job Seeker Use of Job Searching Channels, we discussed the need to dig deeper and critically evaluate the specific story that is told by particular findings from different surveys seeking to understand the sources most frequently used by job seekers in their job search.  We discussed how LinkedIn’s approach at getting at the “initial source” of hire was a meaningful step forward in this type of survey research.  LinkedIn’s approach highlights the fact that different sources carry different relevance and importance to candidates, depending on the stage of their job seeking journey.

“Snackable” content is great when you are in a hurry but, like fast food, it’s also highly processed and probably not the greatest choice for nourishment.  Putting it another way, we trust survey authors/sponsors to draw the right conclusions from a large amount of data and provide us with the 5-second headline about what does that mean in practice. More often than not, they are accurate in distilling that information.  Sometimes, though, they may miss alternative explanations that may underpin the survey findings.  Unless we take the time to closely examine the data upon which those inferences are based, we would never know.

Let’s take, for example, LinkedIn’s conclusion, based on their findings, that generational differences in the sources used by job seekers is a result of the degree of comfort each generation has with technology. Is a candidate’s comfort level with technology the only possible explanation for those findings?

A Question of Age or Stage?

We found LinkedIn’s survey1 particularly interesting because it not only reported “first awareness” job source for the overall sample, but also segmented the results by generation.

The sources that appear in the overall sample results make intuitive sense – we typically first learn about job opportunities by either searching the marketplace via job boards or job aggregators or by hearing about it from others, be it referrals, recruiters, or professional networks.  Where things start to get interesting with LinkedIn’s results is when we look at generational differences in terms of how they first learn about the new job.

As one would expect, different generations reported initially becoming aware of their new (current) position via different sourcing channels.  Below are the sourcing channels each of the three generations was more likely to cite, compared to the overall average:

  1. Millennials:  Located it on third party website or online job boards
  2. Generation X:  A third party recruiter / headhunter / staffing firm contacted them
  3. Baby Boomers:  Heard about it from someone they knew at their new employer

LinkedIn’s report highlights those findings by drawing the conclusions that “Younger professionals are the most comfortable using online career channels.

Let’s look for a moment at the results from another survey, conducted by CareerBuilder in 20154.  This survey, among other things, investigated candidate behavior during the “orientation” phase of a job search (i.e., when a candidate first starts to look for a new opportunity).  CareerBuilder’s survey shows that all generations tend to use similar tactics during the orientation phase.  All generations search for jobs on major search engines, network with colleagues, family and friends, and visit job boards to assess the market.

Below we show CareerBuilder’s findings about candidates’ reported use of the online channels that correspond to the ones in LinkedIn’s survey:

Generation Rate of Google Search Use Rate of Job Board use
Millennials 72% 51%
Generation X 79% 54%
Boomers 69% 46%


Although Boomers report using online channels at a lower rate, their difference from the other two generations is not of a magnitude that would support a definitive argument that one generation is more comfortable with online career channels than another.

In light of this additional data, let’s pause for a second and ask ourselves the following questions:

  • Are those findings really suggesting that the three generations have a different comfort level with online job seeking resources?
  • Or is there something other than “comfort with online career channels” that may help explain the difference in how candidates from each of the three generations first hear about a new opportunity?

Based on our experience, we believe these findings have more to do with where candidates are in terms of their career stage and less with their comfort level with online job channels.  Candidates who are in their 50s are clearly at a different stage in their career and life than candidates who are in their 20s, 30s, or 40s.

Based on Donald E. Super’s life-span career development theory, we can reasonably expect the three generations to be, on average, at different stages of their careers2; namely:

    • Millennials: They are at a point in their lives where they are attempting to understand themselves, their vocational preferences, and find their place in the world of work (they are in what Super refers to as the Exploration phase).  The older members of this generation have probably progressed to where choices are narrowed but not finalized, or are at the early phases of the next career stage, which Super refers to as the Establishment stage.
    • Generation X:  They are well into the Establishment stage of their career.  Having gained an appropriate position in their chosen field of work, they strive to secure their position and advance to new levels of responsibility.  The older members of this generation are moving toward and working on what Super refers to as Maintenance stage of their career.
    • Boomers:  They are working on the Maintenance stage, where the main career-related developmental tasks are comprised of holding on, keeping up, and innovating.

If we consider the different career development stages that each generation is expected to be traversing at the time, the sourcing channels through which they initially become aware of their new (current) position makes logical sense.  The Millennials, being the most recent entrants in the workforce, still evaluating their options before committing to a chosen profession, and not having deep or wide established professional networks, cast the widest and quickest net to explore the available opportunities in the marketplace.  As such, Google searches, job aggregators, and online job boards are perfect job sourcing channel for this group.

Baby Boomers, on the other hand, have been “around the block” of work, as the expression goes.  They’ve established themselves in their chosen profession, know where they want (or don’t want to be) and have, by now, an expanded and strong social support network of family, friends, co-workers/ex-coworkers, bosses/ex-bosses, and professional colleagues and acquaintances that new opportunities quickly reach them (whether they solicit them or not).

Finally, for us, the result regarding Generation X, was the most intriguing.  Those are individuals who have chosen a profession and have at least 7-10 years of related experience in their field.  For them, it is a time for stabilizing, consolidating, building momentum, and moving up.   At the same time, if they are relatively content with their current employer and how they expect their career to progress within the confines of that company, they are less likely to be actively looking to jump ship.  When one considers the profile of the professionals who comprise the Generation X milieu and the searches that companies tend to farm out to third-party providers, the fact that Gen Xers are more likely to cite that a third party recruiter/headhunter/staffing firm was how they first learned about the new opportunity comes as no surprise.

So What? Practical Implications of the 2-Part Armchair Conversation

Surveys are a great way to gain insight into job seeker behavior.  Each resultant statistic tells us a story about how candidates go after finding a new job.  We then take that newly acquired (or updated) knowledge about job seeker behavior and we translate it into best talent acquisition, selection, and hiring practices.  For example, corporate career sites matter – the stories told by multiple surveys in 2015 drive that moral home.  Same with job postings on job boards or job aggregators.  But are those channels equally effective for reaching all job seekers regardless of age or where they are in their career stage?

LinkedIn’s survey and the comparison of its findings with other similar surveys points to the fact that job seeker behavior is not that simple, linear, or unified.  Understanding the complexity of the job seeker behavior and what job search channels, branding messages, etc. carry meaning and relevance for job seekers at different moments in their career and at different stages on their job search journey will only help us run more effective talent acquisition, selection, and hiring operations.

1 Why & How People Change Jobs.  LinkedIn Talent Solutions, 2015

2 Super’s Theory.

Share Button