Selected recent texts and publications.
Re-Valueing the Self (Sharon (MIT) and Vasquez)
Workforce Development Policies (co-author)
The Dilemma of Ruminating
Finding Work in America
The Problem with Medical Entertainment
Making Medical Decisions
Finding Work in America
According to a recent analysis provided by the Bureau for Labor Statistics, for every one position there are three individuals applying for work (Labor Department, 2013). After enduring two recessions, Americans are faced with grim prospects for finding and holding employment. Senior-level workers who have held their positions for over 30 years are finding that they need to learn how to network and utilize technology in such a way they have never encountered before. Young adults navigating the job market are directed to apply for work online, and build their online networking profiles in order to increase their employment chances. Career counselors are constantly aiding job seekers in placing the correct keywords in their resume in order to be more visible to hiring staff. Today, as employment remains scarce, job seekers at all ages and with varying types of credentials are finding themselves searching for employment in a very digitized, bureaucratic manner.
For a millennial growing up in today’s society, this concept is not novel. However, to anyone who had searched for employment during the 20th century, the advent of online career building tools and online job search engines is a stark contrast to how individuals sought employment during the 20th century. The Internet has played a key role in this process, shaping how individuals engage with hiring staff, how hiring staff choose potential candidates, and how firms locate and mobilize the methods for distributing workers throughout their companies. What may also complicate this issue is the widespread outsourcing of labor from core nations to countries with developing economies. Put simply, the methods for seeking employment have changed dramatically in the last decade. Across all disciplines, from sociology to economics, little to no research has been conducted that examines the effect of these changes on job seekers, firms, and the American job market. In order to unravel how these changes impact the process of seeking employment, this paper presents a historical analysis of the American job search. Recent observations by economic sociologists suggest that the methods for how individuals seek employment have dramatically changed with the widespread use of the Internet.
In this paper, I begin by extrapolating the 20th century model for seeking employment. I follow with an analysis of how this model eroded, subsequently changing the nature of how Americans seek employment. Within this transformation, different key actors emerge as changing the shape of the field. While often times social scientists analyze institutional fields in relation to actors within the government, political organizations, community organizers, and so on, this analysis examines the field of Internet entrepreneurs and design think-tanks as key actors in the process of developing this social phenomenon (Fligstein and McAdams, 2012).
Additionally, this paper incorporates the participation of job-seekers in the process of defining new methods for seeking employment by utilizing prosumerism theory. Prosumerism will aid in understanding the agentic discourse surrounding the development of this new form of seeking employment. I argue that although individuals have been part of the process of developing the Internet based model, they are less of willing actors in the continuity of producing this phenomenon. Rather, they perceive the hegemonic use of technology to impede on their autonomy during the job search process as they are reliant upon its services. Understanding the development of this phenomenon is imperative. Though little attention has been provided for understanding how the methods for seeking employment impact the process and outcome of individuals finding work, some scholars are beginning to develop an understanding of the emotional process of seeking employment (Sharone, 2013). However, the role of technology in these processes have not been examined in a sociological context.
I discuss the shift in the methods for seeking employment by historically narrating the process of searching for work in the 20th century. Providing this brief depiction aids in understanding how work was traditionally sought in America. The 20th century model provides a stark juxtaposition to the influence of the Internet based model, which begins eroding 20th century methods with the arrival of online job search engines and online career building tools. Often regarded as revolutionizing how individuals brand themselves, LinkedIn.com, SimplyHired.com, Monster.com, Indeed.com, Academia.edu, firms that utilize online resume and application submission, and so on, have also provided structural issues for individuals who are seeking employment. Though the Internet provides more freedom and autonomy for individuals to express their interests and capabilities, browse positions nationally, compare salaries, control their professional persona, network, display their credentials, and the like, it has also provided individuals negative feelings of disconnection, frustration, isolation, invisibility, or some consider entrance into “the black hole.”
As more individuals seek out career building and job searching services on the Internet, more individuals feel less autonomous and more under the guise of a bureaucratized system that fails to treat individuals in relation to their skills and talents, and rather for their ability to polish their resume with the strategic keywords. This paper explores how this complex system has been established, and what implications it may have for understanding the American job market.
The 20th Century Model:
Professional Networking, The Employment Search, and Hiring Processes
Today’s job seeker searches for employment distinctively from individuals who sought employment during the 20th century. This section provides an outline of how individuals searched for work during the 20th century, and moves through a narrative of how changes to the mechanisms for seeking employment alter the way in which individuals find work. Particularly impactful to this narrative is the widespread utilization of the Internet for seeking employment, as it pertains to professional networking, strategizing the online presentation of one’s self, utilizing the Internet to submit applications and resumes, and so on. While this section outlines changes in the methods for seeking employment, it also highlights changes in how individual professionally network since the erosion of the 20th century model. I argue that not only do the methods for seeking employment matter when examining the shift between these models, but also how these changes impact how job seekers professionally network. I include the work of Granovetter (1983) and Blau (1977) in order to illustrate these changes. I argue that professional networking has dramatically changed with the shift from the 20th century model to the Internet based approach.
During the 20th century, most interaction between job seekers and hiring staff were handled face-to-face. Though one of the methods for seeking employment included browsing job listings in local newspapers, interactions between potential employees and employers were often in-person. For instance, a job seeker may have physically entered the location of a business or firm while seeking employment, asking if there are open positions at the location. Today, more individuals apply for work by way of a business‘ website, electronically submitting an application, resume, and sometimes a cover letter through the website interface. 20th century job seekers were often hired based on their experience and skills, but were scouted for their personal appearance and manners. This contrasts to contemporary methods, as hiring staff utilize algorithms that detect specific keywords in resume databases in order to narrow their search for ideal candidates.
Networking was often conducted in-person, which slightly contrasts to how job-seekers network today. 20th century job-seekers often networked through a variety of sources: their family, close friends of the family, and close friends; professional ties, such as colleagues and classmates; and individuals within one’s network that fall within the category Granovetter calls “strong weak ties” (Granovetter, 1983). According to Granovetter, most individuals belong to a densely constructed network, which comprises of individuals who mostly know each individual within their network. For instance, the connections of individuals within families, friend-circles, and the like. However, Granovetter proposed that many individuals professionally network through the strength of their weak ties--the strong associations they have with their acquaintances--as opposed to their strong ones.
According to Granovetter, strong weak ties serve as sources of information and resources for job-seekers moreover than individuals who are within individuals’ network of strong ties (family, friends, etc.). He posited that networking occurred in this manner because job-seekers’ strong ties often share similar attributes and access to the same information. Weak ties, on the other hand, are not connected to the same people, thus creating an information-sharing gateway between networks. An individual who has a strong weak tie to another individual will be able to share information provided by eachother’s network of strong ties. According to Granovetter, this was considered beneficial because it allowed for new information to flow between strong weak ties from external networks. Consequently, this also allowed other individuals within one’s network of strong ties to also gain access to new information.
However, when considering how job-seekers networked in the 20th century, incorporating the work of Blau to complement Granovetter may be beneficial in order to account for some of the networking phenomena that Granovetter’s work does not illuminate. In contast to Granovetter, Blau (1977) suggested that individuals who share a similar social and regional space tend to strongly associate with one another. His concept of homophily posits that those who are more similar to one another tend to stay with one another. A popular phrase often used to describe this concept is that birds of a feather flock together. However, homophily does not suggest individuals actively choose others for which they desire association. Rather, Blau argues that the constraints of social institutions will create a selection process, which Blau conceptualizes as “introduced homophily.” According to introduced homophily, individuals’ connections are produced and maintained because of the low degrees of separation. This allows individuals greater access to those who possess similar traits (McPherson, 1992).
Incorporating Blau into the 20th century networking framework may be important, as it seeks to explain some of the unaccounted networking phenomena that Granovetter’s work cannot illustrate. For instance, individuals who network for work by way of their strong ties (i.e., a nephew entering his Uncle’s business, or an Uncle connecting his nephew with a position via his network) aids in understanding the networking processes of the 20th century model. Not all individuals networked through their strong weak ties; and similarly, not all individuals networked through their strong ties. Granovetter also recognized that there wasn’t a polarization in strong and weak ties in regards to networking. Incorporating both theoretical bases for understanding networking that occurred during the 20th century is worthwhile.
The 20th century mechanisms for seeking employment has eroded dramatically, creating a reconsideration of how individuals network, among other things. As previously mentioned, job seekers in the 20th century often spent a great amount of time browsing and responding to advertisements in local newspapers, networking with other individuals within their profession, networking with close ties, searching for work by way of onsite inquiry, and the like. A typical job seeker might have learned about an open position by either the local newspaper job listings or by “word-of-mouth.” Consequently because of these localized means for seeking employment, job seekers often did not search for positions that required them to relocate. If a job seeker was to look for employment outside of their region, it was due to a planned relocation.
In addition to analyzing how individuals searched for work, the 20th century model accounts for the actions of hiring managers and firms. If the erosion of the 20th century model is implicated in how job seekers search for work, then the methods for how hiring staff and firms handle the job search process deserves to be highlighted. During the 20th century, hiring managers often received many resumes for one position; however, still fewer resumes on average than what is received by hiring staff today. Hiring manager would often personally sort through the resumes of interested candidates, calling high prospective candidates in for an interview. Often, these positions were not considered to be temporary. Hiring managers were often looking for an individual they saw fit well with the company for long-term employment. From the perspective of many 20th century job seekers, long-term employment was also a benefit.
In fact, the cultural norms surrounding employment are highly contextual in these scenarios. Having a full-time job was the goal of most job seekers. Common advice provided by parents and close relatives was to maintain a full time job that pays well. Thus, the culture of employment also deepened the relationship the job seeker had the process of searching for employment. Consequently, this lightened the amount of resumes a hiring manager received as more individuals concentrated their efforts on finding a job with a proper fit, as it would potentially be long-term. Additionally, skills were often heavily weighted toward the requirements of the position, whereas today many individuals work outside their area of trained expertise. In economic sociology, individuals who work outside of their area of their formal training are considered to have “employment mismatch.” A good indication of the rise of employment mismatch can be found in recent literatures (i.e., Marin, 2013).
This section highlighted some of the 20th century mechanisms for seeking employment, while also incorporating the work of Granovetter and Blau in order to also outline professional networking processes. However, the shift from the 20th century model to the Internet based approach has yet to be extrapolated. The following section drafts the mechanisms by which individuals seek employment via the Internet. I apply the concept of “prosumerism” in order to illustrate how the shift in job search mechanisms have been created by actors within the industry (i.e., web designers and Internet entrepreneurs), while also at the same time, these processes have simultaneously been produced and maintained by “consumers” (i.e., job seekers and employers). I argue that these processes have been the main influence on the erosion of the 20th century model. The implications of these changes are discussed in the following section.
The Internet Based Approach and Prosumerism
The system for finding employment has become predominantly Internet based. A senior-level engineer might apply to a firm by submitting his or her resume and application online. An individual seeking employment at Whole Foods, Target, and a broad range of other retail stores are directed to apply for employment online. Similarly, an individual seeking a government job or employment with a non-profit organization often is required to submit an application online. Teachers are often asked to apply online for work, whether it’s through TeachForAmerica.com or a preliminary e-mail correspondence with a department head. In general, for a broad spectrum of positions, the Internet is the pathway for finding employment.
This approach has become the dominant contribution to the erosion of the 20th century model for seeking employment. With the creation of online career building tools and job search engines, the mechanisms for which individuals search for employment has dramatically been altered. Today, an individual will seek out employment not by searching for job openings in the local paper or by walking into businesses and asking to speak with a hiring manger, but by submitting applications and resumes via business websites and online job search tools. These mechanism-oriented changes have implications beyond the experience of finding and holding work, but also for changing the nature relations between actors within the contemporary job market system. Based on the erosion of the 20th century model and the advent and widespread usage of the Internet for seeking employment, a capitalist-oriented framework ought to be implemented in order to examine how market actors (i.e., Internet entrepreneurs) dramatically have the ability to shape the field of searching for employment--something that the 20th century model maintains distinction from capitalism. Subsequently, this section focuses on how these changes impact the process of searching for work based on the experience of the job-seeker, and how different actors played a role in the erosion of the 20th century model.
Websites, such as Monster.com, Indeed.com, and SimplyHired.com, provide job-seekers a platform for finding available positions across a multitude of different specialties. In many regards, the Internet based system for seeking employment has aided individuals who have knowledge of this technology. It allows them to post their resumes online; apply for positions via job search engines and company websites; create and build profiles on professional networking websites, aiding in the visibility of their credentials, work experience, expertise, goals, professional affiliations, interests, etc.; build professional networks; and so on. These online tools are designed in such a way as to provide individuals the perception of autonomy and control in the job searching process--a sense of empowerment for an often perceived daunting and vulnerable pursuit. Jeff Taylor, the founder and chairman of Monster.com made the following remark on how the Internet plays an integral role in the job search process:
The concept of online job searching has changed greatly since the beginning, when job websites were simply bulletin boards. Today, the Internet is the gateway to a better job and a better life, as you can manage your entire career online. [Emphasis added.] At Monster®, we view ourselves as a comprehensive career management resource, serving job seekers from interns to CEOs. We offer much more than just a listing of jobs. By utilizing all the available resources, including expert advice on interviewing and building your resume, you can maximize the potential of your online job search and make yourself more marketable in the process (Jobseekersecrets.com, 2002).
However, As Ritzer (2012) might argue, this kind of system may provide individuals a false sense of autonomy and control, as it may provide more control for hiring staff than it does for job seekers. Moreover, another issue comes to rise when individuals perceive a sense of control over the trajectory of their career and employment. A sense of control assumes a sense responsibility for being able to find and hold work. Accordingly, the concept of prosumerism may provide explanatory power for understanding the emotional process of individuals who seek employment through Internet based tools.
According to Ritzer, who compiles and extends previous work on prosumerism, beginning with Toffler (1980), the concept refers to the process by which the individual is also the consumer and producer (2012). This concept is not novel, as Ritzer cites its birth with the latter part of Marx’s work on consumerism. However, the difference between contemporary prosumerism and the kind of prosumerism written during the time of Marx is that today’s prosumerism is increasingly more integral to the process of what we consider consumption. Ritzer argues that contemporary scholars mistakenly attempt to separate the domains of “consumption” and “production” when referencing the processes within American capitalism. He suggests that the two domains are constantly occurring at the very same time, as individuals are consuming a product, they are also producing it. The market is highly influential upon interests and desires of consumers, while consumers are also influenced and subjected to what the market provides to them. Individuals who are seeking employment are often required to utilize the Internet based approach for seeking employment, even if they lack knowledge in how to use these online tools.
Furthermore, prosumerism extends beyond material goods and aids in conceptualizing the experiential processes of consumption and production. Individuals who utilize online career tools and online job search engines begin to produce their own experience. The outcome of finding and holding employment becomes a direct outcome of their experience engaging in the process of utilizing these online tools. The popular morale-boosting phrase, “You get in, what you put out” distinctively speaks to this phenomenon.
While during the 20th century, the process of seeking employment was also considered an individualistic pursuit, the Internet based approach adds a new dimension. Online tools may provide more power to hiring staff because it allows for them to sort through applicant information in a very systematic and organized fashion. However, if we can accept that this system has become saturated in a technologically bureaucratic system, we then accept that this system has become rationalized and subsequently has the consequence of removing the humanistic element of the job search. Individuals are less often hired based upon an initial impression and decent level of expertise, but rather by how well they inform hiring staff of their traits via a savvy usage of online tools. While it appears that this provides individuals more autonomy and power in the potential to impress potential future employers, it may also feel isolating and discouraging--or as one career counselor once told me, like being in a “black hole” (March 13, 2013).
Although this analysis is focused on how changes to the mechanisms for which individuals seek employment, it is important to remember that these processes are further complicated by the devastation that the last two recessions had on the job economy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the current unemployment rate in the United States is 7.5%, while in October of 2009 the rate peaked at 10% (Labor Department, 2013). Excluding The Great Depression, and years where the unemployment rate rose unexpectedly, the 20th century witnessed unemployment rates that were often below the current unemployment rate. Thus, it’s imperative that this analysis remains observant of the impact that the recent U.S. economic crisis had on job seekers. Thus, the contribution of the last two recessions ought to also be considered alongside this historical analysis.
Summary and Implications
This paper explored how the mechanisms for seeking employment have implications for how individuals find and hold work, hiring staff and firms seek out job candidates, and ultimately how the job market is impacted. This paper analyzes two models: the 20th century model and The Internet based approach. The 20th century model highlights how job seekers often had more face-to-face interaction with hiring managers. In addition, individuals who sought employment networked through a variety of different ties. I examined the 20th century model in relation to Granovetter and Blau’s work in order to illustrate how individuals networked; however, as the analysis progressed, a clear indication of the erosion of the 20th century model becomes clearer. With the advent and widespread utilization of the Internet based model, the relations between actors within the job market system changed dramatically. Networking via online career building tools became more prominent than networking through the ties individuals had in their in-person interactions with their densely knit ties. The presentation of the self also extended beyond an application and resume handed to a hiring manger. Rather, algorithmic technologies replaced these methods, now rendered as obsolete for many positions.
Future research seeks to examine the impact of the emotional process of seeking employment through the Internet based approach. I am interested in whether the perception of the process impacts the trajectory of the job search and subsequently effects the outcome of finding and holding employment. I am additionally interested in how these processes function for hiring staff and firms, and the larger market economy. The implications for understanding how this system work are important, as it may aid in illuminating economic sociology concepts that need further illumination. Two concepts that come to mind are the notion of visibility of job seekers by hiring staff, and the job placement of individuals with particular skill sets and experience. I’m curious as to how the Internet based model impacts a multitude of (un)employment phenomena.
It may be questioned as to why I utilized the concept of prosumerism in order to address how job seekers experience the process of seeking employment via Internet based processes. Because the literature does not address the role of technology in seeking employment, the goal of future research is to determine what impact the Internet may produce on individuals during the job search process. I seek to focus on the trajectory of the job search process in addition to the outcome.
In this regard, I am seeking to contribute to the literature an understanding of how other forms of social structure (i.e., bureaucracies and what Ritzer calls “hegemonic technology”) complicate the experience of being unemployed and seeking employment. Accordingly, the Internet based approach for seeking employment has become instrumental in engaging with hiring staff. Individuals who utilize (and don’t utilize) the Internet for seeking employment are subjected to a process that seems highly bureaucratic, and often less beneficial to individuals who a) don’t have the knowledge of how to utilize these online tools; b) have minimal knowledge of how to utilize these tools, but may not have enough skills to make themselves marketable; c) and even those who have the skills and knowledge of how to utilize these online tools, but remain unemployed because of the complex arrangements of these databases.
In this sense, this process may possess the classic tale of Merton’s manifest and latent functions. On the one hand, individuals are being provided a playground for marketing themselves to hiring staff, which may appear as though the goal of these websites are to provide the optimal amount of autonomy and power for individuals seeking employment. On the other hand, this autonomy and power may be compromised as hiring staff may be provided more power than ever before to be able to choose their candidates in a rationalized, calculated, and arguably dehumanizing manner. Without face-to-face interaction, it’s easier to reject individuals and bypass charismatic job seekers; simultaneously producing a sense of invisibility and hopelessness for job seekers. Where control and command over one’s job search appears to be the goal of these Internet based processes, the control and command is shifted more toward hiring staff. How this process is internalized by individuals who utilize these tools remains to be unknown. It could be argued that the system benefits hiring staff moreover than the individuals who utilize these tools. The goal, then, is to also illustrate how entrepreneurial actors shape fields that often appear to be distinct from the capitalist spirit for innovation. In this regard, we may open the conversation as to how a free market system impacts aspects of life that appear removed from their grasp.
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