White-collar jobs are in high demand. These jobs provide higher salaries, require a college degree, and give people greater opportunity to advance their careers. However, attaining a white-collar job is often difficult. According to a survey conducted by job search site Glassdoor, a white-collar job will attract an average of 250 applications, with only five of these applicants receiving interviews, and only one applicant receiving a job offer. Given how difficult the job search process is in the white-collar labor market, organizational researchers have dedicated studies to examining what factors lead to more (or less) successful job searches.
THE JOB SEARCH PROCESS
Recent research (Fang & Saks, 2020) examined factors that may affect job search intensity. Job search intensity is defined as the frequency with which people engage in job search activities (such as attending networking events or applying for jobs) despite setbacks and counterproductive emotions. People with higher job search intensity tend to receive more interviews and job offers. However, this success may vary. For example, one job seeker may be higher in job search intensity but not secure a job, while another job seeker with lower job search intensity may be more efficient and receive many interviews. Whether job search intensity leads to job search success may ultimately depend on certain characteristics and behaviors of the job seeker.
The authors propose that job seekers with an upper-class background have greater economic, social, and cultural resources that job seekers from working-class backgrounds may not have access to. Additionally, upper-class job seekers benefit from certain stereotypes. For example, they may be seen as more competent due to the high-status hobbies they engage in, such as golf, travel, and art. Taken together, upper-class job seekers’ resources and social status may give them an advantage over equally qualified people from working-class backgrounds. Job seekers from working-class backgrounds may also feel less confident in the white-collar labor market compared to job seekers from upper-class backgrounds. Working-class people grow up in different environments, and develop different hobbies, values, habits, and communication styles compared to upper-class job seekers. White-collar employers may view these differences as a “lack of fit.”
RESULTS OF THE STUDY
To examine the influence of class background, the researchers conducted two studies. In study one, 344 business students were surveyed at a large top-ranked Canadian university. In study two, a different group of 364 active job seekers at the same university were surveyed. Across the two studies, the results demonstrated that class background is an important factor in job searching. Study one found that participants’ parental income strengthened the relationship between job search intensity and job search success. This means that upper-class job seekers had more success in the job search process compared to working-class job seekers. Job seekers from upper-class backgrounds also received more job interviews and more job offers compared to working-class job seekers.
Further, results suggest that working-class job seekers are less effective in their job search because they engage in less effective search strategies. Specifically, working-class job seekers were found to use a more trial-and-error approach to the job search—applying to positions that were related and unrelated to their area of specialty. However, working-class job seekers that were more hopeful, resilient, and optimistic relied less on these trial-and-error approaches over time.
The results from this study suggest that job seekers from an upper-class background are more successful in their job search compared to job seekers from working-class backgrounds. There are practical steps that universities can take to help students from working-class backgrounds succeed in the job-search process. Holding mock career fairs, interviews, and other professional development simulations may aid in preparing working-class job seekers for what to expect in real-life situations. Further, specific guidance from career counselors in how to navigate the job search process—given a student’s major—would be beneficial to help job seekers from working-class backgrounds narrow their search. In all, universities should strive to provide their students with strategies that aid students in their job search process.
Fang, R. T., & Saks, A. M. (2021). Class advantage in the white-collar labor market: An investigation of social class background, job search strategies, and job search success. Journal of Applied Psychology, 106(11), 1695–1713.
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