Applying Behavioral Insights to Inform Job Search: Evaluating Effects of a Behaviorally Informed Intervention on Job Search Online in West Michigan

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Applying Behavioral Insights to Inform Job Search: Evaluating Effects of a Behaviorally Informed Intervention on Job Search Online in West Michigan

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Publication Info

In 2017, the Chief Evaluation Office funded an initiative to assist with Behavioral Interventions (BI) research, including developing rigorous impact evaluation design options for studying innovative program improvement strategies. In 2019, in partnership with the Employment and Training Administration the BI team began investigating behavioral barriers to successful online job search. Most recently, in 2021 the BI team partnered with West Michigan Works (WMW)! to complete this trial study, which aimed to answer:

  • How might applying insights from behavioral science lead people to expand their job search?
  • Does providing job seekers with salient information about job postings lead them to engage with a larger number of postings or wider range of industries?
  • What were the key features of the context in which this intervention was implemented?
  • How did website visitors interact with the new web page? What were their perceptions about benefits and drawbacks of the new design features?

Key Takeaways:

  • Informed by existing evidence, the study team hypothesized that providing a short list of relevant occupations alongside each job listing on a webpage would lead job seekers/website visitors to broaden their search by viewing listings they would have otherwise passed over based on the job title.
  • In contrast to researchers’ hypothesis, the study found that this behavioral intervention led website visitors to be 4 percentage points less likely to click on a job listing and to click on an average of 0.1 fewer listings.
  • The intervention showed no meaningful impact on the number of industries a website visitor browsed in, nor did it affect their likelihood of making return visits to the site.
  • Qualitative results from interviews with five website visitors suggest this small sample of West Michigan Works! customers found the new information helpful in searching efficiently and considering job descriptions they might have overlooked. They also reported using the new information to quickly focus their attention on what they believed to be the most promising openings. This suggests that job seekers may have used the new information to refine rather than expand their search.
  • A small sample of four WMW staff felt that the research partnership complemented and supported their organizational culture of continuous improvement.
  • This study demonstrates the potential of using web-based experiments to test behavioral interventions that could help job seekers, while the job market was recovering from unemployment spikes due to COVID-19. Further research could help distinguish between interventions that promote efficient search and those that narrow search without improving efficiency, in different labor markets and contexts.