Job Search

Job Search


Important Information About Using Job Search Data

Not all unemployed individuals are job seekers.  While the vast majority of the unemployed are looking for work, this classification also includes respondents who are laid off and waiting for recall as well as those about to start a new job within 30 days.

NLSY79 job search questions provide data that show what methods were used, how intensively respondents searched, and the outcome of these searches. The survey provides data on topics not found in many other key labor market data sets like the Current Population Survey (CPS).  For example, the NLSY79 provides details on job offers rejected while searching, the desired characteristics of the job being sought, and whether the respondent searched while employed in another job.  While every round of the NLSY79 contains questions on job search activities, researchers interested in this area should examine the 1982, 1986, and 1987 surveys, which contained special sections with a large number of job seeking questions. 

Who searches: The NLSY79 asks respondents in various surveys who are both working and not working if they are searching for work. To find most of the questions which determine if a respondent is seeking work, search for questions which contain the phrase "looking for work." This phrase captures all of the employed job search questions plus all non employed job searchers from 1979 to 1993. To capture not employed job seekers after 1993, use the phrase "done anything to find work." 

Methods of Job Search: Respondents are asked not only if they searched for work but are also asked the specific types of activities they used to find work.  Coded activities usually include: checking with a State employment agency; checking with a private employment agency; contacting an employer directly; contacting friends or relatives; placing or answering an ad; and looking in a newspaper. Depending on the specific year and set of survey questions the list of coded activities is sometimes longer than those just mentioned and includes other job search activities like: using a school placement service; taking a civil service exam; contacting an organization such as CETA or the Urban league; checking with a labor union; or asking a teacher for job leads.  In the 1986 and 1987 surveys, job seekers who were not employed were asked to tell interviewers the top three job-search methods they used.  Respondents also ranked these job search methods, allowing researchers to know which method was tried the most.

In 1981, the NLSY79 questionnaire contained an extensive set of time use questions. The time use questions not only covered daily activities but asked roughly 3,300 respondents how long they spent using specific methods of finding work.  The job seeking time use section, which begins at R05173., tracks the number of minutes over the last seven days the respondent used employment services, asked relatives about finding work, answered ads, and a variety of other specific techniques. Combining the results from all these questions results in the total number of minutes spent searching for work in the past week.

Duration of Job Search: Questions for both employed and not employed job seekers in the CPS portions of the questionnaire refer to job search activity over the past four weeks. Even though the questions are only asked to respondents who recently searched, the total amount of time spent searching could be much longer than four weeks. If a respondent states that they were seeking work, the NLSY79 questionnaire probes for how long the respondent has been looking for work. While the specific format changes depending on the survey year, researchers can convert all answers into the number of weeks spent searching.  While the mean length is under 2 months for those employed and around 3 months for those respondents not employed, users are cautioned that a small but significant number of respondents have very long job searches, with durations around two years.

Why Was the Search Started and Stopped: The NLSY79 has extensive information on why respondents started searching and why they stopped. While the exact list of answers varies depending on the survey year, the questionnaires prior to 1994 includes a single question that asks job seekers who were not employed why they were searching for work. Job seekers could state they began a search because they lost their job, quit their previous job, left school, wanted to help the family with money, or a host of other reasons. The reasons were also asked in selected surveys to employed job seekers.

Beginning in 1994, there is no longer a single question that asks seekers who were not employed why they were looking. Instead, the single question is replaced by a sequence (see for example the 1994 sequence R45541.00 - R45543.00), which first asks the respondent's activities before starting their job search, followed by questions which ask respondents how their last job ended. While this sequence of questions does not completely replicate the single question set of answers, combing the information from the sequence provides a relatively close match.

Given that the NLSY79 is a longitudinal survey that tracks, month-by-month, the respondent's labor market status (see the work history section for details on this month-by-month tracking), it is relatively easy to see when a job seeker found a new position.  However, not all job seekers find employment.  The NLSY79 also contains some information on why people are no longer searching for work. For example, in the 1996 CPS section, selected respondents were asked why they were no longer looking for work. Responses included: chance for advancement improved in their current job, could not find a better job, pay increased at their current job, working condition improved at their current job, relocation plans changed, career plans changed, the respondent's financial situation improved, and a layoff ended.

Special Sections: The NLSY79 has periodically added a number of special job search sections to the questionnaire. In the 1982 survey a section entitled "job finding" was added.  This section asked very detailed questions about how the respondents found their current primary job. The section contains the standard high level questions such as: what was the main reason you were looking for work and what methods did you use to find work? 

Beyond these standard questions, the section contains unique job search questions. Respondents are asked to specify exactly how many employers they directly applied to for work; how far they traveled to look for work; and if they moved to take the new job. Additionally, respondents were asked if any specific person helped them to get a job. If a specific person did help them, that person's sex, relationship to the respondent, and degree of help are all quantified by the survey. While most of the job search questions are found under the "Job Search" area of interest, other questions, particularly those that track job search by unemployed respondents, are found in the Current Population Survey areas. These areas are labeled "CPS," "CPS 1994," "CPS 1996," and "CPS 1998."

In the 1986 and 1987 surveys the "gaps between jobs" section was expanded for the male portion of the cohort. For each gap between jobs, respondents were asked about all types of methods used to find work. Then, month-by-month within that gap, respondents were asked the specific search methods used during that shorter time period. Respondents who stated more than three methods were asked to list the three most frequently used. 

Finally, for each of the top three methods the respondent was asked how many job offers each method produced, the highest wage for each method, and if the offer was accepted.  If the person rejected the job offer they were asked why. A partial list of reasons for rejection includes unsuitable working conditions, too many hours, better offer provided, and transportation difficulties.

The employer supplement sections in the 1994 to 2000 surveys contain a number of specific questions about how the respondent found the particular job on which the supplement focuses. Respondents are first asked if they were looking for work when they were offered the job. Then respondents who were looking for work were asked which job search method led to their being offered the job. Finally, respondents were asked if they turned down any other offers before accepting this job and how much those other offers paid.

Hypothetical Jobs: The NLSY79 from 1979 to 1982 included questions about hypothetical job offers. These questions can be found by looking for the word "hypothetical" in the any-word-in-context search. The set of questions in 1979 asked the respondent would they work at $2.50 per hour, $3.50 per hour and $5.00 per hour washing dishes, doing factory work, work cleaning, checking out groceries in a supermarket, cleaning up the neighborhood, making hamburgers, and working in a national park. Additional questions from 1979 to 1982 asked how much money it would take for a person to switch employers if the job was in the same general field. If the person was interested in switching employers the survey asked how many days per week the respondent wanted to work and how many hours per day they would like to be employed at the hypothetical job.

These questions provide information about the respondent's reservation wage, or the minimum pay needed to cause the individual to either switch jobs or join the labor force. Combining this with general labor market indicators found on the NLSY79 data set, such as the local area unemployment rate, enables researchers to understand how the local labor market conditions affect an individual's work force decisions.

Comparison to Other NLS Cohorts: CPS questions are regularly asked of respondents in each cohort regarding job search. Generally, the questions concern the active and passive methods of job search used and the total number of weeks spent actively looking for work. For more precise details about the content of each survey, consult the appropriate cohort's User's Guide using the tabs above for more information.

Survey Instruments and Documentation To quickly see many of the job search questions, pick the "Job Search" area of interest.