When looking for a job, what really happens when candidates disclose their wage history to a prospective employers? Is it different for women? And what’s the actual science behind job hunting? Laura Gee ’04, associate professor of economics at Tufts University, addressed these questions when she returned to Barnard on October 17, 2019, to give a talk titled “Salary Disclosure and Hiring: Field Experimental Evidence from a Two-Sided Audit Study.”

With the gender wage gap finally getting the attention it warrants, Gee has become a go-to expert for media outlets, such as Marketwatch, where she discussed how companies can hire more women, and Fast Company and Academic Minute, in which she explained how social media connections can help with finding jobs. In this “Break This Down” interview, Gee shares the science behind job hunting, the importance of social connections, and strategies that companies can use to better diversify their staff.

How do you study the science behind job hunting?

A new and exciting way I’ve been able to study job finding is to use information from places like LinkedIn and Facebook. Before the widespread adoption of these platforms, researchers had to rely on smaller surveys to find out things like who is unemployed, who has a job, and did someone get help from a friend to find their job. Now we can observe the answers to those questions on Facebook or LinkedIn because people using these platforms list their current and past employers, and we can see if they had some previous connection to the employer through a preexisting connection on the platform.

What don’t people know about using social connections to find a job?

I think that people don’t always know how best to use their network of connections to find a job.  You always hear people saying you need to network, but no one tells you whether you should concentrate on asking for help from your numerous weaker connections or from your small group of stronger connections. In my studies, a weaker connection is a friend you don’t often interact with on Facebook or you don’t share a ton of mutual friends with on Facebook. Using that definition and data from Facebook, I’ve found that most people end up working with someone who they are very weakly connected to. So with that information in hand you might think, I only need these weaker connections to help me find a job!

But hold on, because something else I’ve found is that most people’s social networks have a ton of these weaker connections and very few stronger connections. So one of the reasons people end up working with their weaker connections is that most people have a ton of weaker ties and only a few stronger ties in their social network. In fact, when I control for the number of these weaker connections in your social network, my work suggests you’re more likely to end up working with one of your stronger ties. So when using your network of connections, if you’re only going to reach out to one of your connections, my work suggests you should reach out to a single stronger connection rather than a weaker one.

How can social media be a powerful tool for job hunters?

Social media and networking websites make it much easier to maintain contact with a large number of people. This makes it less costly for a job hunter to reach out to all their contacts during a job search. Before websites like LinkedIn or Facebook, you’d have to call or send a personalized email to every contact, and that would take a lot of time — time that a job hunter might better spend on refining their résumé or crafting a cover letter. So a quick, easy, and powerful thing job hunters can do is post a message for all their contacts to see on social media announcing they are looking for a job. One never knows which of their contacts might know of a great opening, and social media makes it easier to let people know you’re looking.

What are some strategies companies can use to increase diversity on their teams?

There are many things companies can do to increase diversity, but one very simple thing I’ve discovered in my research is that if a company wants to increase the number of female applicants, the company can do so by including more information on their job postings. Why?  Women tend to like certainty more than men in various settings. [Check out Gee’s TEDx talk for examples.] Knowing that women prefer certainty to ambiguity, a company can increase the certainty about the type of job by adding more information, like the current number of applicants, on their job postings.

Barnard experts explain.