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Taking stock

May 5, 2009


Connie Wanberg.

Connie Wanberg

U researcher hones tool for unemployed job seekers

By Rick Moore

For the tens of thousands of Minnesotans who have joined the ranks of the unemployed, finding a new job can boil down to using the various tools at their disposal, whether that be browsing job postings in the newspaper, using the Internet to post a resume and search for listings, or networking with friends and acquaintances.

The latest work by University of Minnesota researcher Connie Wanberg is leading to the refinement of one of those tools—a self-assessment inventory called "Getting Ready for Your Next Job" (YNJ, for short).

The inventory, which takes only about 15 minutes to complete, is designed to provide unemployed job seekers with insight into various aspects of their job search—even illuminating areas in which they might be falling short of the mark—so that they're able to modify their search techniques accordingly.

Wanberg, the director of the U's Center for Human Resources and Labor Studies at the Carlson School of Management, is getting ready to unveil a new edition of her prototype inventory that's been used for by the State of Minnesota for about five years.

The updated inventory is described in a paper that's been submitted to the journal  Personnel Psychology, and Wanberg hopes to have it published this summer. Already, others are anxious to use her work. The state of Kansas has expressed interest in using the new inventory, she says, and the U.S. Department of Labor is eager to pass it on to other states.

"I feel it is a time saver, as we have much of the information we need before sitting down with them," says one counselor. "It is also nice to say to the applicant, 'I see that you checked (whatever) and I was wondering how we can help with that.' It breaks the ice, so to speak, with the applicant."

Wanberg says she's happy to have created and updated the YNJ inventory, but notes that's it's just the start of a sometimes arduous process for job seekers.

"What we've heard from job seekers is that it's helped put everything in one spot for them and it's helped [highlight] some areas that they weren't necessarily thinking about," she says. "It helps inventory for them the different things that they can do in their job search and different levels of effort they might put in."

"The completion of this project is particularly timely given our current economic climate," says Jim Hegman, the Minnesota Unemployment Insurance Program performance and outreach director. "Aside from providing a clearer road map for what to do next, applicants report that the self-directed nature of the assessment also helps them feel that they are taking back control of their lives after the shock of being laid off."

One section asks users how confident they feel about being able to do "a good job" on 11 different job-seeking tasks, including writing a good cover letter, presenting yourself well in an interview, using networking or personal contacts in your job search, and negotiating salary or other terms of employment. The answer options are "Not at All Confident," "Somewhat Confident," or "Highly Confident." As with other sections in the inventory, there is a tip for job seekers at the bottom of the section; in this case: "Did you answer 'Not at All Confident' to any of these items? Your local WorkForce Center may have classes that can help...."

And the page ends with a note of encouragement: "Keep working on your job search each day!"

In the testing phase, a group of job seekers from a nearby state were asked to evaluate the usefulness of the inventory, and responded with very favorable ratings. Said one, "I may not be as prepared to do a great job search and land a job as I thought. It forced me to think about my resume, my skill level, classes I could take or just ... are my feelings normal?"

Minnesota's WorkForce Center counselors appear to be happy with the new inventory, too, in terms of its shorter length, more accessible reading level, and usefulness to their work with job seekers.

"I feel it is a time saver, as we have much of the information we need before sitting down with them," says one counselor. "It is also nice to say to the applicant, 'I see that you checked (whatever) and I was wondering how we can help with that.' It breaks the ice, so to speak, with the applicant."

"It allows them a place to start a conversation with people," Wanberg adds. "They can just look at a profile right there, and then start by saying, 'Oh here's an area, let's talk about it.'"

Wanberg's research project—undertaken with Zhen Zhang of Arizona State University and U graduate research assistant Erica Diehn—was funded by a grant from the  Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. Wanberg has completed a variety of other projects related to the psychological experience of unemployment, the prediction of speed of reemployment, and the dynamics of job search.

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