Behavioral Job Search

  • Michael Cooper
  • Peter KuhnEmail author
Living reference work entry


Certain observed behaviors of job seekers are hard to explain with standard search theory. For example, job seekers reduce their reservation wages over time when searching from a known wage distribution, exhibit spikes and drops in search effort when unemployment benefits change, and persistently hold inaccurate beliefs about their job prospects. This chapter reviews the literature on behavioral explanations of job search behaviors like these, including reference dependence, present bias, locus of control, cognitive errors and heuristics, and self-image concerns.

Reference-dependent preferences may explain spikes and drops in search effort when unemployment benefit levels change if workers slowly adjust to new levels of income. Additionally, reference dependence may play a role in forming reservation wages during search if workers treat past wages as reference points. Present bias can impact search effort and job offer acceptance decisions: effort is costly now but pays off later, and rejecting a low wage offer today in hopes of a better offer later requires patience. Locus of control refers to one’s belief in the ability to control outcomes in one’s life and has implications for search effort decisions – exerting search effort is only worthwhile if it’s expected to pay off, and reduced feelings of self-efficacy over the search spell can lead to reductions in effort. Search problems are complex and cognitively difficult to solve even in simplified theoretical or laboratory versions, so cognitive errors and heuristics likely lead to some suboptimal search behavior in the field. Job search provides repeated feedback about one’s skills and attractiveness in the labor market, so self-image concerns may lead to biased signal processing, such as updating search strategies too slowly after repeated rejections, or to information avoidance, like quitting search to avoid rejections altogether.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of California, Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Marie Claire Villeval
    • 1
  1. 1.GATECNRS – University of LyonEcullyFrance

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