Employers recruit workers and individuals seek jobs using a variety of methods. Job search methods are often categorized as either formal or informal. Formalized search can operate via media advertisements and help-wanted signs, or can take place in any number of public or private intermediary organizations (e.g., union halls, schools, employment agencies, and special job search and placement programs run through welfare offices, community organizations, and private agencies). Whereas some of these intermediary organizations screen and refer candidates to firms, others provide job search training with or without referrals. Still others serve primarily as clearinghouses and phone-banks — passing information to job seekers and providing the means for them to answer advertisements or place cold calls to businesses (which may or may not have positions available). Intermediaries vary as well in the extent to which they are developed to serve employer versus job seeker needs. Employers and job searchers who rely on informal methods, on the other hand, act on information from personal intermediaries, such as friends or acquaintances, neighbors, relatives, or current employees of a firm. When taking advantage of informal recruitment, employers typically encourage their current employees to refer potential applicants for positions, and job seekers turn to individuals in their social networks for information regarding job openings.
In addition to these formal and informal strategies, job seekers frequently approach firms directly without the help of a formal or informal go-between. For example, a job seeker might send an unsolicited application to a firm or walk into an establishment with no prior information about job availability or skill requirements. Direct applications and walk-ins are sometimes considered types of informal methods,(6) but they are treated as distinct here because neither direct applications nor walk-ins allow any pre-screening of candidates or jobs. Finally, in some cases, no active search is carried out at all. In fact a relatively large number of jobs are filled by non-searchers and non-recruiting employers.(7) Although an under-studied phenomenon, the available data suggest that falling into a job without an active search occurs both for individuals previously outside of the labor force, as well as for employed individuals who move into new jobs.
Neither job seekers nor employers limit their searches exclusively to one of the above strategies. During periods of high unemployment, job seekers reportedly increase the number of search methods they use(8) whereas during labor shortages employers may accelerate their recruitment efforts by employing multiple search strategies, even those that would be otherwise less preferred.(9) In particular, search via formal organizations is often viewed as a last resort strategy by both sides, and is used by job seekers primarily when jobs are scarce and by employers during tight labor markets.(10)