Job search, information literacy, and the need for an information science perspective

A colleague sent me this article, which is a summary of research findings suggesting that less than half of young people in Scotland are successful at finding a job online. Perhaps unsurprisingly, those from disadvantaged backgrounds have fared the worst, and are less likely to have asked a professional for assistance.

For those of us with a background in library and information science, this will not come as a surprise. The issue here, it seems, is that being able to operate ICTs does not necessarily equate to being information literate:

Information literacy: “Knowing when and why you need information, where to find it, and how to evaluate, use and communicate it in an ethical manner” (CILIP, 2016).

My own research findings, at this preliminary stage, also point in the same direction. That is to say, insofar as using social media to find job search information is concerned, people aged 16-24 are not necessarily confident in their abilities to do so.

This is why I would argue that more job search research needs to be conducted from an information science perspective – perhaps now more than ever. As stated by Wanberg (2012, p.3), “job search has become so pervasive and frequent that it is now considered to be an integral part of work”.

People have almost innumerable information sources from which they can access job search information (not only job adverts, but CV help, interview advice, company profiles etc.). This information can be critical to their career development, and the choices they make – now, and in future job searches. As such, understanding job search information behaviours should be a priority.



Post survey data considerations

I have finally gathered a substantial number of responses to my survey questionnaire on job search and social media. The survey was aimed at 16-24 year olds living in Scotland who are currently looking for a job. It has taken me literally months get there, and there have been plenty of trials and tribulations that should make for a good blog post or two in the near future. Maybe somebody out there can learn from my experiences.


In the meantime though, here are a few things I need to think about as I proceed to quantitative data analysis:

1. What is the consequence of having a heterogeneous sample? One of my supervisors questioned me about this on numerous occasions when I was building the survey questionnaire. Had I considered the nature of the group I was sampling? Did I really want to include all 16-24 year old jobseekers?

Well, for me, the answer is still the same now as it was then (which I suppose is a good thing) – yes and no. Yes, because I want my research to tackle the concept of networking at a broader level, and to provide a platform of knowledge from which to probe the networking behaviours of specific categories of jobseekers. No, because it means having to analyse a complex and multi-layered sample.

Within the 16-24 age range, I have picked up responses from people with hugely varying education levels (No qualifications > PhD qualifications), employment statuses, and job search goals. The latter of these is quite significant – some people have multiple goals e.g. I would like a job in my field but am also willing to settle for any job that pays. Making sense of these nuances, and how they have impacted upon networking behaviours during job search, is likely to be time consuming.

2. How representative is my survey sample? It is almost certain that there will be some bias. However, with regard to the general population of young jobseekers in Scotland (or anywhere), I would argue that sampling bias is unavoidable. I will present my argument in a future blog post, because I think the topic merits some discussion in isolation.

There are a few basics to consider though, in terms of demographics. For example, is there a proportionate representation of unemployed respondents? What about people who consider themselves to have a disability, or who were born outside of Scotland – have they a representative voice? To answer these questions, I need to compare my figures with those in general population surveys.

3. What is the data telling meI suppose this is the fundamental question that any researcher would have to consider this stage. Does my data help me to answer my research questions? What trends are emerging from the data? Do they require further attention in the final qualitative element of my field work? To a large extent, the quality of the data I have gathered will depend on the quality of the questions I have asked.




Post ISIC: some conference thoughts

Zadar is idyllic (see below), and was a beautiful setting for what turned out to be a very engaging and enjoyable ISIC 2016 conference .


I attended the doctoral workshop on Tuesday 20th September, which took place immediately prior to the conference proper (Wednesday – Friday). Having been allocated into a group with another 5 research students at various stages of the PhD process, I gave a 10 minute presentation of my project and was given some extended feedback by two distinguished academics in the information science field. This conversation focused on problems with collecting data from elusive sample groups (i.e. young jobseekers). I have encountered some difficulties with this in recent months, and was given some very useful advice.


At the conference itself I presented a poster of my project (see below), and gave two minute long elevator pitches (one about my topic in general, and one specific to the poster). During the poster presentation session I spoke to Professor Tom Wilson, a central figure in the field of information science, who has developed the theoretical framework which underpins my research on the networking behaviours of young jobseekers (A general model of information behaviour). Speaking to Professor Wilson was a highlight of the conference for me. I have read so many of his papers and have appropriated his ideas to make sense of job search, so it was a timely opportunity to hear his take on what I am attempting to do with my study.


It was a pleasure to listen to so many other people from the field discussing their information seeking projects. However, the paper that really piqued my interest was the following: Lynne McKechnie, Roger Chabot, Nicole Dalmer, Heidi Julien and Cass Abbott. Writing and reading the results: the reporting of rigour strategies in information behaviour research as evident in the published proceedings of the biennial ISIC conferences, 1996–2014.

The paper presents an analysis of the published papers in the proceedings of the biennial ISIC conferences, dating back 20 years. What was notable from the results of the study was the lack of reporting of rigour strategies by the authors, with regards to the methodological approaches employed. It was a timely reminder for me to be thorough and as transparent as possible when it comes to relaying my methods – a chapter of the thesis I will be writing up over the next 2/3 months.
The conference was a great success, and extremely well organised/co-ordinated. A real credit to the University of Zadar and the organising committee. And it will be difficult to replicate these scenes.

ISIC conference 2016

Now that the curtain has drawn on a rather mediocre summer here in Scotland (in terms of the weather, that is), I am thankful for the opportunity to chase some autumnal sunshine on the Adriatic coast in the coming week.

It’s not all sun, sea and sand though. The trip centres around the 2016 “Information Seeking in Context” conference at the University of Zadar, Croatia. My contribution to the event will be at the doctoral workshop on the Tuesday, and the presentation of an academic poster on the Wednesday (pictured below).


This should be a great opportunity for me to showcase my work, which slots neatly into the theme of the conference. The study of networking jobseekers provides an information seeking context which has yet to be explored from the theoretical perspective of information behaviour theory. As such, it is of great interest to me to be critiqued by others in the field, particularly as I move into the latter stages of the PhD.

My project is gathering momentum. Soon I will be finished collecting data, and will be pushing forward to the analysis and writing up stages. My grip on the topic is definitely tightening. I’m looking forward to sharing some of the findings in the near future, and asserting my contribution to knowledge in the fields of job search and information science.

I will also be joined at the conference by my Centre for Social Informatics colleagues Iris Buunk, Lyndsey Jenkins, and Frances Ryan.

Interview for PhD adventures podcast

Alicja Pawluczuk from the Centre for Social Informatics here at ENU has started a podcast to accompany her blog, “PhD adventures”. The first episode of the podcast features me answering questions about my PhD experience so far, self-discipline/self-compassion during the PhD, and (the seemingly pervasive in the community of academic researchers) imposter syndrome.

You can find the first episode by clicking here.

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Image by: Alicja Pawluczuk,

The conversation was recorded at the end of a day of PhD writing hosted by Alicja, which was attended by me and another of my CSI colleagues, Iris Buunk. The actual process of writing can be surprisingly difficult, and requires some dedicated time and focus to get it underway – that’s why I think these writing initiatives are a great idea.

To give you an idea of what a PhD writing group is all about, have a look at this blog post by Frances Ryan (also of the CSI), who along with Iris, has co-created and co-ordinated a series of Write Now sessions at ENU for PhD students and academics alike.


PhD field work


So I have entered the field.

Since December I started collecting data via one-to-one interviews with jobseekers and careers advisors. However, I have had a lot of other things going on in the intervening time (writing papers, conferences, some other RA work). So it has only been in the last few weeks that I have gone nuclear, pulling as many strings as possible to round up a sample.

Not so long ago another PhD student told me that a difficulty of the field work stage is that people treat you like the plague when you ask for their help. As it transpires, this is not a million miles away from the truth. Fortunately for me I got by with a fair bit of dogged persistence, and the benevolence of a small band of friends, acquaintances and strangers.

In the initial stage I only intended to do about 12 interviews (9 jobseekers & 3 careers advisors). I still have one or two meetings scheduled, but it looks as though the final  sample will consist of about 4 careers advisor interviews, 8 jobseeker interviews, and 2 jobseeker focus groups (with a combined total of 12 jobseekers).

Importantly, my sample is quite diverse. I am aiming for a population of 16-24 year olds in Scotland. The participants so far have ranged those ages, are almost split down the middle in terms of gender, have a broad mix of education levels, and reside in at least 5 or 6 different local authority areas (including areas outside the “central belt“).

The range is simply to gain an understanding of networking behaviours from a variety of standpoints, without impressing my own values and experience on the participants. I haven’t fully analysed the data, but some of the findings are very interesting. In fact, I think they justify the use of a qualitative methods as a starting point of the study; not least because they have put paid to many of my assumptions.

In terms of the careers advisors, the interviews have been very conversational. I have spoken to professionals working in different contexts, with quite different approaches. A lot of the conversations have been geared towards understanding their roles, and crucially, what advice they give to jobseekers on networking and social media.

Once the interviews are over (probably within a couple of weeks), it will be a case of analysing the results, and gearing towards a survey questionnaire. Watch this space.



Kicking off 2016 in (a mildly frantic) style at the IDIMC conference

Returning to work after the Christmas holidays can be difficult. Instead of being frozen in a time vacuum, work tends to mount in your absence, unleashing itself in a mini-crescendo as you open your Outlook mailbox to be confronted with an unrelenting barrage of responsibilities.

Fortunately in my case, there was no time for lamentation at the grim coal face. I had work to do for the IDIMC conference at Loughborough University, where I was to present my paper entitled “Social networking sites and employment status: an investigation based on Understanding Society data”.


I travelled to the conference with fellow PhD students Frances Ryan and Iris Buunk, and research supervisor Professor Hazel Hall. All things considered, it was a very successful 2 days for me and my CSI colleagues.

Frances won prizes for the best conference paper (open to all) and for the best 5-minute-madness presentation (open to PhD students wishing to showcase their work). Not only that, but Iris won the best poster (open to all). Combined, this was a fairly remarkable achievement given that those awards constituted a clean sweep of the spoils.

Needless to say I was very pleased for my workmates, who have both worked very hard on their studies over the previous months. You can see their blog posts about the event here and here.

On a personal level, I was very happy about my own contribution to the event. My paper presentation went smoothly, and I feel as though I communicated its purpose and relevance to my overall research project. My 5-minute-madness slot was also very useful (you can see me presenting it in the photograph above), as it gave me an opportunity to discuss my research project on a conversational basis, and to emphasise the benefits of employing an information behaviour theory perspective to the study of job search. I felt this was important, as job search theory is not an area that has been studied widely in the field of information science.

Contrary to the fear-inducing new year expectations, it has been a very welcome start to 2016. Many thanks to the organisers of the conference and to all the delegates for creating a warm and supportive environment. Also, thanks to my supervisors and co-authors Hazel, Robert and Peter for their continued support.