Why Focused Job Searches Result in Happier Workers Credit: Job Search Image via Shutterstock

The unemployed may doing themselves a disservice by trying to broaden their job prospects by looking for work in fields and industries in which they don't have experience, new research shows.

In a study scheduled to be presented at the upcoming annual meeting of theAcademy of Management, researchers found that having a flexible approach to the job search process leads to underemployment, defined as being hired for a job for which the candidate is over-qualified, which in turn results in more negative job attitudes.

"Having negative job attitudes may induce individuals to leave their jobs and become unemployed again," the study's authors, Sarah Vansteenkiste, MarijkeVerbruggen, and Luc Sels of the University of Leuven in Belgium, wrote."In this way, a flexible job search could cause one to obtain a less sustainable job and career path."

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Researchers said the prevailing notion in career research suggests that traditional, steady career paths guided by employers have increasingly been replaced by so-called '"protean" and "boundaryless" careers, where the onus rests on individuals themselves and where industry boundaries are blurred and can easily be crossed.

As part of the study, researchers analyzed the impact of flexible job search in three aspects of employment: job content, job pay/hierarchical level and commuting time. They also surveyed more than 300 selected unemployed individuals who managed to land jobs in the six-month period covered by the study.

Researchers found that on all three dimensions — skills, pay/hierarchy and commuting — flexibility in the job search was associated with underemployment in the individual's next job, which in turn was associated with significantly poorer job fit, job satisfaction and job engagement and a significantly greater wish to find another job.

By far, the most negative impact on job attitudes researchers found came from lowered pay and position, leading the authors to note the difference from past research, which suggested that pay level had only a moderate influence on job attitudes.

"It seems ironic that in some prior research pay has turned up as a favorite point of flexibility among job seekers," Vansteenkiste said. "Our study suggests that perhaps it ought to be the last item one is flexible about rather than the first."

The researchers said based on the study's results, managers should be cautious when promoting or obliging people to search flexibly and keep in mind that this type of search can have negative effects on unemployed job seekers' job attitudes.

"Underemployment research suggests that people do not leave their substandard jobs easily and that arriving in a substandard job may lock individuals in a downward path," the study's authors wrote.

Vansteenkiste said this is the second study in which the researchers found negative effects to taking a flexible job search strategy.

"In an earlier study, we found that greater flexibility leads to fewer job offers, and now we find that it leads to problems when people manage to land jobs," Vansteenkiste said. "Hopefully, the conventional wisdom is not so strong on this subject that job seekers will fail to appreciate that, whatever the benefits of flexibility, it has definite downsides."

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