How to Get a New Job in 2020? Don’t Apply

Firms fill more than half their jobs through their own searches for ideal candidates

June 8, 2020


Vast numbers of U.S. workers will be searching for new jobs this year due to the economic impacts of COVID-19.

New research from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business suggests being well networked and searchable online will be just as important to landing a new job as actually submitting an application.

In ongoing research about the digitization of the labor market, Fuqua professors Ines Black and Sharique Hasan conducted a nationally representative survey in January of more than 13,000 U.S. workers. They found more than half of hires in the U.S. as of January 2020 resulted from the company’s direct investment in hunting for the right candidate, such as employing recruiters or soliciting referrals from other employees to find the best candidates.

“What this means is firms are hunting for talent, and finding the right candidate is being firm-driven, as opposed to application-driven,” said Black, an assistant professor of strategy. Black and Hasan recently discussed the findings in a live broadcast on LinkedIn (see video above). The data is also detailed in a new working paper, which analyzed millions of job postings from 2012 to 2018 in addition to the January survey.

That survey found more than a third of workers (35 percent) were referred to their current job by an existing employee. Almost 18 percent said a recruiter or headhunter invited them to apply to the job. About 44 percent said they landed their most recent job by applying to an open listing.

“There’s a lot of variation based on the types of jobs being filled and income levels,” Black said. “We find that openings in business and STEM fields are the majority of jobs for which firms are hunting for candidates, as are jobs on the higher end of the income distribution.”

It’s unclear how the pandemic and subsequent job cuts will affect the degree to which firms use recruiters to fill future jobs, they said.

“What we observed in our study is firms have been investing a lot in developing the capabilities to go out and find people,” Hasan said. “That’s unlikely to just go away overnight, because firms have built those capabilities. What may happen is that when the labor market starts picking back up, there will be many more applicants for each job, and it’s going to be even more challenging to set yourself apart, maybe even as a passive candidate.”

This means it could be more important than ever for candidates to have a presence online in job-searching databases and social media such as LinkedIn. Using keywords associated with your industry and skills is essential, Black said.

“Be discoverable and be understandable,” she said. “This means that when a recruiter or manager in human resources looks at your profile, they understand what your specialty is and what your skills are.”

Black and Hasan are collaborating on the working paper with Rembrand M. Koning of Harvard Business School.

This story may not be republished without permission from Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. Please contact for additional information.

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