The Science & Psychology Behind Job Search

There are seven major decisions people have to make to change jobs. The first step—considering a change—is the hardest by far.

In our recently released report, What Matters to the Modern Candidate, we shared new insights on job seeker behaviour in the talent-driven economy. The study reported that 74% of people in the labour force are either looking or open to a new job. This finding has two important implications for employers. First, it means that truly passive candidates are rare and, second, it debunks the commonly held perception that most candidates are passive, indicating your talent pool is larger than you may think.

Another core finding from the report reveals people are looking for jobs more often than you might think. In fact, 65% of new hires look at new jobs again within three months of starting a new job. And 50% of high-earning hires who make around $100K look at new jobs again within 28 days of being hired.

So what influences people’s decisions to change jobs? These findings prompted us to take a closer look at decision making, and why active and employed candidates may be more receptive to career change today. Here are three research observations we uncovered on the science behind career decision making:

There are seven major decisions people have to make to change jobs

When we think about making an important change, we often go through a series of steps toward making that decision—starting with contemplating the change, then preparing for the change and finally taking an action to carry out the desired change.

With career change, however, the decision-making process may be more involved and stressful.

The first step is considering a change and making the decision to be open to other opportunities. The next series of decisions involves considering your company as a potential employer and evaluating a specific position within your company. After applying for a job, the candidate has to commit to the interview and hiring process, accept an offer and then appear at the new job on the first day of employment.

While these steps are all part of the natural progression toward career change, the first step—considering a change—is the hardest by far. The 74% of people who are actively looking or open to a new job, however, have already done most of the psychological work to prepare themselves for change.

Career decisions are among the most stressful life decisions

After family and health, career events have the biggest impact on people’s stress and happiness. As we can see from the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, career-related events span the entire spectrum of stress, from a change in working hours or conditions to trouble with a boss. Change in responsibilities at work causes the same level of stress as leaving a child at home, and changing to a different line of work, retirement and then dismissal from work are ranked some of the most traumatic potential life events.

The Holmes and Rahe stress scale shows the majority of life events are ranked 0 (low stress) to 65 (high stress) on the scale. Career-related events span the entire spectrum of stress.

Talent professionals help people through moments of career change and bring them into new opportunities. But the stress associated with considering a new job leads people to focus on the risks of a career change and not necessarily the great potential outcomes.

“When weighing up the costs and benefits of a decision, we make two errors. First we overestimate the probability of failure in a new direction because of our negative bias. Second, we underestimate the benefits of change because we fail to imagine or visualize the results of that change in much detail.” —The Career Psychologist, 2014

People feel more confident in the decisions they fully control

When it comes to major purchases, people are more confident in the research they do themselves prior to making the purchase, as opposed to a purchase that results from a sales call. We see the same trend with job seekers: 82% of candidates agree it is important to look at other opportunities before accepting a job offer, and 62% also believe they will be more successful in the role if they found the job themselves and applied versus a job presented by a recruiter.


The science behind decision making and how people consider career changes has a huge impact on the success of your recruitment efforts. To get more insight on how skilled candidates make career decisions today, download Talent Attraction Study: What Matters to the Modern Candidate

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