A group of researchers from the University of Waterloo have determined that providing meaningful work and outlining it in a job posting can help employers develop a competitive advantage because students and young people in general tend to become more interested in the role.

Detailed postings are especially beneficial for organizations that are still developing brand recognition or working with a smaller budget.

“Job postings with student and youth-oriented signals, such as links to meaningful work, enhance job attraction by reframing how young people think about roles,” says Judene Pretti, director of Waterloo’s Work-Learn Institute (WxL). “While this isn’t a call for organizations to change their fundamental values to improve their pool of applicants, it’s definitely a compelling new insight into what organizations might have previously believed would attract the next generation to job opportunities.”

Employers look to recruit talented young people, but many postings don’t necessarily reflect their interests. “Signaling theory” suggests aligning postings with young people’s interests enhance attractiveness of to the job.

Results from the study confirm that “student-oriented job advertisements” were found to be more attractive than traditional job advertisements (which generally feature location, expected tasks, basic description of the organization).

The research looked beyond factors such as pay and location as part of the postings, instead looking at symbolic aspects of the role. These symbolic aspects included the opportunity to learn new things, connection to academic studies and career path and the ability to make a positive impact.

The more detailed the plan about the symbolic aspects, the higher the application quality received from co-op students.

As part of the study, researchers surveyed co-op math and engineering students from a Canadian university in the process of interviewing for a role. The students responded to a hypothetical job posting.

Implications from the research conclude that employers and educators who support students and young people can benefit by understanding what they are looking for in work experiences. When understood, employers can better design and promote meaningful work.

Signaling ‘student-oriented’ job opportunities enhances job attractiveness in work-integrated learning programs” can be read in Higher Education Research and Development.

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