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In search of a job—But which one? How unemployed people revise their occupational expectations

Written by: Didier Demazière
Published on: Apr 1, 2024

Photo Credit:  Shutterstock /

Conducting a job search implies the identification of a target—an intended job. However, this assumption has been little studied, and just two main conclusions have been drawn, namely: jobseekers have an incentive to adjust their targets to the jobs available, and returning to work tends to lead to occupational downgrading. This article explores how job search experiences shape and alter targets. Biographical interviews were conducted with 57 unemployed people registered with the French public employment service. Ultimately, all of them revise their occupational expectations as, faced with the uncertainties inherent to the job search and experiencing difficulties in reaching their priority targets, they try to adapt and define more realistic goals. Four contrasting processes of expectation revision are used to track these tensions between desirability and realism. In conclusion, we stress the following facts: that unemployed people are flexible and develop rationales in order to adapt to the labour market; that their experience of failure, alongside advice and beliefs arising in the course of the job search feed directly into these revisions, and that these revisions both vary in magnitude and reflect inequalities in the defining process of target jobs.


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