Poster Paper: Does National Service Impact Employability for Youth? a Field Experiment

Friday, November 4, 2016
Columbia Ballroom (Washington Hilton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jodi Benenson1, Felicia M. Sullivan2 and Noorya Hayat2, (1)University of Nebraska, Omaha, (2)Tufts University

An emerging body of literature finds strong evidence that volunteering or enrolling in service-related programs like YouthBuild can affect employment opportunities for young people (CIRCLE, 2012; Flanagan & Levine, 2010; Spera et al., 2015). However, these correlations do not prove causation for three primary reasons: 1) young people who volunteer may have personality traits or other external influences that may explain why they succeed economically, 2) service programs may provide other features that may explain their benefits, such as social networks and valuable skills/habits for the job market, and 3) young people may actually obtain valuable skills but not be able to demonstrate those skills to potential employers. There is, in fact, some evidence that hiring managers see volunteering as relevant experience to consider when making employment decisions (Day & Devlin, 1998; Deloitte, 2013); however, much of the research in this area is based on surveys of managers who may saythey want to hire volunteers even though volunteering may not actually matter in reality.

This paper builds on this previous work and employs a randomized experiment to answer the question: What is the effect of listing national service on one’s resume on receiving a job interview? Previous research has successfully used job application materials to uncover labor market biases and discrimination related to factors such as race (Bertrand & Mullainathan, 2004) and disability (Ameri et al., 2015), but has not investigated the impact of national service. Following the methods of these two studies, we used systematically varied fictitious resumes and cover letters as the stimuli to explore the probability that job candidates with or without national service record would get a call back for a job interview. The jobs were confined to a representative sample of administrative- and sales-oriented jobs in the nonprofit and private sectors in Boston and Chicago. The fictitious applicants varied along four dimensions: national service status, industry, quality of the resume, and educational experience. We randomly assigned a set of job criteria and skills with each condition to ensure that the experimental and control group resumes have the same amount of variability in resume quality. We also randomly assigned covariates including race and gender (by use of name) and class (by use of zip codes) for each resume. Resume and cover letter packets were randomly sent to a sample of 6,000 employers selected through five online advertising portals including and

This paper will provide three specific contributions to the field. First, this research has the potential to strengthen the case for governments at all levels – as well as the private sector – to expand support for volunteer service as a strategy for improving economic prosperity and inclusion. Second, this study could also provide a strong argument for individuals to seek volunteer experience as a step toward their own employment. Finally, by varying the volunteer experiences and how they are presented on a resume, we can yield practical advice for volunteers and former volunteers about how to present themselves on the job market.