Tragic story of a website that tries to reduce unemployment

Aicha Ben Dhiya, Bruno Krapon, Esther Mbeeh, Louis Paul-Delvax, Bertil Picard, Vincent Ponce, Vestal McIntyre 14 June 2022

Unemployment is a chronic and deep-rooted problem in France (Baudchon 2015). Francois Mitterrand came to power in 1981 with a promise to reduce unemployment, only to double it (Sachs and Wyplozs 1986). And over the past 40 years, France’s unemployment rate has been unfavorable compared to that of the United States and its economic counterparts. Outside of France, other European countries experience high levels of unemployment, especially in southern Europe, including Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece (Figure 1).

Figure 1 Unemployment in France, Germany, Italy and the United States, total (percentage of total labor force)

Formula: ILOSTAT Database via International Labor Organization, World Bank.

Unemployment brings with it economic, social and psychological costs, leading France and other countries to try new programs to reduce it.

A great deal of literature examines ways to deal with the forces of the labor market that keep people out of work. For example, Blundell et al. (2004) using variation in eligibility criteria based on field and age shows that a larger program in the UK has shifted employers by about 5 percentage points by providing employers with extensive job support and wage subsidies. Recent meta-analyzes of subsidized employment, training, and job-search assistance programs have positive, if not unequal, effects (Card et al. 2010, 2017).

However, such labor market policies can be costly. In the wake of evidence that labor market friction and inefficiency are responsible for a significant portion of overall unemployment (e.g. Mortensen 1970, Cooper and Kuhn 2020), some recent experiments have attempted to address the informational and behavioral challenges facing job seekers. Examine the face, and ways to relieve them at low cost.

Belt et al. (2019) Test with automated useful advice for job seekers. Working with 300 job seekers in the UK, the researchers evaluated an experimental platform that recommended users alternative occupations and provided information on their labor market situation. The results show that the intervention expands the work set that unemployed workers consider and increases the number of their job interviews.

Altman et al. (2018) Focus on providing information in more detail. In a large-scale experiment in Germany, the research team recently sent out brochures on the harmful effects of unemployment on unemployed people, and found a moderate effect on employment and earnings, concentrated among people at risk of being unemployed for extended periods of time.

Abel et al. (2019) Focus on closing the gap between job seekers’ motives and behavior. They conducted a field test with 1,100 unemployed young people in South Africa and found that job seekers who filled out a plan template subsequently increased the breadth and efficiency of their search, resulting in a significant increase in job offers and employment.

Although these studies had encouraging effects, the programs they tested were designed for research purposes, and researchers were able to enable a higher quality of program content due to their involvement.

A new study of six of us took a different approach by combining personalized recommendations Where To search with more general advice How To search (Ben Dhiya et al. 2022). We scale a program to reach thousands of job seekers designed by a nonprofit in collaboration with the French government employment agency.

In contrast to the aforementioned experiments, the intervention only had a limited effect on job seeker search techniques and had no effect on short- or medium-term re-employment results.

Evaluate a private-public partnership

In 2016, the French employment agency, Pôle emploi, partnered with a private non-profit technology company aimed at using algorithms to provide useful advice to job seekers. The website, Bob Emploi (, does not host job listings, but offers personalized, data-driven advice to job seekers, offering steps to target sectors and locations in their search. Provides by-step planning assistance, and general tips on how to behave during a job interview. Bob Employee engages them with a user-friendly interface, sends them regular reminders and uplifting messages, and encourages them to engage in activities outside of job search that can brighten their outlook, helping to offset the psychological costs of job search. .

Our experiment made an outward difference in the acceptance of Bob Employee among more than 200,000 people who had been registered with the French Public Employment Agency for less than a year and who attended an informative session that included an introduction to the platform.

We conducted follow-up surveys and used Pôle emploi data to track the subject’s employment path for 18 months after the intervention. To the best of our knowledge, this is first-degree experimental evidence of the impact of an actual personal website dedicated to job-search assistance.

The results are cool. Bob Employee’s effects were zero or insignificant in the following results:

  • Spends weekly hours looking for a job
  • Number of job search opportunities (in sector or geographical terms) or number of non-poll employee websites used
  • Number of applications, and the possibility of sending unsolicited applications
  • Correcting the underestimation of job seekers in terms of the time it takes to find a job
  • Participate in self-reported wellness or activity.

Bob Employee had some moderate positive effects on some desired outcomes: job seekers in the medical group were more likely to use their personal and professional networks and follow up with employers after submitting their application (recommended by Bob Employee), and to support their job search feelings. The chances were a bit high.

However, most importantly, there was no effect on any employment results measured based on administrative data.

Furthermore, we can rule out a possible explanation for the depressing effects on employment: that Bob employees managed to reduce people’s use of their existing public job-search assistance services. Instead, the number of Pôle emploi websites used to find job seekers has increased, and their participation in training programs and other programs organized by Pôle emploi has not diminished.

Future directions for online platforms

Due to the large range of tests, our zero effects on employment are precise. It turns out that, at best, Bob Employee can serve as a complement to public job-search assistance services.

The absence of significant impact is an important finding, as Bob Employee was widely acclaimed at launch.1 And is now freely accessible throughout the country. In addition, it represents a growing number of private websites that provide job-search assistance services to unemployed people in many countries.

This leads us to reflect the differences between Bob Employee and the interventions we listed above that have shown positive results – and other types of employment-assistance efforts the government may consider.

On the behavioral front, Bob’s employees do not seem to have the motivational power to send automated messages from employees (e.g. Behaghel et al. 2014). It may be that adding automated features that have been successful in small experiments will also have some effect on the scale to close the objective-behavior gap. However, future interventions should be based on an in-depth understanding of job seekers’ behavior and their needs, in order to maximize their chances of being successfully resolved.

On the data front, our results do not imply that efforts to improve labor market efficiency using rich administrative data and AI algorithms are bound to fail. Instead, one possible explanation for our research is that it is not enough to recommend new locations and sectors for job seekers. Online platforms that provide more precise and customized data and connect job seekers to the actual job listings to match their skills. It will be interesting to see the evaluation of such platforms.


Abel, M, R Burger, E Carranza, and P Piraino (2019), “Bridgeing the intention-behavior gap? The Impact of Planning Prompt on Job Search and Employment “, American Economic Journal: Applied Economy 11 (2): 284-301

Altmann, S, A Falk, S Jäger, and F Zimmermann (2018), “Learning About Job Search: A Field Experiment with Job Seekers in Germany”, Journal of Public Economics 64: 33-49.

Baudchon, H (2015), “France: Unemployment, a Deep-Rooted Problem”, BNP Paribas estimates.

Behaghel, L, B Crépon, and M Gurgand (2014), “Private and Public Provisions of Counseling for Job Candidates: Evidence of a Large Controlled Examination”, American Economic Journal: Applied Economy 6 (4): 142–74.

Belt, M., P. Kircher and P. Mারller (2019), “Providing low-cost job counseling: an experimental study on online counseling”, Review of Economic Studies 86 (4): 1411–1447.

Ben Dhia, A, B Crépon, E Mbih, L Paul-Delvaux, B Picard, and V Pons (2022), “Can a Website Reduce Unemployment? Experimental evidence from France ”, NBER Working Paper 29914.

Blundell, R., M Dias, C Meghir, and J Van Reenen, J. (2004), “Assessing the Employment Impact of a Compulsory Job Search Program”, Journal of the European Economic Association 2 (4): 569–606.

Card, D. J. Cluve and A. Weber (2010), “Active Labor Market Policy Evaluation: A Meta-Analysis”, The Economic Journal 120 (548): F452-F477.

Card, D, J Cluve and A Weber (2018), “What works? A meta-analysis of recent active labor market program evaluations “, Journal of the European Economic Association 16 (3): 894-931.

Cooper, M, and P Kuhn (2020), “Behavioral Job Search”, in Handbook of the Economy of Labor, Human Resources and Population, 1-22. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Mortensen, DT (1970), “A Theory of Wage and Employment Dynamics”, Employment and the microeconomic basis of inflation theory: 167-211.

Sachs, J and C Wyplosz (1986), “The Economic Consequences of President Mitterrand”, Economic policy 1 (2): 261–306.


1 See press coverage here and here.

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