Ask Ariely: On Career Center Incentives, Painful Pricing, and Colorful Communication

Here’s my Q&A column from the WSJ this week  and if you have any questions for me, you can tweet them to @danariely with the hashtag #askariely, post a comment on my Ask Ariely Facebook page, or email them to AskAriely@wsj.com.

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Dear Dan,

I work with liberal arts college students, many of whom don’t use their school’s career services early enough, if ever. What’s the best way to get reluctant students to participate in early career-discovery activities? Is there any way to make this fun or at least less overwhelming?

—Lisa 

One of the challenges here is the perennial problem of “now versus later.” “Now” is at the forefront of our minds, and college students are no exception: What am I going to major in, how can I finish this 30-page paper on time, how can I balance basketball practice with my work-study job? All of these academic, social and financial concerns create cognitive demands right now—and make it hard to focus on career planning, which students tend to think about as years away.

You aren’t likely to convince busy and distracted students to assign a higher priority to the distant future. Instead, you could try to create structures that make career exploration feel like a “now” concern. Could a course require students to interview alumni in related fields at the career center? Could students fulfill certain distribution requirements by visiting the career center each semester? Could the career center pitch its services as tools to help students find summer jobs and internships?

Don’t present the career center as an optional, supplementary service to help find jobs after senior year. Try to match it to students’ immediate needs.

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Dear Dan,

Uber infuriates me every time it declares “surge pricing.” I know that behavioral economics teaches us that framing is important. Would Uber be better off using the term “discounted pricing” during off-peak periods and “regular pricing” during peak periods?

—Paul 

Yes, framing matters a lot. If Uber had its own fleet of cars and was just selling rides, your suggestion would be a great way to limit their customers’ ire. But Uber doesn’t have cars of its own and relies on motivating drivers to show up and offer rides. The same “surge pricing” that angers you appeals to Uber’s drivers, helping the company to get more of them on the road when it needs them.

The ideal framing would be to have Uber call its higher fares “surge prices” for its drivers and “regular prices” for its passengers—but that is manipulative and deceptive, so I wouldn’t suggest it.

As a message to customers, “surge pricing” also compels us to take immediate action. Imagine that you open the app and see that the current price is 1.5 times the usual fare. Do you wait and try again later, or do you worry that the price might leap up to 1.8 times that fare and order your Uber immediately?

Our deep desire to avoid regret—staring at a screen, stranded, as we watch prices soar—is so strong that it usually gets us to press the button even faster. So while customers hate surge pricing, it has important benefits for Uber.

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Dear Dan,

After a recent date, I’ve been wondering whether I should sign my next text to her with the word “love” or with an emoticon of a heart. Which one is she likely to take more seriously?

—Deb 

Emoticons are a wonderful, colorful, rich way to express ourselves. But because emoticons can be interpreted in multiple ways, they are a less clear form of communication. So don’t hide behind the ambiguity of the emoticon. Use the word.

Love,

Dan

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.