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Special Report On Talent Acquisition TechnologyLogging Off Of Job Boards

July 16, 2009
Related Topics: Internet, Candidate Sourcing, Tools
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Paul Whitney has about had it with job boards. Whitney, vice president of human resources at data networking equipment company Infinera, has stopped buying job ads on online job boards, with the exception of limited postings at Monster.com for positions like entry-level accountants.

Sunnyvale, California-based Infinera needs highly technical talent, such as optical engineering specialists. In the past two years, Whitney found job boards were filling just 5 percent of his openings despite the fact that trolling through résumés from major job boards took up about 25 percent of his recruiters’ time.

Infinera now concentrates on finding passive candidates—those not actively seeking a new job—through a combination of employee referrals and social networking tools such as LinkedIn. The firm’s annual spending on job boards has dropped from tens of thousands of dollars annually to a few thousand dollars. Job boards “are just too generic to be useful for specific skill sets,” Whitney says.

Whitney’s plight is one reason job boards face challenging times, and Infinera’s new focus reflects a shifting landscape in online recruiting. Organizations that once relied on general-purpose job boards are turning to alternative strategies, including social networking sites, search engine marketing and niche job sites. In a May study by research firm AIM Group, nearly 45 percent of recruiters surveyed said they used networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook with mixed or great results.

    Such experimentation owes partly to the recession, which is prompting firms to look for less-expensive recruiting methods. The economic downturn also means fewer jobs to advertise, and therefore skimpier revenues at traditional sites like Monster and CareerBuilder. Both vendors reported sharply lower results for the first quarter of this year.

Still, the job board giants aren’t likely to disappear overnight. They say they’re changing with the times, with improvements such as social networking features, enhanced search tools and greater career development content. Bolstering professional development services is a smart strategy for job boards, because it can woo the passive candidates whom employers typically crave, says recruiting industry analyst Peter Weddle. And given the limited dollars currently flowing into recruiting, the pressure is on job boards to stand out, Weddle says.

“We’re separating the boys from the men in today’s marketplace,” he says.
 
Evolving model
Job boards have evolved a great deal from the first ones that appeared in the mid-1990s. Initially, they were little more than the Internet equivalent of classified ads. Just as classifieds were confined to newspapers, the job board universe for years has been centered at the so-called “big three” sites: Monster, CareerBuilder and Yahoo HotJobs.

Yet specialty sites have proliferated. Weddle estimates there are now roughly 100,000 job sites worldwide.

Job boards contribute to a small but significant chunk of hiring. Recruitment advisory firm CareerXroads estimates that job boards are the source for about 12 percent of external hires. About six in 10 open positions at large corporations are filled with external hires, according to CareerXroads’ annual study on sources of hires published in February. The share of external hires attributed to job boards has stayed roughly the same the past four years. 

    That share is unlikely to increase, says Gerry Crispin, principal with CareerXroads. Companies are looking more to alternatives such as social networks and search engine marketing, which involves bidding to place job ads next to search results on sites like Google.

“By and large, corporations have maxed out on the proportion of candidates they’re going to get from job boards,” Crispin says.

Together, Monster and CareerBuilder account for half of all job board hires, according to CareerXroads. And, for the first time in the 8-year-old study, CareerBuilder this year overtook Monster in terms of hires attributed to the respective job boards.

CareerBuilder has developed a wider set of services in the past several years, says Brent Rasmussen, the company’s president for the North America region. On the employer side, CareerBuilder now offers consulting on talent acquisition, advertising agency services and outplacement services.

Such services accounted for less than 5 percent of CareerBuilder’s business three years ago but now make up more than 15 percent, Rasmussen says.

Organizations may not be hiring as much during the recession, but “they’re looking at their employment brand,” he says.

For job seekers, CareerBuilder offers to help people chart their career path, get skills training and connect through its professional network, BrightFuse.com.

“We’re more than just a job board,” Rasmussen says. “We’re the global leader in human capital solutions.”

Monster’s makeover
Other job boards, such as Monster, are making similar claims. A site redesign launched in January features a career mapping service that mines Monster’s millions of résumés to see how people have progressed in their work. Through its acquisition of Affinity Labs last year, Monster also has a stable of sites focused on different professions, such as teaching and nursing.

“To a degree, we’re a job board,” says Monster CEO Sal Iannuzzi. “To a degree, we’re really not.” Broadening Monster to become a career and lifestyle hub has been a priority for Iannuzzi since taking over two years ago.

Still, Monster has sought to improve some job board basics. The company has reduced the number of steps required to post résumés from about 20 to four. Another Monster focus is uneven job search results—an issue that still vexes the industry. Last year, Monster paid $72.5 million for résumé-matching technology specialist Trovix, whose software is designed to take into account the relevancy of skills and job experience and how recently a candidate worked in a particular field—much like a real recruiter.

Monster plans to release a version of the Trovix tool later this year, and Iannuzzi expects big results. “We’re coming very close to mimicking that human capability,” he says.

Yahoo HotJobs has had a more relevant matching technology in place for about a year, says Chris Merritt, general manager of the HotJobs division. Merritt says that helps explain why HotJobs ranks second in traffic to CareerBuilder in the career resources category, according to research firm comScore.

In April, CareerBuilder had 23.5 million unique visitors, followed by 17.5 million at Yahoo HotJobs and 11.6 million at Monster.

In recent weeks there has been speculation Yahoo will sell HotJobs. Merritt, who took over as the site’s general manager this year, declined to comment except to confirm that the company is reviewing its entire product portfolio under Yahoo’s new chief executive, Carol Bartz.

He is also optimistic about HotJobs’ business, in part because of a sales effort launched last summer. The Smart Ads campaign turns job listings into Internet display ads and “narrowcasts” them to Yahoo’s 500 million users worldwide based on their behaviors.

For example, someone who spends time on the Yahoo Finance page and reads Yahoo news articles with a financial bent might get an ad for a stockbroker opening. Smart Ads are shown both on Yahoo sites and on partner sites including Walmart .com.

The program is “growing like a weed,” Merritt says.

While Monster and CareerBuilder offer automated career development tools, HotJobs relies largely on articles by experts, including the advice of HotJobs senior managing editor Tom Musbach. “It’s very difficult to have a tool give you good career advice,” Merritt says.

Keeping current
Neither the human touch nor the high-tech approach is a panacea at the moment. Yahoo’s Career Assessment page recently featured this stale headline: “2006’s Career Dos and Don’ts.” When asked to suggest a path from “reporter” to “analyst,” Monster’s Career Mapping software kept suggesting a career as a “telecom analyst”—a limited result.

Still, efforts to boost career development resources are on the right track, says consultant Weddle, who later this year is publishing a book with his picks for the 100 best job boards. Weddle says smart companies are using the recession to build a repository of relationships rather than résumés. And the job boards that can best serve that goal, he says, are ones with the feel of a professional organization, attracting both active job seekers and passive candidates not looking for work.

“The best job boards are transforming themselves into virtual associations without the dues,” he says.

Dice Holdings, the parent of technology-focused job board Dice.com, is shooting for this goal. Both Dice.com and sister site JobsintheMoney.com, which concentrates on finance positions, feature career news and advice. Posts on Dice.com discussion forums have doubled in the past year to about 9,000 per month, says Dice CEO Scot Melland.

“The expectations of job seekers are going up,” Melland says. “We are becoming much more of a career management or a career development tool than we were five years ago.”

The career content helps explain Dice’s attraction to passive candidates: About two-thirds of Dice.com users are employed.

There’s a cost for ‘free’
   
 Another challenge to the traditional job boards comes from free or near-free listing services. Google Base is a free service from the Internet search giant that allows people and organizations to publish all sorts of information on the Web, including job openings. Online bulletin board Craigslist charges $25 per job ad in cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, but is free in other locations. Major job boards, by comparison, charge hundreds of dollars.

The recent report from the AIM Group, though, indicates “free” comes with a cost. “The free sites, like Craigslist and Gumtree in the U.K., aren’t getting very high marks from recruiters,” Peter Zollman, founding principal of the AIM Group, said in a statement. “While they’re ‘free,’ the effort associated with posting ads there and the work required to screen candidates make them not-very-valued alternatives—at least for now.”

Then there are the vertical search engines devoted to jobs. SimplyHired and Indeed, also known as aggregator sites, aim to provide comprehensive job searches by gathering job openings from around the Web.

Dan Finnigan, CEO of recruiting software firm Jobvite, likens the general job boards to America Online. AOL’s “walled garden” approach gave way to Google’s ability to organize the entire Web easily, Finnigan says. In a similar way, he says, recruiting is moving away from the “closed” systems of job boards and their limited information about applicants and jobs to approaches that target potential candidates based on their overall profiles online—including their relationships in social and professional networks.

“People’s profiles are increasingly everywhere,” says Finnigan, who headed Yahoo HotJobs earlier this decade.

Jobvite’s software allows employees to send job listings to people in their LinkedIn and Facebook networks. It also makes it easy for visitors to corporate career pages to pass along job openings to people in their networks.

Too little, too late?
It’s inaccurate to say the major job boards are missing the social networking trend altogether. CareerBuilder recently launched a service designed to help companies gather information about applicants from sources such as blogs, social networking sites and Web forum postings.

But it may be too little, too late to convince Infinera’s Paul Whitney. Whitney, whose firm uses Jobvite, says traditional methods of recruiting, including job boards, “have failed us. They failed us badly.” Jobvite’s system helps encourage employee referrals, which typically is the best source of hiring, he says. And Infinera uses the technology to boost its visibility on tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

“Employers must respect the boundaries between the personal and the professional in reaching out to these areas,” Whitney says. “But this is where the talent of the future will be.”

Workforce Management, June 22, 2009, p. 25-29 -- Subscribe Now!

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