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A New Piece in the Recruitment Puzzle

June 14, 2005
Related Topics: Internet, Candidate Sourcing, Featured Article, Staffing Management
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W hen veteran recruiter Nancy Smith goes hunting for passive candidates, she uses a Web site called Jigsaw. Smith, who recruits for the technology company Wind River Systems, uses this subscription service because it tells her exactly what she needs to know about potential candidates that are as coveted as they are hard to find.

    "The most difficult part of recruiting is getting a name," Smith says. "I can find a company in Jigsaw’s database and right away be looking at a name, a title and a way to get in touch with that person," Smith explains. "If I were to go through one of the social networking sites," she says, referring to LinkedIn and other popular who-knows-who recruiting vehicles, "that process could take weeks."

    That’s what co-founder and CEO Jim Fowler is hoping users will say about Jigsaw, a San Mateo, California, company whose site went live at the end of 2004 and boasts almost 800,000 contacts representing 70,000 companies. The firm has raised about $6 million in two rounds of funding and hopes to be profitable by the third quarter of 2006. Fowler estimates that 20 percent of Jigsaw’s 20,000 users are recruiters who, like Smith, rely on the network of business cards to gain quick access to names, titles and phone numbers.

Mapping the planet
    Jigsaw uses points as currency. The service’s 10,000 members, who pay a monthly subscription fee of $25, are entitled to 25 points per month. They can get additional points for adding contacts and for cleaning up incorrect data (an incorrect phone number, for example, or the name of the replacement for someone who has since moved on).

    Add a contact not already in the database--except for cell phone numbers and personal e-mail addresses, which are not allowed--and you’ll earn five points, roughly equivalent to $1. If the contact survives 30 days without being challenged--meaning that no other member challenges its information--you get an additional five points. Users can also buy contacts for five points a piece.

    Members who have accumulated 2,000 or more points can sell their points to other members for the equivalent of 10 cents each. Jigsaw’s top point sellers have each collected more than $2,000. But Fowler says that it’s the quality of the information that is the main attraction for the recruiters who use Jigsaw. "Keeping a database clean is very difficult and expensive," he says. "The beauty of Jigsaw is that it’s self-correcting. You’re rewarded for adding contacts and cleaning up bad or missing information."

    Shally Steckerl, a lead researcher for Microsoft in Atlanta, says that Jigsaw’s approach encourages recruiters to collaborate with one another, not an easy task in a ruthlessly competitive field. "As a rule, recruiters don’t really trust each other," Steckerl says. "They keep good contacts for themselves because they just want to take instead of sharing. The Jigsaw model enforces collaboration a little more."

    Not everyone thinks that Jigsaw represents the long-lost missing piece of the recruiting puzzle. One new Jigsaw user posted a complaint on the Electronic Recruiting Exchange noting that the Jigsaw service had turned up false hits, providing him with names of people who no longer worked at a facility or, worse, had never worked there at all. And because his was a trial membership--Jigsaw allows potential users to try out the service for two weeks without joining--he lacked the authority to challenge the bad information.

    Fowler chalks that experience up to a challenge confronting any database: staying up-to-date at a time when people and the companies that employ them are changing at an unprecedented pace. "We’re not saying our data is perfect," Fowler says. "We are saying it is exponentially better than anything else out there because thousands of people build and maintain the database."

    But before Jigsaw can take over the world (Fowler says that his goal is to "map every single business contact on the planet"), the service must overcome another hurdle: competition, specifically the vast array of online tools available to recruiters. And while Smith and others have been won over by Jigsaw’s business card database, some recruiters are holding out.

    Randall Birkwood, who just left a job as director of talent acquisition for T-Mobile, is a fan of yet another online recruiting service: Jobster, a Seattle-based service that uses social networking technology to generate leads for recruiters. He concedes that good information is a key component of a recruiter’s job, but says that it isn’t the end of the story. "A business card can’t tell you if that person is good or not," Birkwood says, "but a person who knows that person can."

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