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As the Big Three Job Boards Battle It Out, DirectEmployers Quietly Wheels and Deals

July 6, 2004
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Related Topics: Internet, Candidate Sourcing, Featured Article, Staffing Management
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As Monster and CareerBuilder battle for the leadership position in online recruiting, a nonprofit association is quietly and slowly influencing everything from what they charge to how coveted customers like Cingular Wireless calculate their recruiting results.

    In recent months, DirectEmployers has announced a partnership with Business.com, allied with the networking site LinkedIn, and deepened its relationship with the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Its member companies say it provides an economical way to draw job-seekers to their sites, and that it has devised innovative methods of connecting candidates with businesses, and businesses with each other. But questions remain about how cost-effective DirectEmployers is, especially for smaller companies, and whether it's more significant for its actual traffic or simply for being an alternative to the policy at Monster.com, HotJobs and CareerBuilder of charging by the listing.

"Social welfare"
    Rather than containing listings itself, DirectEmployers.com is designed as a search engine. It currently indexes jobs listed by about 1,400 companies, sending job-seekers directly to the employers' own Web sites. The site is run by the DirectEmployers Association, a nonprofit consortium of about 170 companies that each pay a flat fee of $12,500 a year. Member companies' listings appear above others in search results. DirectEmployers will also post them to America's Job Bank on request. And executive director Bill Warren reports that DirectEmployers is developing plans to make large and small cities' job postings available.

    Warren, the former president of Monster.com, put together the DirectEmployers Association in early 2002. It's set up as a nonprofit so that its member companies can own and manage it through the nonprofit association, without owning stock. It does, however, pay taxes as a for-profit organization. (According to Warren, it has applied to be a 501(c)(4) "social welfare" organization.)

    The association announced a partnership with Business.com at the beginning of June. DirectEmployers also provides job-search functionality for Classmates.com and LinkedIn. Asked about the financial arrangements, Warren says of all three partnerships, "We provide them a service, they provide us with additional traffic, and there's no money exchanging hands; I can't go into more detail than that."

    In addition, DirectEmployers and the National Association of Colleges and Employers cosponsor NACElink, a recruiting system that connects employers’ job listings with college career centers’ résumés for students and recent graduates. NACElink now covers almost 350 schools, and plans to expand further. It's currently beta-testing a campus interview program. But how many job placements has it led to? "The hirings are a tough one to measure," says NACE's executive director, Marilyn Mackes. "But when we were at 300 schools, we had more than 100,000 students using the system."

    Steven Rothberg is president and founder of CollegeRecruiter.com. "We don't feel like [NACElink's] presence has hurt our business in the slightest, and in fact we think it's helped our business," Rothberg says. The DirectEmployers/NACE partnership, he says, has "hurt MonsterTRAK a lot more than they've hurt the smaller independent boards--they seem to have broken up what was close to a monopoly."

Influencing market prices
    Other observers note that DirectEmployers itself is significant for challenging the big boards' position--and providing an alternative to their spiraling fees. "Employers have reason to want a competitive environment," says Peter Zollman, founding principal of Classified Intelligence. "They want to know that if Monster were to become as arrogant in pricing as newspapers used to be, there would be an online alternative. Now, with the tremendous growth in traffic and postings at CareerBuilder, the landscape has clearly changed since Monster was the overwhelming number one, with competitors barely visible in the distance." (Asked to comment on DirectEmployers, a Monster representative noted that it has a policy of not commenting on other companies.)

    "I see the big commercial boards becoming something like the Wall Street Journal is now in terms of recruitment advertising, where people only go to them for hard-to-fill jobs," Warren says. "Charging $300 to $400 per ad--that's going to be tough in the future."

    Paul White, director of staffing at Cingular Wireless (who is also on DirectEmployers' board of directors), agrees that the presence of DirectEmployers has softened up the big boards' costs to companies: "The major job boards are much more willing to negotiate pricing now, and we're not seeing increases year after year."

    Ray Schreyer, manager of Internet recruiting at DirectEmployers member IBM, says he remembers "when job boards cost $3,000 to $4,000 a year. But within a few years, we saw the cost for large companies rise to millions of dollars. DirectEmployers gives us hope for a level playing field."

Competing on cost per candidate
    The question is, though, how many candidates--and of what quality--does DirectEmployers.com drive to its members' listings? It's hard to say. As of June 21, Alexa.com’s numerical rankings of Internet traffic listed Monster.com at 152, CareerBuilder at 316, HotJobs at 494 and DirectEmployers.com at 23,808. Then again, Warren says, "Alexa rankings do not apply in any way to us. A job-seeker will come to our site and stay there an average of about 22 seconds, and then they're off to a corporate Web site. Our measurements are how many people are hired, and how effective it is for recruiters."

    Still, there are no audited figures for the measurements Warren suggests. And workforce-management professionals, especially at smaller companies, want numbers that are comparably cost-effective to those of the big boards. "When I look at advertising media," says Chuck Matthews, director of human resources with G&T Conveyor Co., "I'm very interested in knowing what the subscriber base is, how many Web site hits they get, how many unique visitors--it's like a newspaper ad. DirectEmployers has solid companies, but I've never really found out how many hits they get. And they're cost-prohibitive; for $12,500, I can do a lot more with other endeavors."

    For larger companies with more positions available, though, the flat rate may represent less of their overall recruitment advertising costs. Cingular's White says that, this year, DirectEmployers has driven about 23,000 candidates to Cingular's listings--about 2,500 in all. "The major boards are driving more traffic," he says, "but when you look at cost per candidate, it balances out to be roughly even."

    Even so, because of DirectEmployers' low-key approach, it's still not well known among job-seekers. David Tanguay, CEO of recruitment-monitoring company Wanted Technologies, calls DirectEmployers "one of the best-kept secrets of job banks out there."

    Randy Mehl, managing director at Robert W. Baird and one of the analysts who covers Monster.com, agrees that the word hasn’t gotten out: "DirectEmployers hasn't had a noticeable influence yet." The consortium's members, Mehl says, are "companies that would probably pay a million dollars a year for online recruitment advertising--so about 1 percent of their budget goes to DirectEmployers….  Companies are paying for where you're actually going to get candidate flow. I think the online recruitment segment can support growth, but it's going to be challenging to make progress beyond the big three and the established niche job boards."

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