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Despite Acerbic Posts, HR Blogger Joel Cheesman Insists He Has Mellowed

September 4, 2009
The Cheezhead blog has taken some sharp swipes over the years, but its chief author says he’s not made of stone.

Joel Cheesman feels some regret that he published an item earlier this year about the indiscreet tweets of a CareerBuilder.com sales rep who apparently lost her job in the wake of Cheesman’s post.

And, says the author of the well-known recruiting industry blog Cheezhead, he’s not impervious to the barbs that have been thrown at him in the course of running a popular site that’s both praised and panned by the HR community.

“People are assholes online,” Cheesman says. “I’m a human being, and I bleed.”

Cheesman, 38, came to blogging largely by accident. The Cleveland resident started a business in 2005, HRSEO, focused on search engine optimization, which involves helping organizations such as job boards improve the way their job listings appear in the organic search results on search engines. In keeping with what was trendy at the time, Cheesman also began a related blog. He’d had about eight years in the industry and some writing skills: He minored in journalism at Ball State University and worked for his high school paper.

To his delight, the Indiana-born Cheesman discovered that the blog served as an alternative to making sales calls. As he blogged, people would call him. “This is great,” Cheesman remembers thinking. “I hate sales in general, but I like blogging.”

Later, Cheesman named his site Cheezhead. From 2006 through 2008, he posted an item virtually every workday. Amid a growing HRSEO business, Cheesman expanded his blog last year to include two writers, former recruiter Vanessa Dennis and journalist Jen Carpenter. Traffic to Cheezhead now tops 21,000 monthly visitors, and it is regarded as one of the most influential blogs in HR.

That’s partly because of Cheesman’s reputation for biting commentary and industry scoops. One early story reported that Yahoo HotJobs was gathering jobs from around the Web, not just listing jobs from its database of paid clients. More recently, he broke the news that Monster was laying off more than 150 employees.

Big job boards have been a favorite Cheesman target. He has called Monster “really dumb” and had this to say last year about CareerBuilder.com: “By most accounts, the latest CareerBuilder TV ads are about as popular as Celine Dion’s greatest hits at a biker bar.”

Monster declined to comment for this story. CareerBuilder did not immediately return a call requesting comment.

Overall, Cheesman gets mixed reviews in the industry.

“When you’ve reached that pinnacle, what you say carries weight. You need to make sure what you’re saying is accurate,” says recruiting blogger Maren Hogan. “From what I know, Joel takes his work seriously.”

Others question Cheesman’s objectivity and reporting methods. Cheesman relies heavily on anonymous sources and has been likened to celebrity gossip site TMZ. He also has what could be perceived as conflicts of interest, given his site’s sponsorship by job board provider DirectEmployers, the HRSEO business and a more recent venture, HirePPC, where Cheesman works for clients including job boards to have their paid advertisements appear more prominently on job aggregation sites such as Simply Hired and Indeed.com.

Cheesman says that about 20 percent of his revenue is blog-related, while his search engine optimization work accounts for roughly 70 percent. He declined to specify his annual revenue.

Katya White, Simply Hired’s senior marketing communications manager, believes that Cheesman’s emphasis on his other businesses have diluted his blog.

“He’s lost some credibility. He used to do more homework,” she says. “The last two times I saw him, he was promoting his new business. How can you be objective when you have another agenda?”

Cheesman, who has written critically about Simply Hired, says White is “entitled to her opinion.” He says he has tried to keep his consulting businesses separate from his blog. And he notes that the sponsorship by DirectEmployers, which runs the JobCentral job board, is disclosed on Cheezhead.

As Cheesman sees it, his blog’s tone has softened as it has aged.

The best way to be relevant, he says, is to “be more objective, be more newsy, be less about ‘Monster sucks’ and more about ‘What’s going on at Monster?’ ”