Why the ballyhooed dotcom platform is far from extinct.
By Brent Skinner
Listen to the hype market-wide, and job board technology might seem quaint. It might seem a relic from the dotcom days, when the market for talent went gaga over what today feels like a one-dimensional online experience. As boards and nothing more, job boards are boring. They’re one-way, mass communication devices largely bereft of personalization and interactivity, attractive only to the most desperate of job seekers.
Old-think job boards are on the wrong side of history. But thinking job boards are anything but becoming extinct. They just look a lot different from their predecessors.
Job boards originally developed against the backdrop of a World Wide Web that people still called the World Wide Web. Recall the days of rich variety in search engines and disappointing results in search engine queries. Searching online for a job was still a novel idea, but one that was catching on quickly. Job boards filled a need for central repositories of information about job openings and commanded healthy direct traffic numbers because of it. Job seekers needed job boards.
The present online environment is all about personalization and interactivity. The Web now thrives on interconnectedness, not just a preponderance of information. Job candidates and employers alike enjoy closeness to the processes of job seeking and hiring; new tools and circumstances add authenticity and immediacy. The web has transcended not only its previous reputation of being a bigger, better bulletin board, but also its limitations of being largely a newfangled one-to-many communication tool. In many ways, the Web is now a collection of countless conversations large and small, and job boards now need job seekers, because the relationship between employers and job seekers has become horizontal; the hierarchy has flattened. Talent communities develop organically, tethered to no single online destination. Via the big three social media destinations, and with tools designed to leverage these and add efficiency to the process, recruiters can engage directly with talent and with employers who need them. Pull has replaced push.
And two-way has replaced one-way. Understanding where the nimble, smart job boards are heading today requires an understanding of the developing online landscape, facilitated by social technologies. Testimonials, as well as sites for reviews (e.g., Yelp, whose IPO in early March encountered much positive reaction from the market), have grown in popularity, partially because of the shift in power away from brands and into the hands of customers.
In talent acquisition, job seekers and hiring organizations are both the customers. The job boards that will flourish understand that they reside at a confluence of variables, all exerting an influence on the changing nature of the job hunt. These factors include employer brand, job seeker engagement, search engine-driven sourcing, and others.
“The reason we developed company pages is because a lot of employers want additional opportunities for branding on our website,” says Jason Whitman, vice president of client services for Indeed.com, the #1 job site worldwide. Indeed attracts 50 million unique visitors and 1 billion job searches per month and is available in more than 50 countries and 24 languages. A quick look at major brands’ company pages on Indeed reveals a robust environment. For instance, Coca Cola’s page displays an overview, crowd-sourced reviews, job availabilities, and forums. Indeed has indeed taken into account notions of employer brand and engagement, as well as user-controlled content. Yes, the nature of employee or job candidate reviews is beyond the control of the company whose profile they display on, but Indeed’s profile pages give a company a good deal of access to tailor the page to the organization’s needs.
“If your company has a profile page on Indeed, you can claim it, sort of like a Yelp model,” says Whitman. “Then, you can edit the write-up, add a logo, change some of the fields, add links to your career site, and more. Company pages on job boards have historically been very static, with the company in question having very little control over what displays. Sometimes, a job seeker can look at an employer’s branding materials and wonder whether or not it’s real; having the reviews there, alongside the dynamic content, helps companies to project authenticity. Plus, life and interactivity are there. Organizations are certainly looking to advertise their jobs, but they also want to brand themselves as great places to work and position their companies as top employers.”
Fundamentally, the idea that hiring organizations would create profile pages on job boards is not new, but the approaches and their enabling technologies have evolved and improved over the past few years.
Nichifying Back to the Company
Indeed, Simply Hired, and other job boards fall under the category of aggregators. These, along with Monster, are large boards that display job adverts pertaining to as many industries as possible. Their scope is national, even international, and they have countless regional counterparts.
Then there are the niche job boards narrowly focused on single industries, professions, or needs. Under the last of those, for instance, falls FlexJobs, which posts to its board only jobs that are work-from-home friendly—a larger and more dynamic constellation of jobs than conventional wisdom might suggest. “The range of fields offering work-life balance positions has grown,” says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs. “We had a posting for a neurosurgeon, for instance.”
But where does this movement toward niches end? The answer is that it goes full circle, all the way back to the company career page itself. This transformation has been underway for a while, and aggregator job boards are increasingly finding themselves out of the loop. And, by corollary, the onus of responsibility for promulgating job openings again falls on the hiring authority, whose recruiters can rely less and less solely on large boards’ reach, whose radius may be wide, but whose penetration, realistically, is shallow.
A well-sorted company career site, in fact, is considered the most effective source for candidates by the second highest percentage of organizations, according to Aberdeen Group research that was revealed in an August 2011 report titled Aberdeen’s 2011 Talent Acquisition Lifecycle. Notably, according to the same research, social media and job boards rank next by almost the same percentage of respondents; employee referral networks are seen by most as the most effective.
Social Media Disrupts Again
Once again, it all comes back to social media, which is not only challenging large boards to adapt and evolve their models to accommodate new realities, as in Indeed’s case, but also beckoning hiring organizations to again own their online career advertising presence through syndication and one-to-one engagement via social media, notably Facebook and LinkedIn. A savvy organization, employing social media intelligently, can quickly get in front of highly targeted passive talent. For instance, setting up an employment page on Facebook means that every time a new opening posts to the page, it will display in all fans’ home feeds.
Even better, organizations can now turn to vendors whose sole purpose is to streamline and add efficiencies to the candidate sourcing and engagement process via social media. “We are providing tools to employees, employers, and recruiters to enable them to recruit on social networks, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and in the near future, Google+,” says Jindrich Liska, CEO of Jobmagic. That technology facilitates and catalyzes social recruiting—in keeping with the new online environment’s tendency to demand, and even force, one-on-one online interaction between a hiring authority (or intermediary, the recruiter) and a job seeker.
The enormity of the task to listen to social media can overwhelm and paralyze a hiring organization trying to find the best targets and engage with them. Tools that filter and automate the process are necessary. HRmarketer.com’s SocialEars is an algorithm that captures real-time online content and analyzes the tweets, blogs, and online articles of thousands of HR journalists, media outlets, analysts, and thought leaders to show which topics are trending and who is driving the conversations. Presumably, recruiters can avail themselves of this functionality to find organically developing talent pools, where their best prospects just might be spending time.
Further underscoring the need for enabling technologies, social media websites’ navigational environments and application program interfaces (APIs) are always changing. “Facebook is very fast with their platform updates,” says Liska, for instance, “and we certainly implement those new features and capabilities as soon as they are released by Facebook and the other social networks.”
The Search for Searchability
Additionally, LinkedIn continues to move forward with readily apparent designs to unseat job boards in aiding job seekers to find and apply to jobs. One development was last year’s addition of a job application button. With just a click, jobseekers can send their LinkedIn profiles, as curricula vitae, directly to hiring organizations.
“LinkedIn is designed for recruiting, for searching and data mining profiles of people on it,” says Liska. “The tools LinkedIn provides for searching are unmatched by [Facebook and Twitter]. I’m using LinkedIn heavily, and I know a lot of recruiters [who are] very successful on LinkedIn. It’s fair to say in 2012 LinkedIn is going to replace job boards to a significant extent, in terms of the budgets spent in major companies. It is happening now, but I think in 2012, [it is] something the job boards fear strongly.”
One of the reasons is recruiters’ ability to deeply search profiles within LinkedIn, an effective sourcing tool. Again, however, smart, nimble job boards are competing with all their might, and successfully. Their moves suggest a savvy understanding of developments in the marketplace. Last fall, for example, Indeed announced the launch of Indeed Resume, an open search engine that provides hiring organizations with robust resume filtering options. As well, the functionality gives job seekers the ability to send their resumes, via one click, to apply to select jobs posted on Indeed.
So search engines remain relevant and underscore job boards’ utility. Search engines are responsible for the largest number of visitors (34 percent) to retail or e-commerce sites, according to the iPerceptions Retail and E-Commerce Industry Report for Q4 2011, and a safe assumption is that the percentage of job seekers finding job openings via search engines is also considerable. Furthermore, a robust, carefully constructed, SEO-minded presence in social media can boost any company’s job openings in relevant search engine queries.
Put differently, a search engine will be the first lens through which a passive or other job seeker learns of an opening, before exploring further. The key takeaway here is that a search engine doesn’t provide the interactivity and dynamism that have had a significant impact on job boards’ influence, but search engine visibility is nevertheless of utmost importance to any organization attempting to promote its job openings. Because of their attractiveness to search engines’ spiders, job boards provide a quick avenue to that search engine visibility.
News of job boards’ death has been greatly exaggerated. Those that evolve have a strong future.
“Job boards are not dead per se,” says Jessica Miller-Merrill, CEO of Xceptional HR and founder of blogging4jobs.com, “but the ability for companies to access the same candidates using social media and the Internet has changed. The future of job boards is to integrate social media, help the companies hiring leverage SEO [search engine optimization] to optimize postings for a longer shelf life, and build a talent community, where they are helping the candidate as they grow and evolve in their job.”