Why Job Boards need to innovate or die

First of all this isn’t another generic all job boards are doomed blog post. I wanted to put some recent thoughts I’ve had in writing that I truly believe represent the issues job boards are facing or about to face. My credentials to do this are 12 years experience of working with job boards in the UK market as opposed to mere speculative opinion! This post starts about 10 years ago. Back then I was one of the few professional buyers of job board space in the UK and my day was always a whirlwind of presentations from new job board launches. Some of sites don’t exist anymore; many more of them are now mainstays of the UK market. The one thing they all had in common though was innovation. Everyone was going to change recruitment for good, everyone had a new and interesting model, everyone was a disruptive force in a recruitment space that was over priced, old fashioned and out of touch with jobseeker and client needs.

Business models and market share were established and the job boards did indeed change recruitment, not as quickly or by as much as the initial optimism suggested but they were a truly disruptive force. However the dot com bubble bursting, a relatively small UK internet audience (back then anyway) and limitations in technology did take the edge off a lot of the promised innovation

Fast forward ten years and Job Boards are indeed a dominant force. With this though have come severe product commoditisation and a rather alarming establishment mindset that is personified by the frequently heard mantra - “but there will always be job boards”.

There in lies my issue because it’s not true; job boards have no more right to exist than the traditional publishers they have slowly been displacing. Don’t believe me? Then ask anyone over about 35 and if they think about it they’ll remember a significant period of their career when job boards just didn’t exist. The industry is far too young to have such a “you’ll never cope without us” attitude

Ten years later I’ve moved on as well,  I don’t buy job board space anymore but nevertheless as a consultant to the industry I’m getting a strange sense of déjà vu.  Once more a series of wide eyed keen young start ups are seeking me out for advice and presenting business models designed to disrupt the recruitment status quo. This time the perceived status quo aren’t traditional publishers it’s the job boards themselves.  Then there is LinkedIn probably the biggest potential disruptive force in our space that I’ve ever seen. Any job board owner who says it isn’t a threat to their business is either lying or hasn’t thought about it deeply enough.

Add in the embryonic force of social recruiting that is seeing progressive clients proactively undertaking activity with the aim of reducing or even eliminating their job board spend and you’ve got a heady mix of forces that should give job boards all the motivation they need to innovate and take their offerings to the next level.

What absolutely amazes me though is that with a few very notable exceptions (keen market observers will spot them!) this innovation isn’t happening. It seems to me that most job boards are expending all their energy either denying that there any threats to their model or doing whatever they can to maintain the status quo and in so doing are potentially taking their business models into a commoditised death spiral

I’m not writing all of this because I want to see job boards disappear in fact quite the opposite. I truly believe that they have a small but significant window of opportunity to innovate and thrive. Once the window closes though I’m afraid there will be no way back. So this is my challenge to the job board industry, put more of your energy into planning for the future and make me eat my words by creating some innovative disruptive business models that will drive the industry forward. I know you can do it because I still remember the year 2000 and how we’ve all been in the same position before. This time though the audience, technology and timing are all perfect……