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……

The Job Cloud - Why Twitter is the future of Job Boards

The debate on the future of Job Boards seems to become more polarized by the day. Depending on your viewpoint / agenda it seems you should either believe they are going to suffer a painful death and all shut down tomorrow or carry on regardless effortlessly circumventing the massive digital changes that are effecting every other industry so dramatically. History should teach us that changes in the recruitment industry are never so black and white but instead always come in a million shades of grey. With all of this in mind I've been pondering recently what the future might actually hold and some recent experiences are indicating the emergence of a massively disruptive trend.

As anyone who has properly experimented with social media will tell you, it's all about conversations. It's all about connecting, listening and engaging and the ability to do this on an enormous scale offers the glimpse of a brave new world for recruitment. Emerging "conventional" wisdom says that bulk feeding jobs into Twitter is at best missing the point and at worst cynical spam. While I strongly agree with the "conversations" viewpoint I would now argue that Twitter job feeds are not necessarily mutually exclusive. After all following someone's Twitter feed is an opt in choice and it is impossible to spam users on Twitter if they are not following you. The flip-side of this though is that not many people will want to follow an automated job feed, making its potential reach distinctly unimpressive

However a few weeks back I became aware of a fascinating paradox. While I was doing a project for a big corporate employer they started experimenting with an automated Twitter job feed. Expectations were low and the number of followers the Twitter stream attracted was even lower! It soon became clear though that something very unexpected was happening. Despite only having 50 followers the Twitter account started generating over 200 quality CVs / resumes a week. Since then I've found numerous other corporates and job boards who are experiencing the same thing and keeping it to themselves as a kind of "dirty secret". Before anyone starts thinking this has got anything to do with brand or employer brand it's also worth noting that a lot of these feeds are anonymous!

So what's happening? Well in addition to being an excellent tool for conversations, Twitter is also an open platform that it is very easy to get content into and out of. While people may not be following job feeds directly, they are obviously using Twitter to search for jobs somehow. This may be via general search engines like Twitter Search, via vertical ones such as Twitterjobsearch or by other means. While we may not be exactly sure how these quality candidates are accessing the jobs, the evidence that they are doing so and in numbers is pretty strong.

If this trend continues and more and more employers set up free job feeds, we'll start to see the creation of a what I'd call a "Job Cloud". Effectively a free Twitter powered open access database of jobs much bigger than the closed databases job boards currently hold and charge for. This is highly disruptive and would certainly dramatically alter the recruitment advertising landscape. Rather than the focus being on the publishing of jobs it would shift to be providing users with the tools to access, find and filter jobs within this "Job Cloud".

How will this pan out? Well I'm not exactly sure at this stage but I would suspect that as an industry we should start taking companies like Twitterjobsearch and the many other start ups offering Twitter job filtering very seriously indeed. Although they could be an even more radical viewpoint that this will be a concept that is impossible to monetize. If that's true it would be great news for employers but bad news for the job board industry.

Whatever people might say, two key revenue pillars of the recruitment industry have always been "owning" candidates and "owning" jobs. LinkedIn is already disrupting the candidate ownership space and it looks like Twitter might be about to do the same thing with job advertising

Monster making some bold claims

A colleague just got out of a meeting where a  Monster Rep was building anticipation for their forthcoming relaunch. Apparently their integration with Trovix will revolutionise  online recruitment forever and provide an offering that is more sophisticated than Google. I look forward to hearing more about how they are going to deliver on this and take us to a brave new world in process!

UPDATE 14/11/08 - Just spotted this interview on the Cheezhead blog that gives a bit more info. It would seem that the Trovix integration isn't what they are launching in Jan