Q&A: Challenges as Job Boards Morph to Recruitment Marketers

Future Thoughts

We talked job boards with Jeff Dickey-Chasins.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that the term “online recruiting” was easily defined: It was all about job boards. Today, however, it encompasses everything from social media to general marketplaces like Craig’s List to niche sites like allcruisejobs.com and even sites like GitHub, which isn’t a job board at all but which technology recruiters haunt in order to find the candidates of their labor-shortage dreams. Not only that, but job boards now offer a lot more than postings–communications tools, branding programs and analytics may all be part of the package.

To get a sense of what the future might hold, we reached out to Dickey-Chasins, who made his name as the original marketing director of Dice.com, when it was one of the first niche job sites available, and now consults with a variety of clients in every corner of the business as “the job-board doctor.”

I don’t think you’ll be surprised to hear me say that job boards, as an industry, are facing an uncertain future right now. Social media’s hit them hard, some seem to be having a difficult time keeping pace with technology, and in some sectors candidates try to stay away from them entirely. What’s your take on the industry’s landscape right now, and what do the job boards need to do if they’re going to survive and grow?

Jeff Dickey-Chasins
Jeff Dickey-Chasins

Job boards aren’t “monolithic.” People often think of LinkedIn, Indeed and CareerBuilder as “typical” of job boards–and they certainly dominate the industry in terms of visibility and earnings. But the vast majority of sites tend to be niche sites that focus on specific industries, professions or geographic regions.

Interestingly enough, these niche sites have had a period of sustained growth over the past six years. Lots have been launched, lots have been funded and existing niche sites have grown. It’s also important to recognize that this is a global industry, and although the U.S. is still the largest recruitment market in terms of dollars, China, the EU, the United Kingdom and South America all have major general and niche sites. In fact, a number of European players are now moving into the North American market.

So there isn’t one simple answer about survival and growth. For niche sites, first and foremost it’s about serving their specific audiences of candidates and employers. For example, StackOverflow caters to software developers–and thus has Q&A content specifically focused on them. As long as they keep the content quality high, the developers come back–and the employers that want those developers also come back.

What I see with all job boards–whether they’re large or small, general or niche–is a renewed focus on gathering and leveraging candidate data. After all, that’s what employers want.

Do you think they’re up to the task? As in other areas of HR tech, established companies face new competitors who leverage new technology to outmaneuver them. It’s not clear to me that all of the established brands have figured out what to do about that. How do you think they’ll fare?

The “burn” rate in the recruitment marketing industry (a better term than job boards, I think) is similar to other industries. Startups fail at a high rate, but once a company gets to the third or fourth year, they tend to survive.

Having said that, most of the trouble I’ve seen has been with publicly held companies like Dice. They’re having to work for shareholders in addition to their customers, and that can be problematic.

Ten years ago, Indeed was the new kid on the block. Now they’re the “Monster” of their generation, which means they’re struggling to maintain the No. 1 slot. In the meantime, niche players like StackOverflow and Snagajob are growing market share in their niches despite competition from [the companies I mentioned]. Established brands have always struggled with change–in any industry–and the recruitment marketing industry is no different. If the “big sites” don’t change with the times, they’ll go the way of Monster.

You said “recruitment marketing industry” is a better term than “job boards.” That really speaks to the business’s evolution, doesn’t it? Once, job boards were really the only place to seek candidates online. Now, we’ve added social media to the mix, not to mention destinations like GitHub. That’s not a recruitment site at all but an awful lot of technology recruiters are signing up there to network among its users. Does this mean all those brands that market themselves as job boards had better widen their message?

The term “job board” was, and to a certain degree still is, a short-hand term for “job ads online.” In that sense, job boards are alive and well–just not in the original sense. Much as the cell phone morphed into the smartphone, and is essentially a portable computer now, job boards morphed into “recruitment marketing tools.”

Their essential function hasn’t changed–they connect candidates to employers. But the ways in which they fulfill that function have expanded. In addition to job ads, they offer targeted emails, profiles and resumes to source, branding pages for employer and so on. When someone tells me that job boards are dead, what I usually say is, ‘They’re not dead, they’re evolved.'”

I keep wondering if there’s a structural change going on. Job postings are becoming commoditized, in the sense that you can post on Craigslist for a whole lot less money than you can on an industry-focused board and still get good responses. What are your thoughts?

Job postings are absolutely a commodity and have been for at least five or six years. The rise of job aggregators like Indeed ensured that the “value” of an individual job posting would drop.

Having said that, however, the bottom line for employers is, as you mentioned, the kind of response they receive. A job posting can cost 25 cents but if it doesn’t produce good results, it’s worthless. Or it can cost $500, but if it results in multiple hires, it’s cheap.

In reality, though, most successful job boards are dealing with job posting commoditization by offering additional services, like targeted emails to candidates, sourcing tools, employer branding and so on. After all, what these sites really offer is an audience of candidates and a way to reach them.

You recently wrote how the FCC’s rescinding of net neutrality will be bad news for job boards and other recruiting sites. How do you think employers should adjust their recruiting strategies if the internet becomes less useful as a recruiting tool than it has been to date?

I’ve already seen some clients literally going “back in time” by adding offline events like job fairs or advertising on billboards. To a large degree, job boards can’t do anything about the loss of net neutrality, other than adjust their prices and cost structures to account for increased expenses from ISPs. But a holistic approach to candidate acquisition–one that uses multiple channels, not just online–will certainly be a smart move.

Finally, what do you think is the most important thing going on in the sector that people aren’t paying enough attention to?

Google for Jobs. People are paying attention to it, but I don’t think they understand how it’s shifting the entire landscape.

Google is the ecosystem of the recruitment marketing industry. It’s the primary form of job discovery for 99 percent of the candidates out there. When Google changes the rules, as it’s doing, it will produce both predictable and unpredictable results. I’m not sure even they know what will come of some of the things they’ve done.

Indeed’s decision to not participate in the Google jobs discovery project–which essentially makes their jobs less visible to job seekers–is going to hurt them in very deep ways. I know Indeed thinks they’re invincible, and they’re backed by Recruit, a company with deep pockets. But you can’t ignore the ecosystem. If job seekers can’t see you, you don’t exist. And over time, that’s where Indeed will be.

Editor’s Notes: You can keep up with Jeff Dickey-Chasins at his web site, The Job Board Doctor. Also, in the interests of full disclosure, Mark Feffer worked at Dice between 2006 and 2014

Image Copyrights:
cooperr007 / 123RF Stock Photo
lculig / 123RF Stock Photo