Posted by: garispang | August 14, 2009

What is the future for job boards?

Job boardsJob boards, by tradition, provide a platform on which recruiters pay to advertise their vacancies then wait in anticipation for applications to flood through to designated in-boxes. There is nothing particularly deliberate about the service and the reactivity is both its strength and its weakness.

But in the current climate there is little room for limitations, so whilst reduced-cost recruitment solutions will continue to feature in most recruiter’s budgets, technological development dictates that unless job boards embrace more innovative strategies, they could see their status stifled by the sophistication of integrated products such as applicant tracking systems (ATS), CV parsing and the prospects of disintermediation.

Reactivity is history. Witness the rise of integrated proactive engagement.

In good times desirable candidates are comfortable, entrenched in their positions and paid well. They are confident. They don’t reach out and share because they see no purpose in it. Conversely, in bad times, everyone feels the need to share, so recruiters are inundated by CVs, most of which are either irrelevant or wholly generic; the latter being as bad as the former during a time when standing out from the crowd is so important.

So what should job boards be doing to ensure their users receive a service that will make them return? What is the future for job boards and how will they tackle the undoubted challenges that lie ahead?

The recruitment landscape now is about conversations. Web-savvy jobseekers are communicating in language that is natural, open and honest, sometimes even direct; more direct than recruiters might wish them to be. Everything is changing. People are connecting and working together. The Internet is enabling these conversations and there is nothing corporations or recruiters can do to stop it. What they can do though, is embrace it: for joining them and showing innovation is surely the only way to preserve.

For some job boards social media has come at just the right time. It provides them with the means of providing information (e.g. advertising jobs), building relationships (with clients and candidates) and conducting forums for discussion on how they can improve as an industry. Most importantly of all, however, social media allows job boards to get messages out from their clients to a far wider audience than many other recruitment channels. And these messages are delivered real-time, with accuracy.

If a job board operates in a niche sector the dissemination of this information is even more specific, so even more relevant. A jobseeker looking for marketing jobs in the UK, for example, should be better served by a job board specialising in the marketing field. They return to job boards where the content (and the current age is all about content) is targeted at them. People see tangible value in subscribing to newsletters and feeds, contributing to forums and joining groups if it directly benefits them. Generalist sites, whilst clearly valuable, cannot offer this exclusivity. Their unique visitor stats may be high but they are unable to harvest customer loyalty. Return rates are relatively low.

Sector-specific job boards are also far more likely to be empathetic to their clients. They hear where they are coming from, understanding their frustrations and working to their needs. For niche job board owners it is essential they engrain themselves under the skin of their market. Generalist sites have multiple variables and bigger margins for error. If a niche board fails to engage with its audience it will soon lose its unique identifier and will be dropped in favour of a more meaningful competitor. This is the same for traditional recruitment generalists.

The word ‘traditional’ is an interesting one. When does something stop being contemporary? Job boards have been around for ages but are still commonly classed as modern-day recruitment mediums. With the advent and development of social media, however, do job boards now fill a void between traditional recruitment companies and en vogue employment media? Irrespective of the answer it indicates challenging times ahead.

Job boards offer a low-cost but highly speculative place for employers to advertise their vacancies. Job boards offer recruitment agencies a platform from which to attract talent and develop brand identity. Two separate entities, two different purposes. But whilst the impression is one of mutual exclusivity there should be no reason why the pair cannot develop symbiosis via a job board. By the same token why should recruitment agencies view their competitors as foe? In an age where sharing information and being transparent are the currencies of social engagement, perhaps a job board provides the perfect place to perpetrate a fee-sharing mechanism.

Referral-based recruitment will dominate the employment landscape within two years. In the same period social media will evolve and, with it, opportunities to network will be met by a larger number of experienced social-engagers. These people will be accustomed not only to integrating with social space but using it to find a job and developing their careers. They will also be used to earning fees from recommendations.

Job boards can be a vehicle for recruiters to attract a better quality of candidate to their vacancy by advertising the role with a cash incentive for recommending someone to it. This serves two purposes: firstly, few recommendations are offered lightly so the recruiter will receive endorsed applications – always a winner. Secondly, recruitment consultants can become referrers, working on vacancies with cash incentives, collecting fees they would not otherwise have been able. There are multiple benefits: recruiters always have new briefs to work on; a recruiter-registered jobseeker has more job options; it reduces the number of speculative calls/applications to the employer/recruiter.

Any niche job board embracing the referral model will add stickiness to its site and through an undoubtedly vast people network can ensure it is the oiled handle of this multi-cogged mechanism. Referral-based recruitment links all the staffing components together and manages to cohesively combine social media, social networking and innovation into one malleable solution.

As employers seek the feasibility of disintermediation, job boards and recruitment consultancies continue to prove their worth. But isn’t the true middleman the traditional recruiter? And if so, where would that leave job boards? Because if the figures are correct more than 50% of job board advertising revenue comes from recruitment agencies. Removing them would mean a huge reliance on direct employer spend, something they are trying to reduce. It is a merry-go-round of conjecture and hypothesis but one thing is for certain, as and when the economy flourishes again it will be the job boards with value-added customer retention schemes that will benefit and profit most.

Around 75% of job boards are owned by the major publishing groups in the UK. Clearly these companies are suffering in the current recession. Classified advertising revenues have dropped by over 17% in the last 12 months; some individual results are much more serious than this. The downturn is hitting advertisers and recruiters hard, attacking job boards from both angles. The short-term cites continued embattlement against cautious employers and cash-strapped recruitment consultancies. So, now more than ever, digital recruitment solution providers should be putting a reciprocal arm around the metaphorical shoulder of their clients, urging them to embrace their new solutions.

When the economy recovers it will be the innovators who thrive. Statics will die. There are too many potential landmines out there for a ‘traditional’ job board to remain reactive. Get with social engagement or get ready to fail.

Read more about the outlook for the recruitment landscape in 2011.

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