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ASK THE HEADHUNTER®
the insider's edge on job search & hiring™

Special Edition
Job-Board Journalism: Selling out the American job hunter

Once again, troubling facts are slipping out about the "job boards" that suggest serious conflicts of interest are interfering with your ability to find a job. For a long time, these boards -- Monster.com, CareerBuilder, Headhunter.net, Hotjobs, among others -- were propped up mainly by corporate human resources departments that spent huge sums of money to post jobs online. (Example: In 2001, Lockheed Martin spent $1.8 million on the boards.5) Today, one of the big boards, CareerBuilder, is propped up by new partners -- big newspaper chains that have relinquished recruitment advertising and, apparently, editorial responsibility to CareerBuilder. But before we get into that, let's review a few facts. Actually, we don't have much more than a few facts because the job boards do not track or publish their success rates. That is, they don't tell us how effective they are at filling jobs. But that doesn't seem to stop them from raking in enormous revenues from employers, or from swallowing up your valuable time.

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Nick Corcodilos

For a selection of readers' comments about this article, click here.

 

Jobs listed are not jobs filled
In 2000, during the dot-com heyday, Forrester Research1 reported that only 4% of job hunters polled found jobs through the Internet, including the aforementioned job boards. (Repeated surveys by Electronic Engineering Times, a professional journal, came up with similar percentages among engineers.) In the same survey, human resources (HR) recruiters claimed online job posting was the best way to recruit and said they planned to spend the biggest part (44%) of their recruiting dollars online. But clearly, even in 2000, there was a disconnect between the opinions of employers and the experience of job hunters. Contrary to the opinion of the HR folks, job hunters indicated that the most reliable source of jobs was personal referrals, which is how 40% of those polled found their jobs.

Cut to 2001 and a follow-up study by Forrester2. This time, Forrester went past the HR departments and queried the corporate stake-holders. Hiring managers were asked what recruiting tool they found most effective. Echoing the job hunters of the previous year, managers said that "word of mouth referrals" were the best source of hires (62%). Meanwhile, the HR folks -- the people who buy online job ads -- said such personal contacts were the worst recruiting tool. So, who's right?

In 2002 we began to learn the answer. CareerXroads, publisher of the popular directory that reviews online job sites, released the study I'd been waiting for3. Finally, someone was looking at the bottom line -- hiring success rates. Employers were asked what percentage of their new hires came from the four leading online career sites. The percentage of hires made through Monster: a whopping 1.4%. Hotjobs: .39%. CareerBuilder: .29%. Headhunter.net: .27%. (Yes, those decimal points are in the right places.) Suddenly, the cat was out of the bag. 

Hiding the cat
The Wall Street Journal, whose CareerJournal.com is in the same business as the big boards, picked up the CareerXroads story3 but sidestepped the tough questions. Instead of critically analyzing the abysmal performance of the boards, the Journal printed lame statements from their executives. Dimitri Boylan, president and chief executive of Hotjobs.com, said it wasn't his fault if some resumes attracted little attention. "In terms of not getting a reply to a job, that's primarily the company's option," he said. The Wall Street Journal's manager of CareerJournal.com, Tony Lee, proclaimed, "All job boards can do is bring you to the company's front door." Jeff Taylor, founder of Monster.com, discounted Monster's poor performance this way: "I feel pretty good about the way the system matches up skills with openings and will continue to improve it."

Missing from The WSJ's interviews with these masters of online recruiting was any inquiry about metrics the job boards themselves use to assess their success. None of the job boards -- including The WSJ's CareerJournal -- contested or questioned CareerXroads' findings. Why then, since none of these job boards track or report how effectively they produce hires, don't they adopt and routinely disclose the CareerXroads and Forrester statistics to their users? Why are they hiding the cat?

Employers re-invent the flat tire
Monster's Taylor was right. CareerXroads' follow-up study4, released in 2003, showed that hiring rates improved. Companies surveyed said they made 3.6% of their external hires through Monster, 1.5% through CareerBuilder, and .5% through Hotjobs. (Headhunter.net merged with CareerBuilder.)

It seemed the boards were doing better, but many employers weren't buying it. In 2002 a sizable group of big companies -- including Lockheed, Xerox, GE and Wachovia Bank -- were so disappointed with the performance of the big boards that they created their own system: DirectEmployers.com5. They were going to reinvent the wheel, and they wanted to own it.

Has it worked? The Wall Street Journal's CareerJournal applied its inherited editorial prowess to produce a critical report on the subject6. CareerJournal reported that DirectEmployers ranks only 18,273rd in web traffic among all web sites, while Monster ranks 104th.  (CareerJournal goes on to show that its own traffic ranking is higher than Direct Employers'.) Thus, concludes CareerJournal with a self-serving tone, DirectEmployers should leave the job board business in the capable hands of the "commercial sites". 

These traffic rankings seem to suggest a dramatic chasm between the levels of service delivered by DirectEmployers and the commercial sites. But the CareerJournal article reveals something far more troubling: a transparent editorial effort to redirect attention away from lousy hiring success rates and toward impressive traffic statistics. Those pesky success rates reported by CareerXroads remind us that the ultra-high-traffic Monster.com generated only 3.6% of hires by employers. Taken in that context, the differences in traffic don't appear to mean much. When we look at hiring success, none of the job sites performed well at all. (DirectEmployers generated so few hires that the figure wasn't even reported by CareerXroads.) We have no idea where that puts CareerJournal, because neither that site nor its parent, The Wall Street Journal, reports its hiring rate.

Though it claims a different model, DirectEmployers has not proved its concept, and it does not divulge hiring success rates. If anything, we're left to conclude that DirectEmployers may just be late to play the same game. Nonetheless, charter members of this new career site were paying $60,000 apiece just to join. Today, 99 companies belong to DirectEmployers, and CareerJournal does have a point. Judging from the traffic figures, job hunters don't seem to know that DirectEmployers even exists. While it's not clear where DirectEmployers is going, an early press release indicated that what was at first conceived as an exclusive club for employers was turning into an open system, like Monster, that grants access to almost anyone who asks for it7. Is DirectEmployers just another flat tire in the job boards business? The site does not require job hunters to provide their resumes; it does not warehouse job postings (users are directed to employers' sites); and it does not publish advertorials; all good signs. The best sign may be the criticism DirectEmployers is garnering from its competitors.

It seems the only edge that the leading job boards have developed is ubiquity. Monster is all over the career areas of some of the biggest corporate sites, funneling all their jobs into one big data base. (This data base has become a target of investigation by The Privacy Foundation8.)  Meanwhile, the big newspaper chains seem to have set aside their editorial integrity, fashioning news and editorial content to prop up the pitiful performance of CareerBuilder -- their captive vendor of recruitment advertising.

Job-board journalism
To summarize, employers appear to be making precious few hires from the job boards, whose success seems to be measured only by their revenues. The job boards do not routinely divulge hiring success rates. Clearly, if you are a job hunter, the odds that a company is going to hire you through one of the online job boards are, to put it generously, lousy. Yet, whether due to incompetence, laziness, or lack of a good alternative (Is there a difference?), corporate HR departments continue to plough massive recruiting dollars into these sites, and job hunters continue to flock to them.

Now we get to the conflict of interest: job-board journalism. The evolution of Monster.com seems simple compared to that of CareerBuilder. More than just a job board, Monster now manages the jobs pages of many employers. In other words, you go to an employer's site, click the Company Jobs link, and view job listings that are all managed by Monster. As part of these outsourcing deals, Monster also provides career articles ("advice"), which encourage job hunters to spend ever more time on Monster's job board. On Monster's own site, the motivation behind such self-serving advice is obvious. On a corporate site whose jobs area is managed by Monster, it's questionable. But, you certainly wouldn't expect to find Monster-written editorial content in a newspaper, would you? Of course not. Editorial integrity at big newspapers is sacrosanct.

Enter CareerBuilder. Bet you didn't know that this business is now owned by Gannett, Inc. (which owns USA Today and dozens of other newspapers), Knight Ridder (another huge newspaper chain), and Tribune Company (yet another big chain). These newspapers use CareerBuilder to manage and produce their recruitment advertising, or job listings. It's how they compete with the likes of Monster.com. (As we've seen, however, CareerBuilder's success rate, 1.5%, pales next to Monster's monstrous 3.6%.) What's interesting is that these newspapers also run editorial content, career advice, and advertorials produced by CareerBuilder under their newspaper logos, to encourage you to use the service. Sometimes, they write their own career articles. Too often, it's hard to tell where the news ends and the self-promotion picks up.

For example, USA Today publishes an article titled, "Five Reasons You Should Post Your Resume"9. While the URL reveals that the article likely comes from CareerBuilder, it is published under the familiar USA Today newspaper logo. The article explains that:

"Searching and applying online is basically a the [sic] same process as answering newspaper help wanted ads ---albeit, on steroids… Your grandfather would call resume POSTING 'new-fangled' and he'd probably avoid it… Posting wins the numbers game."

But, nowhere does USA Today report any metrics comparing online resume posting to answering newspaper ads, even though the company is in both businesses. That's where the trouble starts.

Remember the CareerXroads study that reported employers filled fewer than 1.5% of their jobs through CareerBuilder? The same study also reported that newspaper ads delivered 4.8% of new hires. (In the 2000 Forrester study, 23% of respondents said they found their jobs through newspapers.) It seems that your grandfather's old-fangled method is at least three times more effective than the new-fangled method touted by USA Today. When facts collide with advertising, there's a problem.

What you're seeing is editorial integrity rushing headlong into the business of promoting online recruitment advertising.

Sorry, I don't mean to scream
The Wall Street Journal, one of the most respected news sources in the world, is no better. It isn't part of the CareerBuilder consortium. The WSJ's CareerJournal.com service uses a resumes-and-jobs clearinghouse called CareerCast. But CareerJournal produces its own career advice articles. Look at a sample authored by Heidi D. Golledge10:

"Should you post your resume on job boards in this economy? The answer is yes. BUT WHEN POSTING ON JOB BOARDS, YOU MUST GO IN AND UPDATE YOUR RESUME EVERY DAY. Sorry, I don't mean to scream, but I have to use caps to make that point. Every day, new job hunters post their resumes on the job boards, pushing your resume down the list, away from a recruiter's inspecting eyes. You may be the perfect person for the job, but no one will see your resume if it isn't in the top 10."

In the strongest language possible -- in capital letters --, Ms. Golledge and the editors of The Wall Street Journal warn that if you don't spend time each day on their site, you're dead meat in the job market. I've written a number of resumes in my time, and I know it takes more than a few minutes to properly update a resume, so the thought of doing daily updates is daunting. What I can't fathom is what new, relevant information I could possibly come up with on a daily basis to justify an update. (Well, actually I understand completely. Ms. Golledge wants you to change a few words in your resume to trigger a change in its file date, thereby popping it to the top of the data base so you can fool a personnel jockey into thinking yours is a new resume. That seems to be the "insider tip" offered by the folks who manage the integrity of the resume data base CareerJournal sells to employers.)

What Ms. Golledge and The Wall Street Journal don't divulge is the odds that your daily visits to their site will pay off. While they deliver articles exhorting readers to use their site on a daily basis, they don't divulge the service's success rate. They don't disclose the independent metrics of Forrester Research or CareerXroads about job boards, either. But they have no qualms about egging you on to spend precious hours applying for jobs that employers are unlikely to hire you to fill. I could scream.

Blind in one eye; winking with the other
That's the fraud of the job boards. Oh, there may be no violation of any law, except perhaps a social contract or two pertaining to integrity; no theft, except perhaps of your time. The disclaimers you accept on these sites, and the terms and conditions you agree to, protect them. But fraud has more than a legal definition. It is commonly defined in the dictionary as "an act of deceiving or misrepresenting".

The problem lies not just in the piss-poor success of these services at getting you hired, but in their directing you to devote inordinate amounts of precious time and resources to a job hunting method that isn't at all likely to land you a job. The problem lies in a perceived conflict of interest; in the implied editorial integrity of newspapers you trust; and in a job board's failure to disclose the truth about the advice and service it is providing. The problem lies in winking at the statistics about success rates. The problem lies in turning a blind editorial eye to the naked truth: the job boards are a lousy way to hire or to get hired.

The job boards have evolved. They used to be propped up mainly by corporate human resources departments that know they're unlikely to hire you if you devote your job-search time to their postings. Indeed, HR managers grumble about the masses of inappropriate applicants that waste HR's time. We can only wonder what their shareholders would say about the enormous budgets they spend on a recruitment system that doesn't work very well. (Forrester Research12 reports that in 2003 companies will spend $511 million on job postings alone, and another $268 million for the privilege to slog through online resume data bases in search of a handful of people they will actually hire. And they call this recruiting.)

But the real tragedy for the job hunter is that the job boards have found new financial support. They have merged into newspapers and periodicals that have an ethical obligation to deliver news and articles with integrity. As we've said, it's caveat emptor when Monster uses "advice" articles to get you to spend as much time as possible on its web site. But Monster is not a pre-eminent source of news reporting. You know it's selling something. When you spend hours each day on a trusted newspaper's web site; when, under the tutelage of its articles and apparent news reporting, you post your resume and update it every day; then you rightfully expect that the newspaper's editorial integrity is not in conflict with its advertising business. News and advertising must not be confused. Likewise, a newspaper's omission of the truth (wink, wink) --  metrics that reveal your chances of getting hired via its services -- is not excused by the exigency of earning a profit.

We don't need no stinkin' metrics
I asked an editor at an online newspaper that uses CareerBuilder what he had to say about CareerBuilder's 1.5% success rate. First, he didn't challenge the figures reported by CareerXroads. Then he said, "While the percentages might be small, the numbers are significant. According to the report you cite, the companies surveyed filled 154,958 jobs. So 1.5% would be 2,324 jobs, or CareerBuilder filled more than 100 jobs per company among the 22 companies surveyed. Hardly a 'fraud'."

This is a sophisticated guy defending 1.5% as a really a big number. So let's look at really big numbers. According to the Wausau Daily Herald (another CareerBuilder affiliate), there are "more than 5 million resumes and job seekers" on the CareerBuilder system vying for 300,000 posted jobs11. Of course, you can't just map those two figures against one another. But let's play a game that makes at least as much sense as the game the job boards play. Those figures imply there are 16 resumes for each job. Now let's go further and pretend it's one big company -- American Business, Inc. -- that owns all those jobs and that it has posted all its open jobs. You're one of the 5 million people who have lined up for one of the 4,500 jobs at American Business, Inc. that will be filled through CareerBuilder. What are your odds of success, and how much are you willing to gamble for a chance at one of those jobs? To what extent are you willing to ignore more profitable job hunting methods so you can wager at this table?

The dirty secret is that these job boards don't use relevant metrics or report their performance, and they are totally indifferent to the metrics produced by independent watchdogs. They have no interest in hiring success rates. What that editor was really saying to me was, Metrics? We don't need no stinkin' metrics. All we need is recruitment advertising revenue and lots of job hunters -- and we've got both.

The naked truth
Perhaps a big-budget HR department isn't worried about wasting a few million bucks here, or a few million there. (Want to talk metrics with an HR executive? Ask how much it costs to sort and process the masses of inexpensive resumes he gets from the job boards.) Jobs eventually get filled. But an individual job hunter -- that poor sucker who needs one job sooner rather than later -- is profoundly affected by misuse of her precious job-hunting time. She deserves to know a company is going to roast snowballs in hell before it hires her through the jobs board she has labored on day after day. The articles she reads about the importance of posting resumes online should have the same editorial integrity as a story on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. She deserves the frank admission that 1.5% is a tiny number. She deserves full disclosure, and less job-board journalism.

Is it a fraud? You decide. Devote an hour each day -- about 12% of your working time -- surfing one of the many CareerBuilder or Monster.com sites, or DirectEmployers.com, or CareerJournal.com. Scan the job postings. Read the advice. Update your resume daily. Your challenge is to justify your investment. Then consider that somewhere between 40% and 70% of jobs are found and filled through personal referrals. 

Where should you be spending your time?

The emperor has no clothes, but HR departments believe what they want to believe; job hunters seem content wearing blinders; newspapers see no problem. So why do I want to scream?

Best,
Nick Corcodilos
 

What's your experience with the job boards?
Please let me know: Share your thoughts, and indicate whether you're a job hunter or an employer.

Did you find a job or make a hire through a job board? How did you find your last job or hire your last employee?

How much time do you spend on the boards? Do you post your resume? Have you encountered problems?

Do you think the boards are a good idea? Would you like to see the boards disclose job-finding and hiring success rates? What's your advice to others about using the boards? What suggestions would you offer to the boards themselves?

(I may publish comments you submit, but I will not publish or disclose your name or contact information without your permission.)


REFERENCES
1. "The Career Networks," by Charlene Li, Forrester Research (Boston), February, 2000.
2. "Still Hiring -- But Wanting The Human Touch," by Tom Pohlmann, Forrester Research (Boston), November 29, 2001.
3. This study was reported in "Online Job Sites Offer Easy Searches, But Boards Produce Few Actual Hires," The Wall Street Journal, January 2, 2002.
4. Impact of the Internet on Source of Hires --
2002, by Gerry Crispin and Mark Mehler, CareerXroads, Kendall Park, NJ.
5. Can Anyone Build a Better Monster? Online job boards bring in resumes, but not always the right ones, by Ann Harrington, Fortune, May 1, 2002.
6. New Internet Consortium Falls Considerably Short, by Peter D. Weddle, CareerJournal from The Wall Street Journal, June 6, 2003. [Don't bother trying this link. After seeing this issue of the ATH Newsletter, DirectEmployers.com attacked Weddle's statistics and The WSJ promptly removed the article. So much for editorial integrity at The WSJ. Maybe next time they'll put a fact-checker on the career articles.]
7. "DirectEmployers.com Launches Online Transition & Outplacement Center Further Enhancing Its Recruiting Service Offerings," press release from DirectEmployers.com Indianapolis, IN, May 9, 2002. This release states: "The center is available for individual use or corporate outplacement programs, and professional outplacement firms that work with companies and individuals to provide counseling and other career services are also encouraged to participate." 
8. Click, You're Hired. Or Tracked... A Report on the Privacy Practices of Monster.com, by Pam Dixon, The Privacy Foundation, 2001.
9. Five reasons you should post your resume, USA Today.
10. These Recruiter Insights Will Give Your Search a Lift, by Heidi Golledge, CareerJournal from The Wall Street Journal.
11. Media groups create online job service, by Kyle Gearhart, Wausau Daily Herald, November 26, 2002.
12. "Online Recruitment Takes A Coffee Break," by Charlene Li, Forrester Research (Boston), December 19, 2002.

  
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