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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?