Question

You don’t have to look far to find complaints about the job boards, including LinkedIn, Indeed, ZipRecruiter and the rest. I’ve seen some ridiculous claims about how many jobs these websites actually fill, but nothing scientific. Has the government tried to rein these guys in? Has there been any attempt to regulate the job boards?

Nick’s Reply

regulate job boardsA quick search for “job board success rates” turns up nothing those boards can be proud of. At best, you’ll find loads of criticism about job boards. Several years ago, for a column I was writing for PBS NewsHour, I interviewed CareerBuilder. A spokesperson claimed the job board filled almost half of all jobs in the U.S. but no, she could not show me any data. Around the same time Indeed claimed 65% of hires. I’m still laughing.

What are job boards good for?

One of the more pointed critiques is from employment software vendor CareerPlug. Based on pre-COVID 2019 data, this study slams the failure of job boards as the weakest source of hires:

“An applicant who applied directly from a company careers page was 23 times more likely to be hired than an applicant from a job board.”

“An applicant who applied from a referral was 85 times more likely to be hired than an applicant from a job board.”

When I hear that boards are helpful, it seems to be mainly freelancers and contractors (that don’t want permanent jobs) that defend them.

What are job boards good at? Producing job applications — up to 88% of them. The “job boards produce quantity,” reports CareerPlug, “but not always quality.” Virtually every study I’ve encountered concludes other sources of hires are dramatically more productive. More applications don’t yield more hires. The job boards are simply delivering more wrong candidates and more wrong job “matches.”

So, why do the job boards dominate the employment system and suck up the bulk of recruiting dollars? I think it’s simply because they are not regulated.

Time to regulate the job boards?

It’s long past time the federal government properly investigated this database industry — because it’s not a recruiting industry. It’s an amalgam of database jockeys and marketers producing and hawking software that fails epically at recruiting because it does little more than keyword matching. No job board I’ve encountered seems to understand the rudiments of recruiting.

What should be regulated? I’d settle, to start, for basic disclosures.

Require from all job boards:

  • Outcomes Analysis: Show us the success rates for job hunters and employers that use a job board.
  • Substantiate the marketing claims: Show us an audit trail for a job or resume posting.
  • Disclose the source of each job posting (employer, recruiter, another job board?).
  • Verify and certify that a job posting is real, and take down ones that are filled or canceled.
  • Publish the original job post date and fill date.
  • Disclose on each posting how many people have applied to date.
  • Publish flowcharts of processes behind every job board.
  • Disclose algorithms a board uses to make matches and rejections.
  • Disclose salaries for all posted jobs. (This is already required by law in some states.)

That’s just a start.

Where is job board regulation?

To answer your question, I don’t believe government agencies have ever really attempted to regulate the job boards. Oh, there are anti-discrimination laws, truth-in-advertising laws, and more recently salary disclosure laws, but there is scant oversight and regulation of the recruitment advertising business. The Federal Trade Commission has prosecuted some recruitment scammers, but enforcement is too little and too rare. Chasing one-off scams does nothing to address the major players that dominate how you look for jobs and how employers try to hire.

I’m not a fan of regulation for its own sake, but an important purpose of government is to protect consumers from misinformation and systemic deceit in business. Interview 100 job seekers about their experiences with job boards and you’ll find plenty of deceit to justify a federal investigation — and regulation.

Do you think job boards should be regulated? What disclosures do you want to see? What regulations do you believe are necessary? What  misrepresentations and deceits have you encountered? Is there a way to regulate job boards into being truly effective?

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151 Comments
  1. I haven’t received a “Job Match” from ZipRecruiter in a few days now, and I am never so happy. The only reason I had gotten involved with them, or any other job board, was because a “How to find a Client” webinar I had attended had suggested them as a potential source of clients.

    What I did get was an inbox full of disconnected and inappropriate “matches” with companies who honestly had a hyper-inflated idea of the requirements an entry-level copywriter should possess.

    Since I was able to get in and adjust my Job Alert (essentially entry-level or junior copywriter, Phoenix AZ or remote, starting salary in line with what other entry-level freelance copywriters are contracting for) I haven’t heard from ZipRecruiter.

    No great loss there.

  2. I am on LinkedIn in Australia. Until August, I was a career IT contractor.

    Honestly, applying for jobs on LinkedIn almost never gets a response, but if a recruiter (either internal or external) finds my profile – either on LinkedIn or in their database from a previous application – all of a sudden I’m a valuable commodity. Probably says more about recruiters than LinkedIn. It got to the point where I almost stopped applying, and just sat around waiting for their call or message. It has been several years since I last got a role where I applied directly without an initial approach from a recruiter.

    I now have a ‘permanent’ job with a consulting firm, which was from an approach from an internal recruiter from the consultancy. So far so good!

  3. I think that headhunters should be licensed by the state like they do with plumbers, civil engineers and electricians. Have to prove competency, be insured and be held accountable. These job boards would be considered “headhunters” if they have apply on line processes, provide clients with candidate information, Likewise they would be required to be overseen by a licensed headhunter.

  4. As far as I’m concerned, job boards are no better than the classified ads in newspapers from decades ago.

    • @BJ: I’d say the classifieds were better just because employers couldn’t leave filled/canceled jobs listed. They’d have to pay to continue the ad. It was self-limiting. There is virtually no cost to an employer or the job board it uses to leave a dead job in the database. It’s more listings provided. Who cares if you apply for a dead job posting? The job hunter doesn’t matter.

      • Don’t forget they were often charged by the word so ads cut to the chase!

    • No they are worse. At least the classifieds gave you an address where they are at and a name.

      • If there is no phone and no address I never apply. However, I have thought of sending a completely bogus name and resume and then play the same game I play with other scam telephone callers. Is the name Barthelomew Sampson too obvious?

  5. The BEST job search advice I ever received was from a recruiter who pointed out that companies regularly post classified ads to pad their talent pools, not to hire. That did more to explain the black hole that is every job board than anything else I ever learned.

    • When I was young – and job ads for anything other than entry-level jobs were spread across the Business section of the paper – it was commonly known that an annoying percentage of job ads were actually to advertise the company, and show how well they were doing.
      They had no intention of hiring anyone.

  6. Do we really want the government putting its fingers into one more piece of our lives? Look at the DMV…run by state governments…possibly among the worst-run organizations in any given state. More government is not the answer to every problem plaguing our lives.

    I agree that these job boards do not provide value. I liken them to thrift stores…you have to sift through a ton of junk, but sometimes you might just find a gem. Also, like thrift stores, I only spend a minuscule amount of time there.

    Reach out to contacts, let others know you are on the hunt, pick up material to learn…then write blog posts about what you are learning. Find some companies you would like to work for and check out their job listings, study their position in the market, read about their corporate culture, and find an inside track/contact.

    The only job I ever held, where I did not get a personal, internal reference was as a pizza delivery driver when I was in high school…over 30 years ago. I have worked for 10 different companies since being a pizza guy.

    • Yes. Recruiters have taken to submitting “applications” without bothering to get permission from the “applicant”. That’sa good way to set ones prefessional reputation on a downward slide.

    • I agree Todd. Let’s start cutting out the Guvment oversight. If the product is lousy don’t buy it.

  7. In over 20 years, I don’t think I’ve ever disagreed with you, so this is, I believe, a first.

    We have a free-enterprise economic (and thus hiring and getting hired) system in this country which means, as I understand it, minimum government control and influence. Also, it means let the market and the law of supply and demand do their thing.

    Under such a system, businesses are free to do what they want (within the law, of course) and spend their money any way they want to. Your proposal goes against that, and unnecessarily restricts this aspect of the business world. I don’t believe you want the government telling you how to spend your marketing and business development dollars, and if I’m correct, why would you think it’s a good idea for the government to tell other businesses how to spend theirs?

    What you’re proposing simply / merely imposes more government control with questionable effectiveness (“Hi, we’re from the government, and we’re here to help you”). Instead, I think it would be much, much better to let the free market have its course in this area. If employers want to use job boards as they currently exist, fine, what’s the problem? They’re investing their own money, just like in the stock market, to make money. Would you be okay with the government telling you, for example, where you could and couldn’t invest your business development money? What car you could or couldn’t buy? That (as was suggested earlier) recruiters be licensed?

    I think all this is brought about by disgruntled job seekers who find it hard to get employed (and I spent 14 months unemployed in the early 2000s, and have been fired and laid off, both more than once, so don’t suggest I’ve never been there) and are looking for someone to blame and for an easy button to solve their employment issues.

    What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, so to be fair, let’s also regulate job seekers:

    1) Job seekers must use a 2-page resume in every case, with Arial font; include their actual street address; sign a sworn statement that every claim on the resume is 100% accurate; and so on.

    2) Will be limited to 7 job applications each week (because, you know, employers are overwhelmed with too many applications).

    3) Must disclose all applications they have submitted in the past 60 days, the salary ranges offered by those jobs, whether they were interviewed for those jobs, and if so, how many interviews per job.

    4) Must disclose a salary range they are seeking, and no negotiation will be allowed outside that range.

    5) Once hired, will be prevented by law from leaving their employment before 18 months.

    If job seekers are fed up with, disappointed in, or don’t like job boards, fine, don’t use them … apply another way. You know, like ice cream, if you don’t like banana, buy something else, like chocolate.

    Finally, it is the employer’s money, so let them spend it any way they want (within the law). If we’re not down with that, let’s not be complaining when the government comes around and tells us what companies we must apply to, and which we can’t, in order to fill labor shortages … you know, like certain other countries have done and, I assume, do now.

    • @Chris: Ok, thanks. Now everyone knows we’re not in business together :-). As a capitalist, I enjoyed your comments. As a consumer, I’ll point out the flaw in your logic:

      “If employers want to use job boards as they currently exist, fine, what’s the problem? They’re investing their own money, just like in the stock market, to make money.”

      “Would you be okay with the government telling you, for example, … What car you could or couldn’t buy?”

      There are loads of government restrictions on where I can invest my money. Just ask the SEC.

      Likewise, there are restrictions on what cars we can buy because certain kinds of cars are not permitted on the road.

      There are government restrictions on us all around, everywhere, every day. You can try to buy certain drugs, and you probably can, but they’re illegal.

      I used to be a dyed-in-the-wool capitalist, but now I’m more a garden-variety capitalist. I choose to live in a very large society where some things get out of hand, and by living here I agree to live with restraints. As a consumer, I rely on constraints to my buying behavior, even if sometimes I disagree with them.

      Ask the executives that paid a phony “search firm” thousands of dollars to work with recruiters that didn’t exist to get jobs that were fake. The FTC shut them down, but only because of restrictions on what kinds of services can be legally sold to consumers.

      Or, you could figure it all out for yourself by trial and error. Wanna buy some stock in Ask The Headhunter? I’d be glad to print up a stock certificate for you, but I’d need the money up front. And I’d have to order a nice looking certificate form to print it on. Don’t worry, the market will take care of everything.

      Sorry for the sarcasm, but “you” might be an earnest consumer who hasn’t had time to check out everything they spend money on. We might even argue that regulations are just another tool in the kit of capitalism!

      • There are laws against fraud. End of discussion.

      • Hi back, Nick — And in your reply you mention “government restrictions” and you are correct … which is why near the beginning of my comment I said, “Under such a system, businesses are free to do what they want (within the law, of course) and spend their money any way they want to.” I was clear in saying “within the law, of course” to distinguish between what you are pointing out and the freedom to conduct business, advertise open jobs, apply for employment as we see fit.

        I don’t want the government (or anyone else) telling me how I can or can’t advertise my jobs, how I can or can’t apply for jobs I see advertised, and how I can or can’t run my job board business (as long as, again, I’m running my job board business in accordance with applicable laws).

        And again, if job seekers don’t like the way job boards are set up, their content, or anything else about them, wonderful, just stop using and applying to those job boards. If job seekers want to stop using job boards, they don’t need to ask the government’s permission or ask the government to get involved. They just need to “do it.” It’s not that hard, unless our mindset is to let someone else — the government, our parents, some job-search guru — run our job search for us. If a person is unhappy with job boards but can’t bring themselves to try to find a solution that is effective, and wants someone else to do it for them, I think that says a lot about what kind of employee they would be, when and if thy get hired.

        • @Chris Hogg,
          I’m with you on this one. I’m no proponent of government intrusion either. This passing laws to protect people from themselves is silly.
          I say let the market determine the course for these sketchy job boards, and those disreputable employers that use them and play these games.
          It’s no secret that these job boards are a fool’s errand, and urinating on your shoes, so simply don’t use them. Why spin your wheels.
          You hear a lot that there’s a “work aversion” problem, and on its face, I agree with this somewhat. But there’s clearly an “accountability” problem, not taking ownership of your life and conduct.

        • Chris: if you don’t like government intrusion, why do you think private sector intrusion is any better? If a company like “Indeed” applies for a job in your name without telling you, they aren’t doing you any favors.

          • Hi Tom — I don’t think private sector intrusion would be better, and don’t think I stated that anywhere, did I? Also, I don’t understand how or why some activity like Indeed would apply to a job at all, let alone in someone’s name.

            • I don’t know why they do it either, but they do it. They used a deceptive form not mentioning their involvement to collect resumes.

    • @Chris: I agree there are already laws in place, but I’m not sure they are up to date enough to countenance the technology behind job boards and HR practices. There was plenty of data to prove cigarettes were deadly, yet people even today die of the smoking habit. Smokers could have “voted with their wallets” and just stopped smoking — a market action!

      But they didn’t. Sometimes it takes new laws. Are job boards any less an addiction?

      I’d be happy to start with enforcement of current laws. A few years ago I spent an enormous amount of money defending myself from a fraudster who was finally put out of business by a federal agency that demonstrated the fraud. For over a decade, victims complained to authorities but no one enforced the law. So I’d be happy to see enforcement. Perhaps debates like this redirect attention to enforcement failures — and that’s good.

      • @Nick: What an interesting (and important) discussion. But I think we’re in an apples-to-oranges situation here.

        We could solve our national drug problem literally overnight in two ways: 1) people just say no and stop using, or 2) make all drugs legal, and let people do what they want (and of course, reap the benefits and suffer the consequences). About smoking, I started in junior high school, and smoked for some 15 years (I couldn’t legally buy cigarettes when I started (way too young) but could easily steal or “bum” them). This is apples.

        Oranges are the ability of buyers, sellers, businesses, and the general population to do what they want within the confines of applicable laws. If someone thinks job boards are evil, manipulative, or just plain ineffective, fine, because those people are free to ignore, to not use, those job boards. In my opinion I don’t need laws to help me regulate my behavior.

        If I decide to not use job boards as an employer, and if I decide to not use job boards as a job seeker, fine, no problem, and no harm (or potential harm) to individuals or to the general population, to society as a whole. If the law of the land is that vehicles are to be driven in the right-hand lanes of roads and highways, and I decide to drive on the left, that’s a whole different story.

        And comparing the two scenarios is apples-to-oranges.

        PS: I quit smoking “cold turkey” in the 1971-72 timeframe, thankfully, otherwise I doubt that I’d be alive today to engage in discussions like this.

  8. Regarding my previous comment.

    I worked with a gentleman from another country, who got his bachelor’s degree, free and clear, paid for by the government. His field was A, his major course of study was B.

    When he graduated and got his degree, the government told him that he would be working in field X, with a job title of Y … and if he wasn’t willing to accept that, he wouldn’t be working anywhere, doing anything.

    So sure, let the government regulate job boards, and everything else for that matter.

    But again, don’t let us be complaining when the law of unintended consequences kicks in, and the government shows up at our door, and doesn’t say “We’re here to help you” but rather, says, “Here’s what you’re going to do.”

    • @Chris: And that’s a good rejoinder to any argument for regulation. But I’ve got a better one, based on my own experience. The government may attempt to permanently close a major road in my town, and I may object. So I line up thousands of people to protest the restriction. It takes a while, but the road is reopened and I win, and a government agency loses because it overstepped. We can always protest, sue, organize and change our government.

      But that road I’m talking about? It’s been reopened, but they left the guardrails and barbed wire fence up all along its length. Another government restriction. But I’m grateful, because that road goes over a huge dam with deep water on one side and a 140 foot drop on the other. That restriction I’m happy with. The wonder of our form of government is that we are always free to choose how to respond to the market, to danger, to crooks and to regulations.

      If you’re interested, here’s the story of that road:
      http://www.exmayor.com/2022/07/01/road-closed-without-public-comment/

      • Sorry, Nick, but you are just plain wrong / silly.

        I’m in a smallish town where the City Council caters to the RE developers. 99%. My wife and I fought it, with 250 neighbors, and we slowed them down a few months. RE developers got what they wanted. The public lost out; but we do have the best traffic lights that bribes can buy.

        As to employment, why would anyone ever consider pretending that they can create a career at one company? No company feels any loyalty at all to their employees. Your nly career is one you develop by obtaining all the training(MBA, Lean Six Sigma, etc.) that you can from your current employer; obtaining every promotion as rapidly as possible; obtaining bonuses and raises as much and as rapidly as possible; with all the real fringe benefits, and then parlay that from each employer into a better situation at the net employer.

        As a long time consultant, I discovered how tremendously much more I learned from being at many companies. That is an experience you can only dream about.You have more freedom to achieve what you can, more diverse experiences and interactions with differfent disciplines and business conditions, etc. etc. etc. Which translates into receiving much, much more income and benefits than would ever have been attainable in a single or a few employment situations.

    • Any company senior manager can play the same games.

  9. My main beefs with job boards are the duplicate job listings without any indication of the salary range, especially those with expansive one (say, $50K-$180K) with 27 bullet points with each requiring 5-10 years of experience (which you can’t help but interpret as “Joe knew all this after working with us for ten years—you need to know all this on Day 1”), confusing or contradictory location information, etc., etc. And then seeing the exact same listing posted by a dozen or more “recruiters”.

    But… none of these are the fault of the job board(s) themselves. It’s be nice if the boards didn’t contain so much chaff.

    I fully agree with the idea of most (if not all) board being nothing but keyword matchers. Some are worse than others. I occasionally (roughly weekly) get emails from one board telling me that jobs for “machine operator” and “light assembly” are just right for me. I can only attribute this to my resume mentioning “virtual machine” and “assembly language”. Like I mentioned: chaff.

    As for the governments getting involved? It was mandatory years ago when I applied for UI they applicants (all? selected randomly? who knows?) had to attend a session withe the state UI agency. More than one person in attendance asked where was the best place to find jobs in (pick a field/specialty) and the only reply they got was: Indeed. It wouldn’t surprise me if they’re still telling UI applicants that.

    • My kingdom for an edit function: “when I applied for UI they applicants” should be “when I applied for UI that applicants” and “withe” should be “with”.

    • @Rick: The boards could not operate without the explicit support and funding of employers and their HR departments.

      • I understand that. It’s the /quality/ of the postings that I find to be the problem. Those viewing the boards would, I’m sure, appreciate it if someone at the board got back to the employer asking, “Uh… are you /sure/ this is what you want to post?” A recent one contained conflicting information about the location (on-site/remote), the hourly rate, the duration, etc. Some don’t even bother with bullet points but glom everything into a two-screen-long “paragraph”. A “Sorry, your job posting doesn’t meet our standards. Please edit and resubmit.” would be nice

        • @Rick: Just imagine an employer asking for such input on its postings!

  10. I’m for reasonable regulations, but even with reasonable regulations, the challenge can be with enforcement (who is going to do it, how will it be done, etc.). It can be done. When I worked in insurance years and years ago, the industry was heavily regulated both by the feds and by each state. At that time, the SEC had some teeth, and violators paid dearly (usually in terms of huge fees, but jail was not unheard of for those who were flagrantly breaking the law). Today, I wonder how strong a watchdog and enforcer the SEC is.

    I see job boards such as Indeed, LinkedIn, et al. as scams. I don’t know anyone who has gotten jobs through them. Yet I know many employers use them, or at their HR depts. do. Whether there are actual job openings is questionable. The job boards exist because too many employers have outsourced hiring, first to their own HR depts., and if HR uses third party job boards, well, it is because they haven’t got a clue how to hire for jobs outside of HR. Then they’re too busy, so they let someone else do the screening.

    The job boards exist because there’s a market for them. They create the illusion that there are millions and millions of candidates, and only they can screen them and present the perfect candidate. Too many employers buy into it, then complain that there are no qualified candidates or that people are too lazy.

    I’m old enough to remember when many employers ran ads in the local newspaper. It was expensive, so they’d set a time limit on how long the ad would run, and since newspapers charged by the space used, employers got good at parsing down the job description and requirements. I’m sure that not all newspaper job ads yielded perfect results, but what you didn’t have was the deluge of millions of applicants. If you lived in Iowa, you weren’t going to apply for a job in Boston unless you were planning to move to Boston. So employers usually had “local” applicants.

    Some of the bigger employers did run ads in national newspapers and professional journals, but that’s different. The university at which I worked did this for the top academic administrative jobs as well as for faculty jobs. But they’d never run an ad in non-local papers for custodians, electricians, secretaries, etc. Today, those ads get posted on their website, and they get many, many, many more applicants. More is not always better.

    • @Marybeth: That’s an excellent synopsis of the history.

  11. I went on Indeed several years ago when I moved to a small town; mainly just to keep up with events and perhaps catch an unexpected opportunity. I am listed under Lean Six Sigma, Master Black Belt, Operations Research / Data Anaytics, and Executive. And limkted to just SW Utah.

    I regularly receive CDR “opportunities” (truck driving) for Maine or New Hampshire. I wonder if they get points for every so many job openings they email to specific email addresses?

    The only remotely appropriate jobs are for “remote” based out of an eastern or midwestern city. The old printed WSJ and other want ads were about 80% reliable as to there being an actual position open.

  12. Just a note… since joining the workforce in 2008 (yeah, great year for that, right?) I have had 5 companies of employment I did get two job from LinkedIn… one of them was because I had to move halfway across the country due to some emergency situation with love interest that was unforeseen (yes, when I was a young romantic) and I had absolutely no connections career-wise in that geographic location. I was actually not the best fit for the job… I was good but not great for it and ended up getting laid off due to internal politics… but I did have 1 out of 5 jobs that I had to get from boards. The other time was right after I got laid off from that job, after just 9mon… still not enough time to network. I didn’t realize how toxic the boss was… I was just engaged (to another love interesting, long story… but I am still married to her 10yrs later and very happy) and desperate to stay employed to at least pay for the ring… so I took the first one that came my way and totally missed all the warning signs. Since then it has all been networking and now I have a superbly robust career network and don’t fear layoffs. So I think almost half of my jobs from job board isn’t too bad?

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