By Nick Corcodilos
Is That A Job Opportunity,
Or A Rubber Worm?
Have you been job hunting on the
Net yet? Have you used online recruiting services to hire new employees? In this article
we'll explore how the Internet can exacerbate the failings of the traditional employment
system, then we'll look at some ways you might use this powerful new information
technology to your advantage.
Who's Netting A Job?
It's Joe Public's common assumption that the
more technical a person's job (e.g., computer programmer, engineer, information systems
worker) the more likely he or she will be to go online in search of a new job. The
experience of such professionals should give us a good idea of how the Net serves this
first wave of savvy job hunters.
According to the 1998 Electronic
Engineering Times Salary & Opinion Survey only 39% of its readers surveyed had
searched the Net for a job in the preceding twelve months. Of those, a minuscule 4% said
they found a job using the Internet, and that's down from 4.9% in 1997 and 5.5% in 1996.
An interesting trend, and all the more interesting because it was re-confirmed in 2000 in a study by Forrester Research which found that
only 4% of the general population of Internet users found their jobs online.
Surprising? Maybe not. I'll go out on a limb and
speculate that engineers are good bellwethers for how useful the Net really is as a job
hunting tool, and they're not ringing the bell. The EE Times report goes on to
say, "Truth is, no one is absolutely sure how many jobs any one recruitment method
leads to." Bernard Hodes Advertising, one of the biggest recruitment ad agencies in the
United States and operator of the employment Web site CareerMosaic, points out
that the advertisers -- in whatever medium -- rarely report back the results of any
campaign. Nice way to run a business. But, since other recruitment methods don't track
results, why should anyone bother to do so on the Web?
Okay, maybe engineers aren't a good example (though I
think they are). Let's go look at the broader market.
In its "Electronic Recruiting Index," the
recruitment advertising analysis firm Internet
Business Network (IBN) claimed that in 1998 there were over 23,000 recruiting web
sites and over 28 million jobs posted. That's across industries and job categories.
"The question is no longer whether to use the Internet," insists an IBN press
release. "Any firm interested in acquiring the highest qualified employment
candidates must instead ask, How do we optimize our electronic recruiting
IBN isn't alone in touting the value of the Net as a
recruiting resource. The push is on from commercial recruitment advertisers across the
Net. They're all focused on getting you to choose how to post jobs and resumes, where to
post, what key words to use (the current wisdom points to nouns), what your pages should
look like, and how to scan the replies you get.
Please Pass A Few Grains
But we're still not getting an answer.
Where's the beef? That is, what percentage of jobs are being filled through these postings
on the Net?
Back in 1998 John Sumser, CEO of IBN admitted, "No one really
knows. There's just no way to track it." As of 2000, at least one major research company, Forrester, has pegged the poor
performance of the job sites at 4%.
In too many ways, the Net is being used just like the
classified section of any newspaper. It does little more than amplify the same old
unproductive search strategies and create a false sense that you're working harder at your
search simply because you're connected. Without incurring the cost of a single postage
stamp, you can tell every employer who's online that you're ready to boogie for the right
salary. Click, click. Your job hunting duties are done for today.
Personnel departments must be dancing in the hallways.
Their recruiting methods are state-of-the-art and the resumes they receive are already
digitized and chock-full of keywords. Heck, managers can interview anyone they want -- and
there are tens of millions of people on that wire!
But wait. That limb I climbed out on is starting to
creak. Computerworld, the leading information industry weekly, pointed out that
1998 was "a make or break year for the fledgling Internet recruiting market, where
millions of dollars are at stake in the form of Internet advertising and recruiting
fees." While Computerworld suggests there's hope, it goes on to describe
online job search and hiring as "a deluge of sites, junk resumes and aging job
listings that [have] made it nearly impossible for recruiters and job seekers to find each
other and track good leads."
Something ain't working, folks, and the big boys are
scrambling to keep those ad dollars flowing. (As of 2000, many of those wild-eyed job sites have gone belly-up, and the other
biggies have merged themselves out of hock.)
Rubber Worms In The Water
Perhaps the most interesting observation we
could make from way out here on this limb is that Madison Avenue runs and controls the
leading online career sites: CareerMosaic is Bernard Hodes; Monster.com is TMP
Worldwide; CareerMart is BSA Advertising.
Is that a real job opportunity you see out there? Or is
it a rubber worm? If you're surfing the Net for a job, odds are good that one of these
advertising agencies is serving what you're swallowing.
Job-Netting: Net gain,
net loss, or a wash?
If you're going to bother
"job-netting," or using online ads to hire or get hired, you want to know what
the potential for success is. Maybe we can extrapolate from hiring rates produced by print
advertising. Heck, if we don't, someone else will -- but remember that statistics get
tossed around all too easily, and they too quickly turn into unquestioned
Some recruitment advertising experts claim that up to 80%
of jobs are filled through classified print ads. But let's get a little closer to the
action. Kevin Brennan, a former human resources executive for Sony, says it's a little
lower. More than 100,000 resumes per year poured into Brennan's offices from classified
ads -- and that was just at Sony's corporate headquarters. "In my thirteen years in
HR, I figure we didn't fill any more than 10% of the total number of open jobs through
advertising. And that includes hiring at all levels, from executives to the production
That's quite a range of estimates: 10% and 80% in the
print world. Our question: Is the hiring activity from Internet ads better or worse than
One person who is qualified to put these contradictory
pieces together is Margaret F. Riley. Like Kevin Brennan, Riley is at least once removed
from the sale of advertising. She runs The
Riley Guide, one of the most comprehensive job-resources sites on the Web. Now an
independent consultant and advisor to the Department of Labor, she started this strictly
online reference site when she was librarian at Worcester Polytech, in Massachusetts. Her
evidence is more anecdotal, but she is in an unusually good position to speculate on
what's going on. Riley is clear: "The Net is no more useful than classified ads.
Again and again, people who've found jobs using the Net tell me it was the research they
did on the Net that got them in the door to interview -- it wasn't a job posting."
Confused yet? Don't be. I think Riley is right. But who
do you believe?
Michael Freilich, a seasoned hiring manager in the
computer industry, has a simple but powerful suggestion about online recruiting:
"When the statistics sound stupid, ignore them. Use your own judgment. Raise your own
expectations and force the system to raise its standards." The way the Net is being
used to aid job hunting and recruitment seems pretty stupid to me. Let's see how we might
raise the standards.
Link to Part II:
Are You The Fish Or The Fisherman?
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