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Go to Menu Job Netting
By Nick Corcodilos

Part I:
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 investment?"

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 of Salt
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; 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 "facts."

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 line."

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 these estimates?

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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