Ding Dong, the Job Boards Are Dead (Again)

If you think you’ve experienced deja vu about the death of job boards, welcome to the club.

In a piece in The Wall Street Journal this week, it says that recruiters are changing strategies and avoiding job boards:

As recruiters wade cautiously back into hiring mode, they’re throwing out their old playbooks. Rather than sift through mounds of online applications, they are going out to hunt for candidates themselves.

Many plan to scale back their use of online job boards, which they say generate mostly unqualified leads, and hunt for candidates with a particular expertise on places like LinkedIn Corp.’s professional networking site before they post an opening. As the market gets more competitive again, they are hiring recruiters with expertise in headhunting and networking, rather than those with experience processing paperwork.

We’ve heard this before but count me a skeptic, at least right now.

Complicated relationship with job boards

Let’s throw caution to the wind: not many employers will admit they like job boards. The reality is that many employers don’t like spending money on advertising on job boards. Of course, those same employers hated spending money on advertising in newspapers, too. Their complaints about job boards came down to lack of control, costs, and traffic envy.

Of course, that’s not a great reason to discontinue using job boards by itself. Their targeted traffic alone makes it worth considering for some positions. Their supporting networks, tools, and technologies have also improved considerably over the years. And most certainly, using a job board doesn’t stop you from using other resources as well.

When I was first sold on using a job board, they stoked my hate for newspapers. While I didn’t like simply shifting my marketing budget, I was happy to not have to deal with constrictive word limits and the slew of paper resumes I still received. It was an easy sell. Now many (including, rather ironically, newspapers and other media) are attempting to use the same logic to predict the end of job boards: new technologies are emerging that will cut dependence on job boards once and for all.

The fake issue: dependency

Of course, many employers are no longer tied to newspapers anymore and are using technology that is much improved. You’d think they’d be ecstatic but in many cases though, they aren’t. Shifting dependencies wasn’t on the agenda and now many are just as (if not more) reliant on job boards than they were on newspapers.

And if a new technology comes around that changes the face of recruiting (for real, not just hype), they are still dependent on that technology. After a while, they would be tired of paying the bill for that and they would be searching for something new.

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It’s a vicious cycle and one that isn’t fixed by simply jumping on the next technological bandwagon. Being dependent on a job board for a major portion of your hires isn’t the end of the world.

What employers have to be convinced of is that they are not only using resources wisely, but that they are getting the targeted hires they need. Switching from one technology to another technology isn’t going to solve that issue.

It’s a people solution

The reason the job board crisis is so tired for many of us is because it has been repeated over and over again. I wrote about this issue over four years ago and not much has changed. It was called Web 2.0 back then, but simply replace that term with “social recruiting” and I could republish it. What I said then is still relevant today:

[Great companies] market their jobs like they do their products, recruit as much as they need, they on-board and train for ongoing success, they retain the people they need and they network constantly (and have been for years before social networking). That means missing one web 2.0 trend doesn’t kill them and if something big came up technology wise, they would have both the wisdom and experience to make the changes that align them. GE and Exxon didn’t die off when mailing or faxing resumes became a thing of the past.

Especially in this day and age, I believe discerning and intelligent recruitment is the answer. I still believe that. And I believe that job boards still can play a critical role in recruiting candidates and should be a part of your comprehensive recruiting plan. While I don’t believe you should put all of your eggs into one basket, I also believe that you need to leave your recruiting doors open to use whatever combination of resources you need to get the job done.

Honestly, what worries me most is this final sentence of that quote from The Wall Street Journal, “As the market gets more competitive again, [companies] are hiring recruiters with expertise in headhunting and networking, rather than those with experience processing paperwork.”

If that is truly the case, I wonder why we didn’t start by cutting paper-pushing recruiters in the first place instead of looking at a technological solution to compensate for the lack of critical skills?


15 Comments on “Ding Dong, the Job Boards Are Dead (Again)

  1. So true. This has been a hot topic every year for at least four years, probably more. I read the WSJ article and while the statements you quoted are true, many of the statements issued explained that would rely more on niche job boards (industry or geo-specific).
    The “paper pusher” statement also had a caveat, in that many companies were choosing to have more junior recruiters or “screeners” wade through the resume glut rather than have senior recruiters and HR Pros do it, which is a smart way of balancing your dependency on a technology losing its dominant place in the markeet, while still maintaining diversity in how you communicate your open jobs.
    Employer branding was also cited as an issue for backing away from job boards. It’s a vicious cycle. In times of unease, we often turn into “hoarders” in terms of resumes, email lists, information etc. However, when companies do this and receive more than they bargained for (or when the numbers even hint at a candidate’s market), they run the risk of damaging their consumer brand by not responding to a large portion of applicants. The response of the companies interviewed for the WSJ article seems like a balanced approach to “tightening” their focus on which jobs they use large general boards for, which ones they market on regional or industry specific boards and which they choose to headhunt.

    1. My main issue is that companies looked to cut competent recruiting (or not seek them in the first place) and instead keep paper pushers and complain that job boards aren’t doing the trick. I guess that gets old quick when there is so much out there that says “don’t do this.”

      Your point about branding is legit but I’ve never understood the no response thing. I don’t think I ever will.

  2. The few companies that recruit one-on-one, in person, and with the enthusiasm that only credible humans can muster, will never have any competition, because most companies will always pay for tools like job boards and newspapers that the morons they employ in the recruiting department can continue to use without lifting their butts from the chairs in front of their computers. I love the job boards: it’s where the competition is herded and kept out of my way so I can do my job. The only talent shortage is between the ears of those who can’t do the job. Long live the job boards!

    Nick Corcodilos

    1. Calling them morons is a tad harsh but I agree in principle. Broadcasting jobs makes sense in certain scenarios, no matter what the latest tech may be. It makes me turn up my nose a little bit just admitting that, but it’s true.

      And if, as Gerry has said, many job boards are evolving, let’s hope they help evolve recruiting processes too. While I may be skeptical of that, it would at least be some progress toward better practices in recruiting.

      That being said, it’s still about the people who are picking up the phones, sourcing and getting the real recruiting done that are the ones who need to keep evolving and demanding better.

    2. “If, as Gerry has said, many job boards are evolving, let’s hope they help evolve recruiting processes too.”

      The job boards have been around for over two decades. Some of the smaller, niche boards have “evolved” incredibly good database technologies. That’s evolution.

      When Gerry suggests the boards might grow some sort of new head that does recruiting, that would be totally revolutionary. I think what escapes observers of the job board industry is that these companies are, plain and simple, purveyors of database services. In 20 years they’ve demonstrated no inkling or interest in recruiting. What makes anyone think they’re going to do something revolutionary now, when most of them can’t even evolve better database capabilities?

      The only “revolutionary” practices many boards have attempted to develop have failed miserably. They include resume writing services, coaching services, outplacement services, and even headhunting services. Rather than stick to the knitting like some of the niche boards do (Dice is a good example, and I’ll disclose that I license Ask The Headhunter content to Dice), Monster, CareerBuilder, TheLadders and others have wandered into “high touch” services, with the result that they have made themselves laugh ingstocks. (“Free resume critiques” have become one of the biggest jokes in the career industry and have perhaps turned more customers away from TheLadders than anything else.)

      I see no indications that the job boards are developing better practices, or getting into recruiting. These are database companies. And the problem is that now that everyone and every job is in the database, the law of diminishing returns has kicked in, and the databases are becoming worthless.

      Lance, you said it all. I see no reason to qualify it. Put another way, “It’s the people, Stupid.” And the people have figured it out.

  3. It does get boring. would have been a great article in 2008.

    I didn’t even want to comment because the WSJ article is uncharacteristically weak

    1. They fail to qualify that the source of their data from which they draw their conclusions- the Corporate Council is generally composed of large ‘high brand’ firms with extensive resources that have been squeezing job boards and third party for..ever. (see any of our SOH whitepapers in the last three years) Smaller firms and less branded firms have fewer resources to attract and hire well trained recruiters who are capable of direct sourcing. they rely on job boards. Even print which is constantly sniffed attracts billions! It may account for fewer than 3% (of large firms’ hires) but it is not ‘dead’.

    2. Job boards are not…and haven’t been the most critical source of hire. Lets get real. With more than half of all openings in a firm filled by referral and internal movement already, we are not talking about a sea change. The real shift is in how quickly top recruiters within a corporation can add online social/professional technology tools to their phone skills to source/network critical candidates. Yes, it will slowly eat into the 10-15% attributed to traditional boards but those jobboards have already shifted their strategies (not clearly described in this article) and we should see more and more services that incorporate w2.0.

    In September at HRTechnology conference a room full of players debated this subject and pretty much agreed that evolving is much more accurate than dead.

    1. Great comment, Gerry. As you know, there has been and will always be demand for some way to broadcast available jobs rather easily and there has been and will always be demand for people who don’t rely on that tactic alone. While I don’t think the technology is irrelevant (especially to the practitioner and seeker), I have to believe that tactical evolving of tech makes more sense than a premature declaration of death.

      1. I think the word “social” has gotten us all off track. It’s kind of like a magic trick when you’re told to look at the card in the right hand while the real magic is happening in the left hand. Our Careers are not social, if anything they are anti-social. You don’t want anyone to know you’re unhappy or looking for another job. Hello, “passive candidate.” Will look if the right thing comes along but is very protective of who and how they share those desires. I think the recruiting industry in looking at utilizing technology the wrong way by saying it’s either “social technology” or not technology at all. There’s a solution there with technology but it’s not social in my opinion.

    2. Gerry: I’ve always wished that CareerXroads would add a section to the annual survey about how much $$$ companies spend each year on job boards.

      While the boards may represent only a small source of hires, the problem seems to be that they suck up the bulk of the corporate recruiting budget. A good buddy of mine who is VP or HR at a Fortune 50 company expressed the problem simply to me. The top brass at the major boards “wine and dine” his own top brass so effectively, that the bulk of the available recruiting budget is sunk each year into the boards. Meanwhile, he complains that he can’t get a few dollars to go out and recruit actively on an ongoing basis.

      The truth of his complaint is evident. Just look at the HR, recruiting and related career-industry events that are subsidized by Monster, TheLadders and other major boards. It’s a self-perpetuating system. The job-board racket is one of epic proportions, and it’s propped up by the very employers who get little for their dollar. I just don’t see HR (or employers) getting off the teat. The boards are entrenched, and we know that entrenchment doesn’t exactly lead to innovation.

      There will always be two classes of “recruiting help” for employers. That which involves people going out and talking to people in the professional community, to actually recruit them. And that which involves algorithms humming quietly on many CPUs, spinning their databases mindlessly while gamblers sit and wait for the wheel to stop on their number. It’s an addiction.

      (I pity the small company you refer to, which can’t “hire well trained recruiters” and “rely on job boards.” Those companies suffer the most, because talent is their most critical asset, and they just can’t seem to figure out that the first talent they must invest in is managers who know how to go find more good people. Those small companies have the worst addiction of all.)

  4. I was reading an article in “Fortune Magazine” last year about how some companies are saying that social media with be the future of recruiting. I was just having a conversation yesterday with a sales rep from Careerbuilder and I explained to him how the job board is not the most efficient way to source quality professionals and as a recruiter in a staffing agency in order to be competitive you have to utilize many resources to seek out the right candidate rather it be social media, industry specific job boards etc.
    I don’t agree with the Fortune Magazine article that social media will eventually replace job boards however it is another tool available to utilize as apart of the recruiting process.
    The reality is that the economy being in a slump the last two years as result has forever changed the work force.

    I believe that your careerbuilder and monster works great we sourcing entry level and even some mid-level professionals.

    1. I agree. I’m all about the tool belt approach too. You don’t saw a hole in the wall with the same tool you use to hang a picture. Having multiple tools at your disposal and know how and when to use them is key.


  5. The real disconnect is the process (not the delivery mechanism), whether paper driven or technology driven, in that employers cannot be detailed enough in their requirements specification and job/culture marketing (for fear that everyone will claim to have the required competencies and experience) and candidates have the frustrating experience of enumerating their talents and gifts in a vacuum, guessing at what to include in the resume and what to leave out, knowing full well that what they leave out may very well be exactly what the employer is looking for. Conventional approaches, regardless of the technology, are inadequate for both sides of the equation. The more accurate evolution, which has quietly been around for over 15 years, is a multimedia communication channel driven by artificial intelligence that enables an employer to detail the job & culture benefits and afford the candidates the opportunity to respond via direct questioning to thoroughly showcase their pertinent experience and competencies without having to guess at what to present. As an automated system, volume of candidates becomes immaterial for the employer (the more the better) and the platform’s ability to make its own decisioning (while first “trained” by the hiring authority) results in a single session engagement for the candidate that ends with feedback as appropriate.

  6. Job boards aren’t dead…they are just evolving. And part of this evolution is getting recruiters to actually write a better quality job ad.

    We strongly believe poor ads = poor candidates.

    Our research has shown that most  recruiters just cut’n’ paste the job description and then call this their job ad – this is not only a very lazy way of trying to attract quality candidates but also sets the recruiter up for getting a flood of rotten applications in their inbox.

    We’ve also found recruiters spend very little time crafting a job ad, mainly due to the fact that they don’t know how to craft a great job ad, which in its most basic form is just a normal advertisement.

    Job boards per se are not dead, it is the effort that recruiters put into their job board listings that is having cardiac arrest

    So c’mon recruiters, get creative with your titles, descriptions and language and step up and write better job ads – if you don’t have the time/knowledge then outsource it to someone who can

    Karl Deitz

  7. In my opinion, Constratus posts a lot of ads that just generate work for their employees. these ads in my experience are extraneous and do not lead to any opportunity though fulfill terms of contracts for providers.

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