Are Job Boards Still Relevant for the Future of Recruiting?

May 14, 2013

Everyone seems to agree that generalist large scale job boards are in trouble, and others are profiting. The decline of the Monster share price to below five dollars, parallel to the success story of LinkedIn stock, and the recent valuation of nicely illustrates these shifting dynamics. Generalist job board revenue per posting is declining, and they are facing tough competition from smaller niche job boards, job aggregators, and social networks. Will job boards remain relevant in recruitment?

The main question is not whether job boards are relevant, but whether their search results are relevant for their users. Do job seekers find the job they want, and do employers find the candidates they need? It is a simple equation of attention and relevance, and currently the competition happens to play a better card on both aspects.

The typical job board offers this primary search interface to job seekers:


Instead of inviting you to explain who you are and what you are looking for, the norm is two search boxes, one for job titles and key words, and one for location. Just the fact that I need two search boxes is already a puzzle… why not one? Can the search engine not figure out which part of my query is location?

job marketAnd I am really asked to enter a job title? How can I possibly know what job title my prospective employer has chosen for their posting? Why will I not get the same results if I type something that is a synonym or a writing variant? Why will I get jobs which match my keywords in irrelevant contexts? And most importantly: why will I get punished with zero results if I describe what I am looking for in my own language?

Should I upload my CV? A small minority of visitors to job boards actually does leave their CV in the database. I guess they sense that it will not directly help them find a job. But the CV is chock full of relevant meaning for their job search, right? So why are job boards asking job seekers to type job titles and locations into search boxes?

And when I am done searching on this one job board, do I go to the next one? That is a lot of puzzling questions.

Niche Job Boards

If anyone is still doing well in the land of traditional pay-to-post job boards, it is the niche boards. There are thousands of them and counting … based on either region or job sector. And they seem to be able to convince enough employers to spend their advertising budgets, even though for each of them the audience is rather small, and their search interfaces are very similar to those of large job boards.

Their key asset, however, is relevance. It is like they already pre-filled one part of the two standard search boxes for you (job title or location). If you are looking for a job as a rig engineer you will be looking on or As a software engineer you can go to ITJobboard or Stackoverflow. Natural language processing experts will be interested in, etc. If you are looking for work in Berlin, you might visit and the remaining 99% of the European job market will be wurst to you.

Job seekers do not want to browse through irrelevant job postings. And some discover, via their professional networks, that the jobs they seek are clustered on niche job boards. This is the tried-and-proven publishing model of professional and academic journals.

However, the success of the niche job boards is somewhat transient. Their relevance is not based on great search results; their technology does not really understand their job seekers any more than generalist job boards. They are just marketing to a very specific segment of job seekers and employers. They typically charge substantial amounts for posting jobs, without guaranteeing results. If their niche segment of advertisers can get the same relevance and attention elsewhere for less money, they are not likely to remain loyal. One could argue that the success of the niche job board is based on simple negligence in content completeness and search relevance that the large job boards have left wide open. The drama of the two keyword boxes.

The Job Aggregators

The rise of the job aggregators has been astoundingly fast and huge. Since the rumored selling price of Indeed to for over $1 billion last year, they have everyone’s attention. Of all job search traffic in the U.S., currently over 30 percent comes from Indeed. In terms of relevance, aggregators have a level playing field with the major job boards, whose job content — to a large extent — they are recycling.

Casual visitors without a profile, a simple dual text box to search, and no amazing tricks to give spot on suggestions. This simple uniform job board and aggregator interface is not asking you who you are and what job you’d like to work in. It is again asking you “do you know how to search for job advertisements?” Most people do not.

But given the equivalence in relevance, aggregators are amazingly good at the attention part of the equation. As an active job seeker, you do not have to divide your attention over multiple channels anymore, and fight with a dozen search interfaces. You have a one-stop destination! Given the amazing lack of value in terms of search result relevance for job seekers from the side of job boards, the logic is simple.

LinkedIn and Other Professional Social Networks

Why are the professional social networks attracting the attention and money of so many employers? Currently, the main reason does not seem to be for posting jobs. It is primarily to target the so-called passive job seeker and connect with them via active sourcing. This is a revolutionary change in the recruitment landscape, since it completely democratizes headhunting.

However, there is a clear rise of job posting spend on social networks as well, and it has two main reasons:

First, social networks provide a way to deliver job advertisements to people in a natural habitat. When people are on LinkedIn, Viadeo, or XING, they are busy with their work, career, and business opportunities. The right environment to be receptive to job offers — they have your attention —  if they are relevant.

Second, the social networks have a pretty good way of giving you relevant job offers. When you are logged in, they know a whole lot more about you and your CV than any job board where you are just a visitor. They are a job board where every visitor is already in the CV database, and could give amazingly relevant job suggestions. Funny, but they don’t really do that yet. It looks like they have not yet mastered the technology to do the semantic matching to a sufficient degree. Apparently, their R&D spend seems to be directed at other areas. Searching on LinkedIn, XING, or Viadeo still only gives results that exactly match the keywords that you typed in. This will change. They will give relevance, because they know your profile and own your data.

So, is it inevitable that the social networks will win in the end, given that they have the most knowledge about your profile, in order to give you relevance?

There are a few reasons why this is less likely.

First, social networks have embraced job posting spend as a major source of revenue, and therefore are unlikely to warmly welcome unpaid aggregated job content on an equal basis. It’s a similar problem that any pay-to-post job boards has.

Second, social networks will not be able to keep their members locked in when the aggregated or relevant content is elsewhere: they’re not a one-stop destination and there’s a lack of relevance for specific niches. Niche professional networks like Github, Dribble, and Stackoverflow have much better content attraction for the attention of passive candidates.

The third risk for generalist social networks is the rise of people-aggregators like Talentbin, Dice Open Web, Gild, Entelo, and others. The more different online profiles and activities you collect and fuse, especially from niche professional networks, the better semantic information you will have to base the match on. A single public profile can never be better than multiple. And it is not limited to profiles; any trace of professional activity recorded online (blogs, tweets, conference attendance, etc) can be aggregated, and will render the power of individual social network operators smaller.

The future’s bright for the job seeker and employer alike, and maybe for the job board as well.

There is an amazing pace of change and technical progress in job aggregation and people aggregation. The attention part of the equation seems to be maximized by this. It is feasible to provide a one-stop experience for the job seeker and employer, and given equal relevance, this is the better model … no need to go to different platforms, just choose the best search engine for jobs and people.

At the same time, semantic search and matching technology is making a leap into the mainstream. In the next few years, we can expect to see highly relevant results for jobs regardless of the keywords you type in two search boxes, and for CVs directly from job postings. In fact, it is likely that the standard two search boxes for job title and location will disappear altogether. Semantic search software, whether from independent vendors (such as my Textkernel) or from job boards like Monster that have embraced semantic search fully, will understand who you are and what you are looking for. It seems that the future is bright for the job seeker and the employer. Providing an advantage in relevance will become the key game for job board platforms that want to stay relevant.

The nice thing is that relevance is directly correlated with conversion. Pay per hire, not per eyeball, is the appropriate business model for the new game.

The traditional generalist job boards that fail to innovate their search and match are betting on the wrong horse. However, job boards that adapt, both in terms of technology and in terms of business model, should see a bright future as well.

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