There used to be a time when job seekers were surprised to learn that job boards were free. No, really. They couldn’t believe uploading a resume and shot-gunning it to hundreds or even thousands of employers came with no fee whatsoever.
Online expectations didn’t exist in the ’90s the way they do now, which is why a site like Headhunter.net could actually charge job seekers to boost their resume higher up in search results. Back then, people were used to dropping a few bucks on quality resume paper and a FedEx letter, which made spending a few pennies to outrank others in a site search not such a big deal, I guess.
Since the dawn of the 21st Century, however, job seekers have learned to expect a free ride. Any service looking to make money off them is generally in for a rude awakening. This is why Purple Squirrel is such a, well, purple squirrel in the world of online recruitment.
How the service works goes a little something like this: Job seekers can buy time with current employees, currently representing a variety of companies, including Facebook, Amazon, and Netflix. The current employees are called “Advocates.” Thirty minutes with a Facebook marketing pro will cost you $30, for instance. Purple Squirrel takes 20 percent of that fee. The company says many Advocates donate the money to charity. How much an Advocate charges is market based and decided upon by the Advocate.
“Finding a job is stressful and frustrating, and all of us at Purple Squirrel know it can be a full-time job on its own,” said Jon Silber, CEO of Purple Squirrel. “We also know employee referrals are the No. 1 source of hire, and how daunting searching for a job can be if you don’t have a well-established network. Purple Squirrel gives all job seekers the opportunity to get equal access to people who have their dream jobs, get their foot in the door, and potentially be recommended by current employees if they can prove they are a great fit. This gives more power to job seekers, while also ensuring companies don’t miss out on hiring the best-fit candidates.”
Silber, a veteran of Google and Forrester Research, says the platform has amassed about 2,000 advocates, some of which are only visible to MBA students and other members of universities and certain professional groups. That many advocates is a good start, especially for a startup that’s officially launching after of a yearlong invite-only beta test.
So what’s in it for employers? Seems strange to permit current employees the freedom to chat with job seekers and make money personally off the activity. And keep in mind, Advocates are promoted as employees at these companies. It’s not like job seekers are talking to some anonymous software engineer; they’re talking to a software engineer at Salesforce or some other well-known brand.
This may be a significant hurdle for the company as time passes. The sign-up page for Advocates says nothing about companies signing up. It’s all about individuals. In fact, the only way companies are mentioned is saying a benefit of becoming an Advocate is “Discover great people to fill critical roles within your company.” There’s some level of anonymity for Advocates, because their profile photo is blurred out, and they’re only revealed when they accept a mentoring opportunity, but it’s not that difficult for companies to secret shop and nab an employee on the site.
Which makes me wonder: will companies be happy about seeing employees on the site making money, potentially on company time, while waving the company flag? What happens when job seekers say they got ripped off by “a Facebook employee” as opposed to “John Doe” or “some sales guy”? Depends on the company, of course, but I imagine many wouldn’t be pleased.
Fortunately, Purple Squirrel does offer a solution for HR departments, where fees are removed altogether. These are workers who will be sanctioned by the company to chat with job seekers. Sounds good on paper, but my guess is job seekers want to talk to real people with real insider information and nitty-gritty. I suspect sanctioned employees, where no money is involved, are doomed to come off as a shill for their employer.
Companies like Glassdoor have made a very good living out of workplace transparency. Anonymity has been a key part of that success. Purple Squirrel strikes me as one of two things: Not quite anonymous enough to make consumers feel safe, or simply a waste of time for job seekers because they only get to talk to corporate cheerleaders.