Rebranding Job Boards

Aug 13, 2013
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

Bill Gates-PXP-000006Having spent time at Monster in the content and social marketing game, but I still believe in job boards. And anyone who thinks they’re dead and deliberately ignores them as part of a holistic recruiting strategy is significantly more hindered in attracting top talent than those “old-school” HR professionals who perceive social media the same way the Puritans perceived witches.

For all the talk that “job boards are dead” and the perception that social media or smart phones or structured data will somehow change recruiting ignores the obvious fact that these technologies are, more or less, content delivery mechanisms.

Content is the currency of the entirety of the Internet, and it’s what we’re looking for when we’re staring at our smart phones, or the story we’re hoping to tell when we actually crunch the numbers behind big data.

And content is king. I know, that’s a cliché, but you know who said it?

Shakespearean as it sounds, this obnoxious — yet omnipresent — aphorism was coined by none other than Microsoft founder Bill Gates. And he did so in the context of an interview explaining why software was fundamental to the success or failure of consumer PC adoption.

In HR technology, like in consumer technologies, Gates’ well-worn maxim remains true. A system is only as good as the software behind it. But, more importantly, it’s the content of that software that ultimately determines success or failure — and bottom-line results.

Without job boards, the entire ecosystem of online recruiting would ostensibly trigger a collapse of cataclysmic proportions. Suddenly, qualified candidates, incoming applicants, internal mobility, and the entire online recruiting industry — all $80 billion of it — will wither in the apocalyptic content drought created by the seemingly inevitable extinction of job boards.

They might be perceived as dinosaurs, but the truth is, they’re doing what’s required to stave off extinction — they’re evolving, and, in most cases, thriving. The AIRS 2013 Global Job Board Directory was a hefty 105 pages of job boards spread out in three columns in eight-point type, ranging from “Regional Career Hubs” like the Virginia Beach Joblink to “business function” specific sites like

One man’s niche is another man’s target, after all, and the point is that there has to be a reason for the continued existence of so many damn job boards — most running for profit, all noteworthy enough for inclusion in AIRS’ industry bible, albeit in a document with a longer character count than Catcher in the Rye.

The reason they’re still around is because job boards work. And they provide the content that provides the backbone for online recruiting today, one of the most essential elements of the talent acquisition ecosystem.

It’s not that they don’t work — it’s just, as pointed out during Jeff Dickey Chasins’ session at the recent JobG8 Summit on the future of job boards, they’re in dire need of a rebrand. One look at the numbers confirms that the efficacy of job boards lies less in their actual results and more in the negative connotations the term carries with recruiters and candidates alike.

Consider the curious case of LinkedIn. Of all technologies, the job board industry and pundits alike put it squarely on top as their biggest and most worrisome competitive threat. It is, however, evidence of the power of branding.

Somehow, LinkedIn is completely left out of the job board category, and positioned in study after study as the most effective “social network” for finding a job — with 92 percent of candidates turning to LinkedIn to a paltry 25 percent or less for the likes of Facebook and Twitter, numbers echoed by their employer counterparts.

That LinkedIn is a “professional” social networking site has become an accepted reality in industry dialogue, but consider the fact that over 80 percent of that revenue and growth that made it a Wall Street darling came from recruiting services.

The bulk of the recruiting spend on LinkedIn remains in individual job postings or posting packages as well as licensing LinkedIn recruiter, which provides employers the ability — and visibility — to search LinkedIn’s full database from behind the consumer firewall. Social media may be free, but recruiting is not. And when the overwhelming majority of your income is derived from selling job postings and access to candidate databases, you’re a job board.

Aggregators are also often cited as the second-most pernicious threat to job boards’ continued existence. Ever since Indeed zoomed past Monster as the top job site in the U.S. in October 2010, it and other aggregators like SimplyHired have quickly stolen mind and market share from traditional job boards, both general and niche.

It’s obvious that all “aggregators” are inherently job boards — after all, their entire user experience is page upon page of searchable job descriptions — and that separating them from job boards as a category is ridiculous. The power of branding strikes again. But the thing is, these aggregators aren’t competitors of job boards — they’re reliant on them for survival.

The depth and breadth of jobs aggregators are able to display to candidates is derived from them scraping, indexing, and essentially pirating job postings from the same platforms they see as a competitive threat.

Aggregators, like all parasitic creatures, cannot survive without their host–– and without the flow of job board postings (SimplyHired excluded) that make them such an enticing one-stop-shop for job seekers would quickly render themselves completely obsolete. It turns out it’s hard to aggregate when there’s nothing to actually aggregate.

Of course, aggregators do increase the ROI of paid job postings by increasing their reach and visibility, as the increasing number of candidates who self-select an aggregator as their source of hire suggest. On the other hand, they also undermine that investment by obstructing a clear view of where the candidate really came from, citing their destination rather than the actual source of the job description.

But nevertheless, neither LinkedIn nor job aggregators pose any threats to job boards, primarily because they are not only job boards themselves, but reliant on job board generated content to draw both visitors and revenue. Their success lies on branding, not business model.

Although traditional job boards do have a lot to learn from the site’s clean user experience and user interface, behavioral targeting, easy filtering features, and branding options, while LinkedIn might be the best job board on the planet, it remains, for the time being, just that, with a few social features added on.

But what about social media? If you’ve ever looked at an automated Twitter job feed or looked at the top-level domains (the primary part of the URL between the hyphens) for the links to job descriptions proliferating on Facebook, you’re probably aware that most of this “content” — even for those companies who also share content and community through their social recruiting channels — is generated by job boards. Even jobs that are shared through social media outside the company mostly originate with a third party job posting.

And in a medium that’s entirely predicated on content, similar to aggregators, without this content, most social recruiting campaigns — many of which are built through job board integrations and feeds — social recruiting would cease to fulfill its primary raison d’etre: generating more qualified applicants for open positions and future pipeline.

The most important argument for the continued longevity and viability of the job board model: They work.  According to the most recent Career Xroads Source of Hire report, job boards again represented the biggest source of external hires next to referrals (which, by contrast, are internally generated).

These would-be anachronisms actually led to about seven times as many hires as social networks — of which, coincidentally, LinkedIn was included. And in recruiting, there’s no arguing with results. Except, of course, maybe source of hire — as long as candidates still self-select, that is. But that’s a topic for another post entirely.


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This article is part of a series called Opinion.