21 Feb

The battle of the job boards is over. They all lost.

We’re lucky in that we can analyse the hiring strategies of 1000s of companies and organisations.  Most use job boards in some form and the 2 that stand out in terms of cost per hire are Indeed and Linkedin. In truth, nothing else comes close. In some respects they encapsulate the battle that “job boards” will face in the future, not so much what they offer but how they price it. But it is increasingly Linkedin that is becoming the dominant player in the job board market though of course it doesn’t call itself a job board. Just as Google was not the first into the search market and Facebook was not the first into the social media space, so Linkedin was not the first job portal but in just a few years it’s become the default option for mid to senior executive vacancies. Recent Q2 revenue results leave little room for doubt as to who is winning the war for preeminence in the job board market:

Monster:  - 11%

Dice: +7%

Careerbuilder (North America): +3%

Linkedin............+69% (from recruitment related services)

The battle is over. Linkedin won. Everyone else is running for 2nd......or to survive.

So how did they do it? Well the answer is all in the content. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Searching for jobs (proper ones from direct employers) is a dreadful experience on almost all job boards. But not on Linkedin. Heavily priced to favour direct employer advertising and discourage mass marketed staffing agency jobs, searching for mid and senior roles is really quite a nice experience as the vast majority of jobs listed are from direct employers which is precisely what job seekers want. The fact that they don’t have to wade through hundreds of staffing agency jobs before they actually find one from a direct employer is one of the reasons that ‘conventional’ job boards are struggling. It’s just an awful consumer experience. Linkedin approaches things differently with the balance between direct and staffing agency jobs heavily skewed towards the former. In general a job advert placed on Linkedin will, $ for $ yield a much, much higher response than a traditional board and that’s probably why employers are flocking to it in droves. I know of one fast growing SME that has ditched all its job boards and now just advertises on Linkedin with considerable success. So the first factor is a simple user experience. No clutter, no needles in haystacks......just proper jobs from proper companies.

To demonstrate that point we did a search for Head of Marketing jobs in the UK. We found 16 on Linkedin and 18 on a well known generalist site. Of the 16 listed on Linkedin, 8 were from direct employers. On the generalist site we found just 1 direct employer listing. Now extrapolate that for a less specific search that the average job seeker is likely to do (we searched for the exact title “Head of Marketing”) and you can see that it’s just not very appealing for busy people to wade through hundreds of jobs to find the 1 or 2 from direct employers that appeal.

But there is more to it than that and this is what makes it so appealing for recruiters. Linkedin adverts attract both active and passive candidates, hence why jobs on the site get so many more applicants. The traditional job board tends to attract only really active job seekers. There is no reason to go to a job board unless you’re looking for a job. But the best recruiters want the inactive ones. How is Linkedin solving this problem? Well bit by bit, slowly but surely it’s repositioning itself as source of business information. A kind of Forbes/WSJ/BBC online hybrid business site. Proof enough is the launch of Linkedin Today, which sounds suspiciously like a newspaper for the digital age. As the CEO Jeff Weiner recently said:

“One of the areas where we're making strong traction in is LinkedIn as a professional publishing platform.”

Linkedin get it and have got it from the very beginning. Create the content and the eyes will follow. The initial content was career profiles. Millions of them. That got the recruiters salivating but now they’re doing the same by hooking in passive candidates via an online newspaper type format where millions will login and view content every day, and guess what.........ooh, just look at that nice jobs button right at the top of every single page. In retail speak, the footfall is very, very good.

That’s Linkedin’s secret. It’s not rocket science, just great content that all parties want. So can the old school job boards fight back? Well a number of them are trying to create content with blogs and a constant stream of articles but most just miss the point as they are all about recruitment and therefore are only of interest to the 10% who are actively hunting that next job, not the 90% who are not. 

For job boards to stand a chance of competing with Linkedin they must reposition themselves into providers of information with great business content and frankly stuff I’d like to read that isn’t always about job hunting. This may be a tall order given the narrow scope of expertise they have but not impossible. If I’d told you in 1997 that a smallish computer company close to bankruptcy would, within 12 years, become the biggest retailer of music on the planet, would you have believed me? Thought not.

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