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It is better
to not be on
the web than
to be on and
not know why

John Sumser

is more
it seems.
John Gall

It's better to
do a few things
really well than
than to do
a lot of things
If you can't
make the necessary
commitments of
time and energy
to your
scale back
your plan.
John Sumser

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Materials written
by John Sumser
© TwoColorHat.
All Rights Reserved.

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Zen Standards (From the Vault)
(January 07, 2000) The holy grail, for customers, is an installable process that doesn't require that they modify the way that they do business. For the most part, software products (job boards included), assume some imaginary standard and then require that customers conform themselves to it. Although the downturn in the Enterprise Software business (see the stock performance of SAP, Peoplesoft, Restrac) can be attributed to the Y2K crisis, an interesting thing has happened while previously anxious customers delayed their orders.

The essence of an Enterprise software project is that all data within an organization be understood and shared correctly (which makes the claims that some HR software systems are really Enterprise solutions somewhat spurious). Adequate project performance (on the part of the Enterprise contractor) means that project completion involves getting all of the gizmos in a Rube Goldberg contraption to work together. The problems in this sort of systems integration endeavor are legendary. The conferences are full of hallway stories about companies that have fumbled their stock performance for a year while the Enterprise software was perfected.

During the Enterprise Software downturn, potential customers have become increasingly aware of the risks involved in moving forward. The creation of new systems with unforgiving input requirements and inherent workflow modifications is a monument to the longevity of old software models. Reengineering, delivered as an enterprise application, has turned out to be a compromise between the best business practice and the limitations of the software development team.

The promise of companies like CareerCast in our industry (and others around the web) is that Enterprise Redesign can become a much more ad hoc, adaptive process. We're starting to see what we're calling "Zen Standards".

A "Zen Standard" assumes that no additional work is required by the company or division who wishes to participate in a larger data structure. The reconciliation of information (job postings, applicant tracking and candidate management) is all handled by the software. The results are delivered to the end user in an already familiar format with no modification required.

If there is a single feature that discriminates the winners from the losers in our market, it will be the extent to which the process becomes invisible. Recruiters, driven by the labor shortage, need to spend more time recruiting. Services that require that a user perform additional work to use their system are missing the essence of the Web.

- John Sumser, © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

Woofers: The Ugliest Recruiting Websites

(January 06, 2000) Imagine the plight of our research team. Relentlessly plowing through tens of thousands of recruiting websites, they valiantly fight to maintain their objectivity and perspective. Most of the effort is focused on finding the "best and brightest", uncovering a shrewd positioning angle, identifying a really new approach to business or illuminating a clever navigational aid.

As a reprieve, we asked them to collectively identify the worst offerings in the industry. "Get it out of your systems", we said, "Concentrate your complaints into a collective definition of 'bad execution'. That will help the industry to understand the low end of the benchmarking process."

With little further explanation, we present the 1999 Woofers, our research team's consensus of the biggest dogs in the business.

  • Advantage Hiring -hard to decide which is worse: the Quicktime "Meat Grinder" thing, the "Humor" section ("Even a blind pig can occasionally find an acorn" ...that's humor?), or the "Underwater King," some kind of bizarre childrens' story...
  • CAPSA's HR Software - the dog thing really qualifies this as a prime woofer, and check out the "Welcome." (Also, "...last updated: 11:03 AM on 04/10/1996"; clearly a cutting-edge company.)
  • Trak-it -the "Frazzled" image. Click a link, ANY link, just get me off this page.
  • Adecco -color palette by "Vomit."
  • Forage.net -the squirrel. The squirrel. The squirrel. The font. The squirrel.
  • Recruiters Wizard -you know its bad when this is not that bad.
  • JobSolutions -with all due respect, the lead salesman is known to have a very advanced case of Alzheimers.
  • CareerBuzz -what's with the freaky staff bug pictures? Too much William S. Burroughs?

- John Sumser, © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

Filled Out a Survey Yet?

(January 05, 2000) We're headed down the home stretch in the development of this year's Electronic Recruiting Index. The Industry Analysis will cover the details of our survey of Recruiters, stock valuations for public and private companies, customer perspectives, trends and a wide range of other material. As a key component of the process, we have been making sure that there is a solid self-reporting component for job boards, talent markets, applicant tracking services, resume databases or other Electronic Recruiting services.

To those who have taken the time to respond to our Survey, our thanks for your contribution. To those companies who supply services in our industry and have not yet returned their Survey, and to those who may have inadvertently not received one, there is still time to submit your information. Go to our online Survey form. After the information has been received by us, we'll call to validate your submissions.

Thanks for the assistance.

- John Sumser, © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

Two Kinds of People

(January 04, 2000) One of the most interesting little stories in December was Webhire's $1M investment in Eployment. It left us scratching our collective heads.

Eployment, a small startup located above the Kinko's in Sausalito (about three miles from our offices), is an energetic, visionary firm with an expansive view of cultural fit and employee matching. Like Digital Discoveries (a more mature version of the Eployment vision), Eployment plans to use a variety of means to determine the likelihood that person X will be productive in job Y at company Z. At the root of the Eployment approach is a structured lexicon that maps language about jobs.

For the entire history of the application of search engines to resume databases, the world has been limited to two major approaches: Structured Lexicon Development or Intelligent Query Languages. In the pre-web marketplace, Resumix pioneered the former while Restrac (now Webhire) represented the latter. The two approaches are as different as, say, applied and theoretical engineering or Romantic and Classical world views.

Lexicon development (building a tree of related concepts that are embedded in the data entry and querying processes) requires highly accurate forecasts of skillset requirements and their relationships. In order to use a lexicon based system, someone has to identify relevant ideas and their relationships in advance of system deployment. It's exciting work for semanticists (who might well be otherwise unemployed). The sales pitch is generally that an up front investment will reduce life-cycle costs.

Intelligent Query Languages (by far the most prevalent form of web search engine) take the exact opposite approach. Rather than developing a hard to maintain structure, each query is (in theory) hand crafted to produce precise results. Relationships between skillsets are embedded in the query rather than the database.

Classical thinking (Lexicons) relies on the development of structure and preparation. Romantic thinking (Intelligent Queries) emphasizes the power of spontaneity and adaptability. They are just two sides of a coin with relatively similar validity. (In other words, once you've committed to using one approach, the risk accrues to the user.) In the final analysis, past the sales process, both approaches are equally valid. However, they represent world views that are nearly mutually exclusive.

We've always held the opinion that some organizations are Classical (structure oriented) and some are Romantic (spontaneous and more ad hoc). We believe that the applicant tracking (internal search engine) market segments neatly along this simple line and explains the neck and neck competition between Restrac and Resumix over the years.

By investing in Eployment, it looks like Webhire is completely leaving its roots as an advocate of one or another approach to technology and becoming a fully featured client advocate. The Eployment investment represents a major step out of the old Restrac mindset.

- John Sumser, © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

A Clearer Picture (Top Companies)

(January 03, 2000) If you missed last week's columns, be sure to check them out. We tried to comprehensively review the events of 1999 and detail the very top level results of our annual Recruiter's survey. We spoke with nearly 3,000 Recruiters as the baseline for our annual report (The 2000 Electronic Recruiting Index... due in early February).

Overall, we found a very broad discrepancy between a company's ability to deliver broad market penetration (a "brand") and its ability to consistently satisfy its customers. In 1999, it seemed like a company could do one or the other, rarely both. Although we have much more analysis to accomplish, it looks like there is a somewhat predictable correlation between unhappy customers and market penetration. (We use the term "market penetration" to indicate the percentage of paying customers who have heard of a particular company.) The companies that are able to accomplish both (TheWorksUSA, for example) have relatively small, targeted audiences.

The year brought a number of different types of service companies to the forefront:

  • Job Board
    The typical (still primitive) online job service featuring job postings, resumes, a search engine and a matching process.

  • 3rd Party Job Posting Service
    Companies that work exclusively for 3rd party staffing firms. They post jobs to broad distribution lists and hundreds of websites. Typically a subscription service, these companies broadcast job postings in order to extend the reach of their customers.

  • Recruiting Service
    This category, pioneered by TheWorksUSA, manually attracts and sorts candidates in direct response to customer requirements. There is a large element of human involvement in the development of the resume database and customer effectiveness.

  • End To End Solution
    Typically, end to end solutions are proposed by companies from the traditional staffing automation industry (Resumix, Greentree, etc). In theory, they claim to deliver everything from candidate attraction to hiring process management.

  • Posting Distribution Service
    Somewhat badly named, this category was pioneered by Junglee. It has been called "zero effort recruiting". Companies in this category provide robotic acquisition, reformatting and distribution of job postings from a corporate job site to a job board (or boards).

  • Consolidated Posting
    1999 brought the emergence of services that provide one-stop shopping (the beginnings of targeting) for job posting placement. From Best Internet Recruiter to IIRC, the companies offer services that are the equivalent of services that used to be offered by ad agencies. Unified billing (select your targets, get one invoice) is the hallmark of a fully mature player in this sphere.

  • Targeted Job Board
    The future of online recruiting (in the medium term) is going to be held by niche operations that deliver targeted job opportunities to specifically defined audiences. Surprisingly slow to mature, these narrowly defined operations are relatively easy to operate profitably.
With those definitions in mind, we re-present the top companies from our 1999 Recruiter's Survey.
Category Market Penetration Customer Satisfaction
Job Board Monster Nation Job Network
3rd Party Job Posting Service RON Net Temps
Recruiting Service TheWorksUSA TheWorksUSA
End To End Solution Webhire Personic
Posting Distribution Service CareerCast CareerCast
Consolidated Posting RecruitUSA RecruitUSA
Targeted Job Board ComputerJobs LatPro

- John Sumser

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