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Self Deception
(June 7, 2001) The only thing we can rely on with certainty is our inherent ability to deceive ourselves.

This simple truism applies to so many aspects of our lives that it is one of those sayings that ought to be hung on your wall. Anyone who has ever immersed themselves in the details of managing a technical process will recognize the recurring feeling. The things that initially look like easy to understand "buzzwords" are actually precise and detailed disciplines. In order to stay sane, the human propensity to bookmark the unknown as "safe and simple" is at the root of our ability to deceive ourselves.

The same is true with running a business for the first time and experimenting with new ideas. The "gotchas" are most often in the places that you'd least expect them. In fact, "expecting them" has more to do with experience in the arena than it does with a sensible and rational prediction of what might happen. The clearest way to describe the risk in the MBA approach to management is that it assumes than anything can be managed with generic principles. In fact, the "devil is in the details" of any particular discipline.

"Job Scraping" or "Do-Nothing Recruiting" is a good case in point.

On the surface, the idea that a recruiter can simply post a job to the corporate website and automation will take care of the rest is a good one. Like "Prince Charming", "winning the lottery" and "build it and they will come", however, it's one of those fantasies that involve success without dirt under the fingernails. Our inherent ability to deceive ourselves is always rooted in the reluctance to get dirt under our fingernails. Solutions that are too easy always create the very problem that they sought to solve.

Here's the problem.

In order to scrape jobs from a website, a human being (no, it's not ever going to be automated), has to visit the website and learn the form in which jobs are posted (the architecture). As long as the architecture remains stable (a couple of months at best), all of the jobs can be "grabbed" from the site on a periodic basis. When the architecture changes (and it's hard to automate the detection of such a change), the job scraping mechanism won't work properly and the site has to be revisited.

In other words, periodic human surveillance on the part of the job scraping company is a necessary component of the process. There is no available option to post some jobs some places. It's an all or nothing purchase decision.

The initial surveillance produces an extraction template through which all of the jobs are processed. In other words, job scraping is a great tool if you want all of your jobs posted to the same place or places all of the time (like most small businesses). It is cheaper to have someone else do the work of detecting changes in your posting system or website format than it is to do it internally.

This is why the TMP acquisition of FlipDog is so initially powerful. Their markets (mostly small and medium sized businesses) precisely want one stop shopping. Larger accounts demand more service (and they are the "property" of the newspapers). If you want this job posted here and that job posted there and don't want either posted in the same place, the problem is too complex to be left to an outsourced automatic engine. As the E-recruiting market gains sophistication, job scraping services will come to be seen as limiters of options (you can only use our network).

So, how would you fix the problem?

A chat with the leaders of the job scraping companies on this subject gives rise to the notion of tagging jobs with distribution information when they are posted. That is, as each individual job is put online, little bits of coded information could be embedded in the ad that told the job scraper where to place them (and more importantly, where not to place them). In today's market, all jobs are posted everywhere, whether the customers wants this or not.

(Once upon a time, this buckshot distribution method worked. Unfortunately, in today's cluttered distribution environment, the process is extremely self defeating.)

If you have to code each job separately for distribution before posting it, what do you have? Why it's the systems that are in place in the various JAD companies. The remarkably silly thing about job scraping technology is that its logical evolution is to cease being a what it is and rapidly become a forms based posting system. The supposedly advanced technology can only grow to become the solutions that it proposes to replace. How ironic.

In other words, if you want to use the future of job scraping, use an existing Job Advertising Distribution company.

- John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

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