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Niche Boards: The Problem

(September 13, 2006) "Hey, what if we had a job board? The ads would sell themselves. It would be like free money. Uh, yes, uh, could you pass that bong back this way?"
- overheard at a recent blog company strategic planning session.

Craig has a good thing going. Without much in the way of a sales crew, Craigslist manages to print money with its employment ads. Ask anyone else with a job board, however, and you'll learn one thing fast: Revenue is a function of the number of salespeople.

In any organization with more than 100 people, the budget for Recruitment Advertising spending is owned by someone in the HR Department. The key to earning their business is to identify them and to satisfy their wants, desires and needs. This is what companies in the job board business do.

If you were wondering how Monster beat the newspapers while automating the business that the newspapers owned lock, stock and barrel, there's only one answer: a strong outbound sales force. The newspapers have never been willing to muster an aggressive sales team, they hire minimum wage order takers. They lost the classified advertising game to Monster and Craigslist because they refused to invest in sales people.

Perhaps you were wondering what Monster's current market advantage is. It's that same sales force. Duplicating it and its web of relationships would cost as much as a Billion dollars.

Without an investment in sales and marketing and a commitment to serve a specific niche of HR specialists, job board operations have severely limited horizons. It's simple. No sales force, no money.

There are some interesting models. RegionalHelpWanted uses a centralized inbound sales bank to collect funds. They have local Radio stations band together to utilize excess advertising inventory. The Radio ads drive traffic and sales leads. The result is a significant aggregate play with no national profile but very active local operations.

Oh, there's another teensy weensy little problem. Job boards don't deliver what they advertise. The real product at the big players is resume database access. The new niche boards are asserting that the quality of their audience is an adequate alternative. We'd bet that most of that audience is already on file at Monster.

A job board should be a conversation in which expectations are examined and leveled. One of the saddest things about the emergence of a new flock of niche job boards is how slavishly they adhere to the very flawed classified advertising model. You'd think that operations like 37 Signals (who pride themselves on accelerating the state of the art) would be embarrassed to run pure text ads with no interactivity. They say

Remember, where you post your job says a lot about your company and the kind of people you want to attract. If you want to toss your job in front of anyone and everyone, post it at Monster.com. If you want to place your job carefully and in front of the right people who care what you care about, then post it on the job board that most accurately reflects your company's attitude/approach. (37 Signals)

but you can be certain that they won't be investing heavily in their job board to keep up with the state of the art.

It's about to be a really exciting time in the job board business. We're seeing things, just over the horizon, that promise expanded interactivity and real movement towards solving actual recruiting problems.

John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
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