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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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Letters, We Get Letters
(October 29, 1998) Generally speaking, we do the best fact checking we can. We don't always get it right, but we try where we believe it appropriate. Our inboxes overflow with tips and letters to the editor that point out shoddy practices and intra-industry rivalries.

Recently, we got a letter that was so passionate that we wanted to showcase it. Rather than evaluating it on a factual basis, we've eliminated most of the identifying information. It demonstrates the passion and sincerity that drives the work of many small entrepreneurs in our universe.

Unfortunately, we still can't figure out what the letter is really about. Mining and repurposing job ads is a conventional practice and covered (we think) by the fair use doctrine of the copyright laws. If not completely legal, the practice is so universal that it may as well be. If we were competing with a big software company for the same employees, we'd certainly be interested in the kinds of people who responded to their ads how that differed from those who responded to ours. Current (artificially low) price points for internet job ads make a lot of things possible. (Disclaimer: we're not lawyers and don't offer usable legal opinion in any way.)

From a Recruiter's perspective, a job ad never exists on its own. Rather it is a vehicle for grabbing eyeballs in a larger database. The actual content is only a piece of the question. The content is useless unless it is placed in some sort of context.

Maybe the article is about the volume of venture capital that has recently swamped our industry. We hear a lot of complaints from small entrepreneurs who complain about the "fairness" of competitors with backing from VCs. We generally think that they are their own worst enemies. If they'd ever endured the process of getting VC funding, they wouldn't be at all jealous.

Anyhow, here's the letter. We imagine that you will be struck by its passion in the same way that we were. Like most published "Letters to the Editor", we agree with some of the points and disagree with others. From our perspective, the most shocking detail in the letter is the notion that a Job Board would give out customer contact information over the phone without a legal proceeding.

What do politicians and some Internet job sites have in common?

Did you ever look at a job listing and wonder where your resume would go if you responded? If not, maybe you should. The integrity of all Internet entrepreneurs and recruiters is not the same. Let me give you a concrete example: My website,, has more job listings with Spanish & Portuguese bilingual requirements than any other site on the Internet. I know because I frequently visit other job sites and search on the keyword 'Spanish' to see how the other sites work.

Imagine my surprise when a relatively small job site called Pretty Well Know Job Board yielded 75 jobs from a keyword search on 'Spanish'. Surprisingly, the vast majority of these job listings were copied word for word from down to the very job code! The jobs are posted by a company called Job Board Customer and here's an example of one of the listings:

Senior Network Analyst - Redmond, WA - JobCode: X81226
COMPANY: Big Software Company
COMPENSATION: Competitive Salary and Excellent Benefits
DESCRIPTION: Develop, track and report Network...etc

To respond to this listing at the Pretty Well Know Job Board site, you have to send your resume using a web form. There's no phone number, no email address, and no name to indicate where your resume will go. What does Job Board Customer do with the resumes? Perhaps they sell email addresses to spammers or sell access to a resume database somewhere, I don't know, but I doubt they know the Big Software Company recruiter (they might get to know a Big Software Company lawyer though).

You would think that Pretty Well Known Job Board would remove these stolen job listings when I notified them about this fraud but instead here is their response:

"No disrespect intended, but we (Pretty Well Known Job Board) do not have any control over uploading/taking down these postings so even in this case we can't do it. They are controlled solely by the company that is posting them. Job Board Customer posts their own jobs using their software that we provide."

So much for integrity.

*name withheld* did give me the phone number for his contact at Job Board Customer. I asked him where the resumes went and he said that he had intended to send them to me if he received any qualified responses. Strange, huh? I asked him to remove the listings and he very agreeably said he would. It has now been a week - he hasn't.

What are the lessons? Look for contact information on a website, look for integrity. When job seekers ask me questions about my website, I answer them honestly and post the answers to a frequently-asked-questions page (

Look for smallness - small is beautiful on the web. Pretty Well Known Job Board probably has venture capital and probably runs more on greed than anything else. has no venture capital, but a lot of passion and integrity goes into making it the leader in a small niche.

There are hundreds of thousands of job listings on the Internet, but the job seeker can only respond to a tiny fraction of those due to time constraints. If you're job seeking, know that not only do you need to find the listings that match your talents, but also the real job listings.

A long time ago, I naively felt an affinity for and trusted anyone that sent me an email. Somehow, I assumed that anyone with email must share my ethics. Those days are long gone. Recently, I even discovered a website that guaranteed "international" job offers within three weeks of subscribing to a jobs bulletin which cost almost $200! Even worse, there is a major search engine that lists this scam artist's website in their list of International job links (not just in the search engine, but in the 'Career Channel' where sites are supposedly reviewed first).

Surf cautiously.

What do you think?

- John Sumser, © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

Simplicity Is Not Stupidity

(October 28, 1998) Picasso used to paint portraits in the dark with his eyes closed. He wanted his body to have memorized the details. As a result, he could capture the essence of an image with a single continuous line.

In cooking, reduction is the process used to distill a soup stock to its flavorful essence. You begin with a lot of stock and end with a smaller amount. The finished product contains the essence.

Simplicity, the essence of an effective web communication requires extraordinary effort. It's a slow process. Picasso often delivered 60 or 70 variations on a theme over the course of a year. Reducing stock takes hours of simmering. Capturing the essence of a message and conveying it with a few strokes requires study, patience and repetition. Like most enduring work, a web endeavor requires constant refinement.

Unfortunately, most offerings are like JobAuthority, an unfortunately named and ineffectively executed new entrant. Poorly conceived, the site never bothers to reconcile its central metaphor with its graphic delivery. It makes the simple tragic mistake of soliciting both Job Hunters and Recruiters in a single opening sentence:

Grasp the Authority to seek a career opportunity as an applicant or post a job as an employer. Meet our Job Coach who is on hand to help shape up your search.

We thought about the name and simply couldn't figure out the relationship between a "coach" and the name of the operation (Job Authority). The graphic shows a picture of a fellow wed describe as "least likely to be solicited for career advice".

Although the coach is badly formed as a representative character, he does have a short speech (the search interface):

Okay team, this is the first step we need to take to find you a job. Below are some preferences you need to define in order for us to locate a Job suited just for you. So select your preferred category, company, region, salary range, and if you'd like, enter a few keywords. When you're ready, click the Search button to see what we have.

We wondered just what team was being addressed. Job hunting is anything but a team sport.

The coach goes on to deliver an additionally confusing message:

Let's see what our intensive database search turned up for you. Take a look at the below records and place a check mark next to those jobs that you want to see more about and press the Job Detail button. If none of the jobs interest you, or else you'd like to start over, use the New Search button.
The term "our" is a possessive plural that could easily refer to the "team" identified in the earlier soliloquy. Unfortunately, it appears to refer to the company's offering.

We could pound the ineffective execution into a fine powder. But, since the firm behind Job Authority didn't bother to include contact or pricing info on the site, we're reasonably sure that they aren't really in the business.

We took the time to review these badly delivered bits and pieces in order to underscore a point .... Simplicity (and effective execution) is a studied accomplishment. Its results show in internal consistency of the final product. If you are developing an interface, do it again and again.

- John Sumser, © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

Little Is Big

(October 27, 1998) We're hearing consistent rumblings about placement operations who are asking for (and getting) fees in the 35% to 40% range. When combined with the growing trend to give signing bonuses to retail clerks who work through the Christmas season, it is becoming clear that the labor shortage is beginning to drive transaction values upward. Placing a candidate in a job with a $30K salary is a $10K transaction. A business that makes 100 of these placements has a million dollar cash flow. It only takes 50 (one a week) low end IT placements to generate the same volume.

While there are certainly a range of HR based recruiters who will complain about the growth in fees, the fact is that you pay more for anything that is in short supply. A realistic look at the total cost of an internal placement always generates a higher number. (We're constantly amazed by the folks who publish and believe cost-per-hire figures in the mid four figures.) The times have changed.

Even with the layoffs that are driving Silicon Valley unemployment rates up to 3.5%, the problem in recruiting has become increasingly expensive.

Against this backdrop, the constant struggle to become the "biggest, fastest, best, most premier" job board becomes extremely absurd. The web is at its best in small, customized transactions. It is a perfect medium for recruiting with its emphasis on direct marketing techniques and personalized communication. While having a "system" that can "handle" 150K resumes, 4 kajillion visitors and 25K paying customers is interesting from a technical perspective, the real fortunes are being made by the players who make an additional 50 placements per year.

Advertising, the basic product of most online recruiting endeavors, is a small piece of the puzzle. We enjoy the energy put into the drive to make things bigger. But, the value is in things that are small. We're waiting for the emergence of an entity that focuses on individual transactions. That's where the real profitability and effectiveness improvements lie.

- John Sumser, © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

Risk Reduction

(October 25, 1998) Heightened competition for a dwindling pool. That's the basic premise of most of the efforts going on in the industry today. Chasing the active job seeker, a carryover from our roots in classified advertising, is a part of the question. It is not the most interesting part, however.

As the pandering intensifies, the cost to acquire an active candidate (getting them to visit your website or read your job posting) is starting to approach the cost of ferreting out a passive player. While the costs are becoming similar, the tactics are very different.

The active job hunter is in a risk taking posture. The passive player is (almost by definition) risk averse. The same tactics that attract a person looking to put better food on the table can frighten a player who is (at least somewhat) happy with the current grocery quality.

One way of thinking about the issue: the happier a person is in their current job, the more relationship is required to pry them out. Trust and security, which are relatively minor issues with active seekers, take precedence with the passive player. Delivering trust and security online is very different from delivering a database of jobs. It takes reliability, a constant stream of changing value and some form of personal connection.

- John Sumser, © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

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