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    It is better
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    John Sumser

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  • Takin' It On The Chin

    (July 23, 1999) We rarely cover the exploits of the team at I-Search. Fueled by last year's investment by CareerPath (and the accompanying account references), I-Search won a number of large accounts based on their "promise". A few interactions with the company left us unimpressed. We just had that "gnawing feeling".

    Our industry is five years old. There are established service providers in most niches (except profiling services) with aggressive competitors coming into the fold. Success, these days, involves more than fielding a sales team. Strong customer service, consistent pricing, delivery of real Recruiting results and focus on value are the key requirements for success. It's becoming increasingly clear that I-Search was not able to muster the performance required to satisfy their customers.

    Take, for example, WebHire's odd announcement earlier this summer, that they had "won" the CareerPath job posting account. (By the way, their stock has exploded in value following the Softbank cash infusion.) At the time, we giggled and ignored the press release. Here's a case of a company announcing the fact that they didn't lose their incumbent slot.

    Well, the street buzz is that CareerPath's investment was designed to bring I-Search on as a replacement for WebHire. The Junglee technology, while retaining its promise has some distance to go before it is as sleek and elegant as the service offered by scrappy little CareerCast. That said, with a huge investment, I-Search appears to have missed the mark. Retaining the contract was, in retrospect, a major victory for WebHire, at the expense of I-Search.

    On other fronts, CareerCast, Hiresystems, CareerBuilder World.Hire and HotJobs are just a few of the players who have been picking accounts from I-Search like low hanging fruit.

    Growth is a major factor in any company's ability to deliver on its promise. All of the firms that have won former ISearch accounts will encounter some level of problem associated with the management of growth. When you go to choose between potential suppliers, the question of growth should be foremost on your list. I-Search just looks like the first major casualty.

    - John Sumser, © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

    Passive Profiling II

    (July 22, 1999) So, how would a passive profiling system work? Last week, we reviewed the amazing integration of Recruitment advertising and profession-specific news that is in the formative phases at Dowjones.com. It is no small thing. By targeting working professionals and not job hunters, dowjones.com is prototyping future online recruiting systems.

    As their internal statistics prove, people go to the site for professional reasons that specifically don't include looking for a job. The current internal view is that something like 80% of the visitors who browse job ads from dowjones.com are not actively seeking work. It's a short step to the development of behavioral analysis tools that can identify critical traits and interests from behavior on the web site.

    We wouldn't bet a nickel on an approach that predetermines characteristics and then tries to compare onsite information consumption . Rather, we imagine a team of analysts and recruiters who look for trends in the data and then try to squeeze insight into the recruiting process.

    An early approach would involve setting trigger mechanisms in place. If visitor X looks into the following areas in the following sequence, the she or he will be presented with the following advertisements. That technology is basically immediately available but still depends on preexisting categorization.

    The next approach might involve looking at profession specific behavior patterns. This observable group is demonstrating that pattern of information consumption so we'll offer them a particular range of advertising.

    From there, targeting can be built on increasingly sophisticated targeting. With experiential feedback, the targeting can be much more precise. Predictive factors will grow to include specific subject matter and the proportion of the info-consumption.

    Pricing and execution get to be interesting issues. What's the value of a specific advertisement delivered to just the right target? How much is the ongoing target analysis worth? What is the influence on editorial content? How far is editorial direction bent in favor of the advertisers needs? They are all issue that remain to be sorted out.

    As we said last week, the newspapers have an inherent advantage because they have inplace mechanisms that produce content. Whether or not they can modify their existing worldview is the medium term adaptive question.

    - John Sumser, © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

    Passive Profiling

    (July 21, 1999) Assume, for a moment, that we were right yesterday and the Resume is a dying anachronism, a relic of the baby boom era. We've suggested that "profiling" is liable to be the replacement. We want to underscore the fact that much of the work will allow the potential candidate to remain passive. As soon as the requirement to deliver value is levied on a potential candidate, the transaction changes.

    In order to build a predictable and reliable labor supply, long term relationships between a specific Recruiter and a specific candidate will become the norm. (This raises serious questions about industry-wide attrition levels!) The relationship must be founded on the Recruiter as a source of value in the professional or leisure pursuits of the potential candidate. After all, the long term benefit in the relationship accrues to the Recruiter and his or her company.

    So, we're not talking about the notion that "profiling" involves filling out a series of ill conceived online forms in order to gain a position in a database. One listen to the street-buzz from disaffected candidates who tried to employ Futurestep will tell you why that doesn't work. After all of the work required to get into the Futurestep database, very few of the candidates actually derive a benefit form the process. That's how old school Recruiting works.

    On the web, the best possible business practice involves "creative destruction" at a very fast pace. The moment that you discover that you have a "paradigm", you have discovered your largest problem. The fundamental difficulty with systems like Futurestep, LeadersOnline or other executive search profiling mechanisms is that they require an upfront investment from the candidate (time, energy and learning an arcane structure). This is no more than an automated version of existing processes designed to reduce recruiter workloads. It isn't viable in a long term market characterized by shortages. The investment is on the wrong side of the equation.

    When we describe passive profiling systems, we mean tools that extract information while delivering value. It's an unexplored arena. The data emerges on the fly. The categories haven't been invented yet. It's not a question of shoehorning a candidate into an arcane "lexicon". It's a process that involves feeding value and extracting behavioral data.

    In the simplest form, a Recruiter would deliver a regular stream of news and directly relevant professional tips to a pool of candidates. As the information is consumed, potential candidates will leave a trail of behavioral data that must be analyzed after it is generated. Passive profiling does not involve the development of complex transaction models. Rather, it takes observable behavioral information and assesses it based on current conditions. That means that the Sourcing specialists who use passive profiles are statistical analysts rather than telephone researchers. It creates a need for an entire new breed of recruiting specialist who is familiar with the manipulation of hard data.

    Any meaningful Recruiting play that attempts to leverage "community" or professional guidance (not career advice) will require a whole new way of looking at the hiring process. It's much more like strategic materials management than it is like contemporary Recruiting.

    - John Sumser, © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

    Death Of The Resume

    (July 20, 1999) We've been asking people some simple questions recently.
    • Have You Recently Prepared A Resume?
    • How Long Did It Take?
    • Was There Any Pleasure Involved?
    • When Do You Plan To Do It Again?
    In general, anyone who has recently created a resume felt like they were forced to do so as a part of the job hunt. It took from one day to two weeks to accomplish. No one liked doing it. Almost everyone would rather not do it again.


    Resumes are a baby boom era invention. They require a massive effort and a change in focus. The only people who enjoy creating them seem to found small businesses devoted to the subject. The obscure more than they disclose. They seem to require a kind of behavior that resembles outright lying.

    Have you ever seen a resume that said..."In my last assignment, I screwed up the following things...Here's what I learned?" It very rarely happens. It's more likely that a resume will describe the accomplishment of an entire team instead of the accomplishments of an individual.

    Resumes make their creators feel inadequate. The conventional wisdom says (roughly) "Get it all on one page; Tailor it to each opportunity; Emphasize Managerial Behavior; Show that you took responsibility; Provide evidence of problem solving skills." Most people, however, don't spend their time analyzing their track records in terms of how it will look on their Resume. People who do make lousy employees for the most part.

    We're tempted to think that the Resume was designed as a tool to create entry barriers on a market that featured an overabundance of workers and a scarcity of jobs. Because it forces people to characterize themselves in ways that are unnatural, almost no one feels really good about their Resume. No one wants to do it again.

    In a labor market characterized by the need for speed, the Resume is an obvious target for reengineering. Given the flawed information that a standard resume contains and the pain it generates, we're expecting to see relatively rapid changes as the software required to manage non-resume profiles gets better.

    Breaking News:

    Softbank, the Japanese investment firm, has invested $20M in WebHire (the artist formerly known as Restrac). A quick look at the company's financials will show that the announcement has bumped the stock price while buffering the news of bad quarterly financial performance. With core product revenue off by nearly 50%, WebHire is making an interesting turnaround. The Softbank investment (which appears to include buying out Amazon's holdings from the Junglee acquisition) should keep the wolves at bay while WebHire finalizes its Internet strategy.

    We're betting that the largest beneficiary of this deal will be HotJobs. A Softbank investment in our business bodes well for the imminent IPO.

    - John Sumser, © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

    The Really Long View

    (July 19, 1999) Stewart Brand, one of the most clever participants in the Internet's 25 year history, is working on an interesting project. Brand, as you may know, was the intellectual force behind a range of important milestones. He founded and fueled the development of the WeLL (one of the earliest online "communities"). He conceived and delivered the Whole Earth Catalog (either the quintessential Yuppie Wishbook or the foundation of the 20th Century's self reliance movement depending on your perspective). A very early multimedia artist, Brand is single-handedly responsible for the introduction of a broad range of cultural and technical innovation. His legacy is deep and subtle.

    The current project, called The Clock of the Long Now, focuses on creating an alternative to "Internet Time". While the rest of the world seems to be speeding up, Brand's project is designed to create a framework for thinking in 1,000 year increments. The goal of the project is to create a clock that tracks the millennia. Metaphorically, the cuckoo will pop out twice at the end of this year and three time at the beginning of the year 3000.

    The undertaking raises all sorts of mechanical, electrical, electronic and cultural design questions. From material durability to the likelihood that our contemporary language will be understood in one or two thousand years to the permanence of a location to making sure that the project will be remembered in a thousand years, Brand's team is concerned with the extremes of long term planning. He has assembled an extraordinary crew that includes Kevin Kelley (from Wired), Danny Hillis (from Disney), Esther Dyson (the voice of the computer industry), Paul Saffo (a widely respected futurist) and Brian Eno (another deep and subtle force from the music industry). The group includes a number of other seminal thinkers.

    The simple act of considering the question "How do you make something that will last 10,000 years?" opens the door to a broad range of insight. If Brand's project is never completed, the fact that the question has been raised exerts a powerful influence.

    In Recruiting, where the long term future is six weeks, taking the time and energy to really consider the longer term future is an important (and oft overlooked) piece of the puzzle. While Recruiting professionals have rarely been included in the strategic planning process, that excuse is no longer a valid reason for ignoring the larger implications. Given the permanence of labor shortages and the rapidly increasing value of employee relationships, figuring out how to navigate the larger context is essential.

    As you have probably noticed, we've started tracking a number of stocks (see the right side of this page). We've developed two groups: old school staffing companies and new school players. Over the past three weeks, the total value of Staffing company stocks has declined by 3% while the rest of the market roared forward. We think the reason is simple. Staffing companies, without any real tie to corporate strategy, are mercenaries who are fighting the last war. Recruiting in the 21st Century requires a longer term view that tends responsibly to the value of relationships with candidates. While the notion that people are simply assets to be managed seems a bit clinical, circumstances now require that we pay at least as much attention to our human inventories as we do to our capital inventories. Staffing firms are in no position to accomplish this task.

    We expect to see more "siege mentality" behavior from the staffing firms as the noose tightens. The only bright spots are the few companies and offices that have wormed their way into the boardroom as active participants. They are few and far between.

    If we could, we'd have all of the CEOs in the business read a copy of Brand's book describing the Clock of the Long Now. Maybe that would provide the required wakeup call.

    - John Sumser, © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

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