To many observers, job boards are passé; relics of a bygone era. Carey Eaton, CIO of SEEK, Australia’s largest job board, thinks otherwise. Here’s his take on the current challenges and future opportunities for job boards.
During the last year job boards around the world have seen the toughest operating circumstances in the history of the job board industry. Yet despite these circumstances, job boards in many leading economies and emerging markets have continued to build a stronger position than ever and deliver increasing value to customers. Across all of SEEK’s market leading job websites in Australia and New Zealand, and significant stakes in leading job boards in China, Brazil, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Philippines, Indonesia and other South East Asian earlier stage markets, the story of 2009 and 2010 is one of weathering difficult challenges while continuing to take advantage of the significant opportunities in the job board space.
2009 saw severe economic challenges as hiring intention plummeted in all international markets. Ad volumes decreased significantly and suddenly. Across nearly all international markets, ad volumes at the bottom of the cycle in mid-2009 were approximately half where they were the year before. In some sectors and economies the decline was as steep as a 70% reduction. Many companies slashed recruitment agency budgets, driving some recruitment agencies to the wall and massively reducing ad volumes from the sector. The downturn saw even more difficult operating environments for legacy businesses such as print employment advertising and employment advertising agencies.
In both the Australian and the U.S. market, the downturn saw an acceleration of the migration of traffic, job advertisements and revenue from print newspapers to the online medium. In the U.S. market, the online share as a percentage of overall employment advertising expenditure grew from a 50% share to a 70% share in 2009. In Australia, which tends to lag the U.S. market by two years, the share of overall employment advertising spend grew 25%.
Long term Newspoll data shows that while online media overtook print media as the preferred way jobseekers look for work in 2006, this trend has accelerated since then including during the downturn – online now commands a 73% share of jobseeker preference with print at 27%.
“aggregators in small markets, monetised referral businesses and resume database access models proved their unsustainable exposure to negative economic cycles.”
More importantly, there is strong evidence that the downturn drove market share shifts within the online sector, with many employment advertising customers rationalising their spend across several generalist and niche job boards to the market leading job board and occasional niche job boards. Many experimental business models in the online space that drew significant headlines towards the end of the boom in 2008 did not survive this rationalisation – aggregators in small markets, monetised referral businesses and resume database access models proved their unsustainable exposure to negative economic cycles.
Job Board Resilience
Throughout 2009, job board businesses around the world have demonstrated growing market share from jobseekers, advertisers and dollars, driven from both print and online, with many market leading job boards around the world emerging from the downturn stronger than ever demonstrating long term cyclical resilience.
Between March 2009 and March 2010, SEEK jobseeker traffic rose by 40%. More importantly, the frequency of visiting job boards grew exponentially – over the same period, the number of individual visits (sessions) on SEEK Australia grew by 221%. In Brazil, membership of market leader Catho.com.br grew by over 20% and similar growth patterns were observed in all Asian markets, with Zhaopin reaching record monthly visitor numbers of over 25 million.
Attention turns to social media
In an extension to the trend towards spend consolidation in the online sector the downturn was marked by increasing attention towards the potential opportunities presented by social media for employers, jobseekers, recruiters and job boards. As general adoption of social networks occurred around the world, social networks offered employers and recruiters the perceived attractive prospect of a cheap alternative to more expensive sourcing methods such as recruitment agencies or ad posting across multiple similar job boards.
The consensus view is that targeted social media brands are here to stay and may play a
complementary role to other sourcing channels in select market segments, particularly hard-to source roles, well targeted communities such as new media or sectors where the practice of
searching for and headhunting candidates is already the norm.
“ Trends in consumer adoption of both social networks are likely to drive a renewed focus by job boards on their resume databases.”
That said, it seems unlikely that the Social Media model as-is in 2010 will become the primary model for the employment marketplace, in that job boards continue to better meet the majority of jobseeker and advertiser needs. For the majority of advertisers in the majority of sectors who need to quickly fill a vacancy with interested, available candidates, job boards are a far more effective tool, delivering better volumes, quality, ease of transaction, instant and wide reach. An advertiser is always going to need to ‘signal’ to the workforce that they’re hiring and they’ll want to do this to the largest audience at a point in time, which job boards provide.
Consistent research suggests that jobseekers wish to control the job hunting process and access the entire market of opportunities: job boards remain the better option to meet these core needs. It is unlikely that more people will trust their friends, former colleagues and recruitment consultants with choices about the future of their working lives more than they trust themselves.
Jobseeker engagement with job boards continues to grow rapidly. In March 2010 job applications and traffic on SEEK and most other international job boards were at an unprecedented all time high. While traffic to social media websites has grown at unprecedented rates, the growth has been driven by factors far beyond employment. While both are growing, the data clearly shows there is no migration of jobseeker traffic from job boards to any other source of job information, including social networks. In several surveys by Hays and groups like Nielsen (see chart below) future intentions firmly indicate the relative importance of online employment classified sites compared to other channel choices.
Several important questions around the social model also remain unanswered. There has been much debate around such concerns as ROI measurement and the productivity cost involved in using social media for recruitment or job hunting. More important questions are the sustainability of the utility of social networks as a sourcing platform as the employment rate grows and as talent becomes scarcer again. Social networks are taking active steps to balance increasingly large volumes of socially-active recruiters and product marketers with maintaining the attractiveness and value of groups and online communities. The social etiquette of mass online headhunting is yet to be written.
Trends in consumer adoption of both social networks are likely to drive a renewed focus by job
boards on their resume databases. It has been hard to point to sustained success in the resume database space anywhere in the world over the past ten years, partly because much of the thinking has been about resume databases as a competing source of candidates to advertising. Social networks will accelerate the debate about the role of resume databases in job board product portfolios. It is likely that new innovations and directions for resume databases will occur. Job boards nevertheless will have to decide between integrating, complementing or ignoring resume content on social networks. It is likely that a model where online resume content as a complement to job ad content will provide a route to more compelling online employment marketplaces and strengthen the job boards’ position as the primary destination for job seekers and recruiters.
As the cycle returns, strong prospects for job boards remain. The key opportunity for job board markets globally remains the sheer size of the remaining market.
“Mobile devices represent the new horizon of opportunity of universally held, constantly-on market access capability with instant communication built in. Mobile devices also represent the piece that completes the puzzle realising the transactional value of resume content online – whether socially connected or not.”
The percentage of people in the world accessing the internet in 2008 stood at only 20% according to ComScore but continues to grow at very fast rates. As the global population adopts the internet en masse, the ability to participate in labour markets will increase. 2009 marked the first year when all countries on earth could point to an active job board market with the late entry of Palestine, Somalia, Afghanistan, Mozambique and Congo, many of whose job board markets skipped the internet on PC’s and migrated directly to the mobile phone by SMS. For most African countries – 53 of them and a population of over a billion people – job board marketplaces are growing more rapidly by email, SMS and mobile phone access than they are on PC based internet websites with growth rates in the thousands of percent. Mobility remains an as yet unfulfilled opportunity for job boards in more mature markets, and mobile based job boards or applications are already playing significant role in employment marketplaces countries like Japan and South Korea where some job boards cite a greater proportion of traffic from mobile phones than PCs.
Mobile devices represent the new horizon of opportunity of universally held, constantly-on market access capability with instant communication built in. Mobile devices also represent the piece that completes the puzzle realising the transactional value of resume content online – whether socially connected or not. The combination of convenient and time-sensitive market access, the ability to seamlessly transact with resume or job content and the ubiquity of access remain a compelling proposition for new chapters in online recruitment marketplace products.
As such, the job board market is likely to see new developments in mobile optimised websites, job hunting and recruiting applications, and new forms of alerting product that capture the value mobile represents. Other developments in semantic search, social content, mobility, behavioural targeting, device development, ubiquity computing and as yet unseen technical advances all present possible opportunities and new challenges for job boards, jobseekers, employers and recruiters in the years ahead.
While 2009 will be remembered as a year of challenges, uncertainty and difficulty for many in the online employment sector, the long term opportunities remain significant and ever-evolving.
Carey Eaton, CIO, SEEK is responsible for SEEK’s IT activities . Carey commenced his career at SEEK as Product Director in 2007. Prior to joining SEEK, Carey’s career included senior roles at News Limited’s CareerOne and managing the regional internet strategy (covering China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and Australia) for Michael Page International.
An abridged version of this essay appeared in the Job Board Report 2010.