Can net recruitment sites be just the job?

Can net recruitment sites be just the job?

Of the many e-business models emerging on the internet, few possess the compelling logic of online recruitment sites. Compared with recruitment’s traditional home in the print sector, the internet can provide a quick, cost-effective way of matching jobseekers with employers.

By registering with sites, prospective candidates can also receive regular e-mails alerting them to appropriate appointments as they arise. The fact that there are believed to be 4.5 million CVs currently posted online shows how quickly consumers have responded to this new marketplace.

Online is digging its heels in for a power struggle with print. New figures from online research company MMXI Europe show that more than double the number of people visited career sites in February than did so in January. Before January, the number of visitors to job sites was too small to show up at all on MMXI’s monthly report.

Not only did the number of visitors to job sites increase in February, but the number of sites attracting statistically significant numbers of visitors quadrupled. In January, MMXI’s report only cited TMP Worldwide’s Monster.co.uk. But in February, other recruitment brands StepStone, Topjobs and Jobsite had enough visitors to be reported for the first time.

Lucy Green, UK marketing director for MMXI Europe, says: “The internet is still in its infancy in the UK and job hunting is an obvious area for growth. Job seekers are clearly beginning to see the benefits of looking for a job in this way.”

The companies with the most to lose are the national and regional newspapers and business-to-business magazines that have largely controlled the UK’s £1 billion classified jobs market. Although an obvious response would have been to populate the new medium as fast as possible, many traditional publishers were slow to act for fear of cannibalising their existing revenue bases. The result was a flood of entrepreneurs seeking to establish a toehold in online recruitment.

The UK’s major offline players are expanding aggressively onto the internet, but they are competing in a volatile market of between 300 and 400 online recruitment sites. These are engaged in what some leading players describe as “a land grab”. At the top of the new market are multi-sector (horizontal) job sites that have thrown huge marketing budgets behind traditional media in order to build rapid awareness of their brands.

Job seekers can also visit online versions of press brands, however, such as The Guardian’s Jobs Unlimited, The Daily Telegraph’s Electronic Telegraph or VNU.net.

Hunting with the specialists

For those with a clear view about the companies they want to work for, there is the option of seeking out blue-chip companies or recruitment specialists online. There are also some fascinating niche sites, such as Jobserve, which has swept away the Reed Business Information/VNU duopoly in IT recruitment – an achievement that would have been impossible in the paper environment.

Among the best known of the UK horizontal sites are StepStone, Monster, Top Jobs on the Net, totaljobs.com, Fish4jobs, PeopleBank and Jobsite.

Jobsite is one of the biggest. Launched in 1995 by Chichester-based recruitment consultant Eric Potts, it now claims to have about 25,000 jobs posted on the site, with traffic hitting 500,000 visitors a month. Earlier this year, recruitment giant Manpower came on board as a shareholder.

Stepstone also manoeuvred itself into the front rank of horizontal sites with a massive TV marketing campaign during autumn last year. Having launched in 1996, it now claims to offer 70,000 job vacancies across Europe and attract more than 1.9 million visitors every month.

Not all of the sites talk up the number of jobs they have. Although some regard volume as a key factor in building a sticky site, others claim this approach clogs up sites with bogus jobs or positions that have been filled – and that naturally leads to user dissatisfaction.

Top Jobs, for example, concentrates on executive positions drawn from blue-chip companies rather than recruitment consultancies. Its recent client wins and renewals include Hewlett Packard, Honda, Motorola, Nestlé, Nortel, Oracle, Renault and Zurich Insurance. As of January 2000, it had 443,000 registered jobseekers and 1.5 million unique visitors.

Monster.co.uk takes a similar line. With 9,000 vacancies, the site is not the biggest in the UK but, according to UK marketing director Simon Parker, having the most jobs is meaningless. “Our figures aren’t skewed by vacancies cut and pasted from recruitment agencies or boosted by lots of temp jobs,” he says. “We are not in the business of posting jobs; we are managing careers.”

Indeed, all the leading recruitment sites say they are in “career management” because they recognise this encourages user loyalty. Monster.co.uk claims to offer job seekers personalised tools such as CV management, a personal job search agent, a careers network, privacy options and advice on job seeking. Stepstone, talking in similarly empowering language, calls itself “an enduring partner, working to give you full control of your career, your life and your future”.

Jobsite marketing director Chris Newson echoes such claims for his company’s site, but he rejects the argument that a lower volume of jobs is better. “With 500,000 visitors a month, Jobsite has to ensure there are enough jobs to satisfy demand,” he argues. “Ever since the start we have been involved in a juggling act to ensure company vacancies and candidates stay in step.”

None of the above four sites belongs to a traditional media owner. However, totaljobs and fish4jobs are both examples of media owners seeking to counter the threat to their core markets by building tangential businesses.

The fight publishers face

Totaljobs is a spin-off from business-to-business publisher Reed Business Information. Although it started out by concentrating on RBI’s core markets, such as IT, accountancy, catering, property and science, it is ultimately intended to serve “all areas of UK plc”, according to publisher Ray Duggins. He sees 100,000 online jobs as a realistic target for the site, through alliances with other recruitment advertising companies.

RBI seeks to provide horizontal and vertical channels for audiences. In addition to totaljobs, IT specialists can access jobs via Computer Weekly or its online sister product @computerweekly. The aim, says Duggins, is to offer as many entry points to job seekers as possible. “This has particular value to people in sectors such as sales and marketing,” says Duggins.

This approach is also at the heart of Fish4jobs, a joint venture between three of the UK’s leading regional newspaper groups, Northcliffe, TrinityMirror and Newsquest, which reach 80% of the population between them. Total coverage of the UK is achieved by tying in subscribers in areas of regional weakness. Fish4jobs sales and marketing director Jonathan Lines says the site aims to provide national access to local information. “Some people don’t necessarily want a job in their local area so this provides them with the data they need,” he says. “It also gives us a better chance of winning national recruitment contracts.”

Fish4jobs has backed its proposition with serious investment. In addition to a TV and outdoor campaign, it has a team of six sales executives dedicated to the online recruitment sell.

For old media players, there is a delicate balancing act between supporting the existing jobs business and developing a meaningful presence in the new media space. Some companies do this by using management that straddles both areas.

At The Daily Telegraph, which handles £40-50 million of jobs ads a year, deputy ad manager Mark Payne is also commercial director of Hollinger Telegraph New Media, Electronic Telegraph’s parent company. He calls the migration of recruitment online “a massive issue which I seem to have been talking about non-stop for five years”.

Although the migration of recruitment online is generally viewed as a threat to old media players, the latter do have a number of advantages over the new media players. Some of these relate to the future of the printed product. If online penetration in the UK peaks at 50%, as some observers predict, then there is still a sizeable chunk of the market for the traditional players to play for. There is also the issue of editorial environment. Fish4’s Lines says plenty of people “enjoy the habit of reading their paper and will still turn to the classified section as part of that process”.

Content partners needed

This is a crucial point given that, for many, the job-hunting process starts with passive searching through the classified sections of papers they have already bought. The implication for job sites is that they might need to find content partners that lure users into their domains.

Evidence that this is happening lies in a recent deal between Top Jobs on the Net and AOL Europe; under it, Top Jobs will become an anchor careers tenant on AOL and CompuServe brands across Europe as well as the Netscape Online brand in the UK. Fish4 also has partners such as Lycos, MSN and cable operator Telewest.

In terms of the old media’s efforts to move online, there are other benefits. In particular, press players are able to generate critical mass on day one by transferring print-based job ads to the online environment. This was the route taken by The Guardian’s recruitment site Jobs Unlimited, which puts print jobs online for free.

“We also offer clients services that add value,” says Jobs Unlimited manager John Salt. “Links to home pages, profiles, banner ads and logos all reinforce their relationship with us.”

Jobs Unlimited posts 2,500 new jobs a week, has 700,000 registered users and gets 2.4 million page impressions a month. For Salt, these statistics reflect the enormous value of carrying The Guardian’s brand heritage over into online.

The Guardian’s stamp of approval has also helped drive good levels of response. “We have concentrated on giving users the best possible service in areas where The Guardian is strong, such as media, IT, education and the public sector,” says Salt. “A lot of the new sites are building brands but not necessarily delivering good response consistently.”

Although Salt sees room for some new horizontal players, he believes a shake-out must come. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the bigger online recruitment brands end up partnering old media companies like publishers, radio companies or TV networks,” he says.

The best example of this to date is Carlton’s decision to take a 20% stake in online recruitment agency PeopleBank.

For all the benefits of online, it still only accounts for 3% of the UK’s permanent recruitment market at present. Making a real breakthrough will depend on how effectively the main sites fulfil their career management ambitions. There is also a need for tighter regulation to deal with the cowboys seeking to make a quick buck from the e-cruitment sector.

Software cannot replace humans

Recruitment consultants, who in theory might be surplus to requirements in the new economy, are undaunted by online’s advances. Neil Barnes, a director at recruitment consultancy Phee Farrer Jones, says the net will play an important role as a catchment tool. “But there is no software that can replace the human function in the recruitment process,” he adds. “Online can’t judge a sales and marketing executive’s ability to influence or persuade. It can’t give advice on what to do before a second interview or tell a journalist that they might find a career in PR or marketing more satisfying.”

Victoria Lubbock, who runs recruitment specialist Recruit Media, regards the net “as a tool that needs to be used intelligently alongside other platforms”. Like Barnes, Lubbock stresses the vital role recruitment agencies can play – in filtering applications, for example. “Many advertisers don’t consider the effort involved in dealing with the job application process,” she says. In the world of online, the job of wading through CVs could well become more laborious.

Lubbock has other concerns, such as search accuracy and the security of confidential details posted online. “The last thing you need is for your current employer to find out you are looking for another job,” she says. Lubbock also believes many client companies do not market themselves effectively online. “In today’s competitive market, they need to use the medium to sell themselves to the job seeker,” she says. “Not every company is as fortunate as the BBC.”

Undoubtedly, online will have a place at the heart of the job-finding processes of the future. “Quality, speed and cost mean recruitment has to lean towards online,” says Monster’s Parker. “Because the medium is perfect for finding and retrieving information, there is no way back.”

The real question is whether the established media recruitment brands can hold off the threat from their new electronic rivals.

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