I’ve been a keen follower of the Job Board market for several decades. It’s been a market that has often been very slow to evolve, but the pace of innovation has increased considerably over the last few years. So what effect has the pandemic had on the job board industry, and what is its likely future direction?
My guest this week is Steven Rothberg, Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of College Recruiter. Steven has been in the job board industry since it started, and I could think of no better person to give us an update on the current state of the market.
• How have job boards evolved over time
• The programmatic revolution
• Recruiting marketing budget consolidation
• How has the pandemic changed things for job boards
• Why do job boards need to reduce the friction they are causing in the candidate journey.
• Market consolidation
• What is the future of job boards?
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Matt Alder (1m 5s):
Hi there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 427 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. I’ve been a keen follower of The Job Board Market for several decades. It’s been a market that’s often been very slow to evolve, but the pace of innovation has been increasing considerably over the last few years. What effect has the pandemic had on the job board industry and what’s its likely future direction? My guest this week is Steven Rothberg, Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of College Recruiter. Steven has been in the job board industry since it started.
Matt Alder (1m 47s):
I could think of no better person to give us an update on the current state of the market. Hi, Stephen, and welcome to the podcast.
Steven Rothberg (1m 55s):
Hello, Matt. Good to be with you.
Matt Alder (1m 56s):
An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Could you just introduce yourself and tell us what you do?
Steven Rothberg (2m 1s):
Sure. I am Steven Rothberg. I am the founder chief visionary officer for college recruiter. It’s a job search site for students and recent graduates based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Matt Alder (2m 15s):
Fantastic stuff. Now I want to ask you lots of questions about the state of The Job Board Market, how it’s looking post the pandemic, where we might be going, really, how talent acquisition professionals should be thinking about job board marketing at the moment. Before we do though, I thought it would be good to get a bit of context because you’ve been in the industry for quite some time. I thought it would be interesting just to get your take on the evolution of job boards and how they’ve evolved since you set up College Recruiter.
Steven Rothberg (2m 49s):
Yes. I started the company that College Recruiter grew out of back in 1991, but for the first five years, there was nothing job board or online about it. Back in that era, the mid-nineties, it was a very, very different time with what we have now. It was absolutely the wild west. There was a lot of stuff happening then that people thought was completely normal and today people would just be completely aghast that anybody with any ethics whatsoever could have done that, but it’s not that people were bad. It’s just that we were all paving new roads and we didn’t know where those roads were going to be going.
Steven Rothberg (3m 31s):
At times, we didn’t even know where they had come from. In that era, Netscape had just gone public and, all of a sudden, the internet became a household word. When we launched in ’96, Yahoo had just launched. It was still two years away from Google launching and it was still about five to six years away from Google really generating any revenue whatsoever. Job boards were an unknown commodity. They were a couple of hundred of them globally. There were sites like OCC (Online Career Center), which later, through acquisition and name change and whatever, became Monster.
Steven Rothberg (4m 11s):
Today people who are familiar with today’s job board market really I don’t think can grasp just how dominant some of those early players were. There wasn’t a LinkedIn. There wasn’t an Indeed. The Monsters of the world career, Mosaic is another blast from the past. They really set the stage for the migration of recruitment, advertising dollars away from print, primarily newspaper classified ads, and towards the online market, but the business model was basically the same.
Steven Rothberg (4m 52s):
Rather than picking up a piece of paper and getting ink on your fingers, you were tapping away on your keyboard.
Matt Alder (4m 57s):
No, absolutely. I remember it well. I sound very old myself now. How did that model develop? Take it up to the start of the pandemic. How did things evolve?
Steven Rothberg (5m 10s):
Yes, sure. Mid-nineties until the early 2000s, virtually every job board had homegrown software. They built their own. There were not third parties like Java code, magic, smart job board, job board IO, et cetera. None of those players existed. If you wanted to create a job board, you have to build the software. The expectations of the users were quite different than they are now. There was no such thing as parsing technology. The only artificial intelligence was in Arnold Schwartzenegger movies.
Steven Rothberg (5m 50s):
It was just a completely different era. There were in the late nineties, there was the .com bubble that was around the corner. People were calling the market frothies. There was a ton of investment money coming in and you started to see the emergence of the second generation of job boards. The first paper click job board, there is a little bit of debate around it. Not in my mind, but some people will try to rewrite history a little bit. The first paper click job board didn’t come about until the early 2000s so it was six to eight years after job boards started to become useful to a lot of candidates.
Steven Rothberg (6m 35s):
That first job board that sold on a pay-per-click basis was called top USA jobs. Still exists. About a year later, Indeed came along and the advent of indeed really changed the entire market. It shifted the way that ads were delivered, truly a post-it prey model like you had in print media, where you would advertise a job and it might run for a day, a week, or a month. The job boards adopted that model. Maybe that ad worked well, and maybe it didn’t.
Steven Rothberg (7m 16s):
Maybe you got zero applications and maybe you got 500. It was really very irrational employers that wanted to hire one person. It might be 10 applications to hire that person would very often get 250 applications. That’s pretty bad for the candidates, pretty bad for the employer, in the long run, bad for the job board. What Indeed did is that they used mostly on the backend. It was hidden from the user, but they looked at the likely desired response for the employer and try to meet that. They ranked jobs based in part on how much the employer was paying, things like how many people you wanted to hire.
Steven Rothberg (8m 4s):
If you want to hire 10 people or 50 people, you need 10 times or 50 times the applications. Indeed system was really the first really good, really popular one that did that. The way that indeed built their market share is similar to some of the stuff that still happens today, including with us. That is they recognized that other job boards, staffing companies, RPOs, et cetera, were much more sophisticated in their marketing. They were much more willing to spend marketing dollars than a typical job board. Indeed could go to another job board and say, “Hey, give us a budget of $10,000 a month or $50,000 a month and send us thousands or tens of thousands of jobs.”
Steven Rothberg (8m 49s):
They could do that as quickly as selling one $200-posting to an employer, who will then call up 18 times after that to complain about the results they’re getting. Indeed was able to really scale up their business by partnering with other job boards of staffing companies. As they built that critical mass, that job content, the number of postings, then they gradually weaned themselves off of taking postings from other job boards. There were a lot of job boards who, almost overnight, essentially lost their business because all their traffic came from Indeed. Then you saw the same thing repeat with staffing companies.
Steven Rothberg (9m 31s):
Today you’re seeing some of that happening with direct employers too. LinkedIn comes along, has a bit of a different twist on it. Rather than advertising a job, you, as an individual, are essentially going to advertise your availability, but we’re going to pretend that it’s not a job board, and we’re going to pretend that this is all about networking and just advancing your career. Anybody who wasn’t heavily intoxicated knew that that really wasn’t the truth. It was kind of a wink, wink, nudge, nudge. It was a job board that pretended not to be a job board so you could go and get on it and your boss wouldn’t be wondering if you were about to quit. It’s very clever but almost all of their revenue from day one came from talent acquisition.
Steven Rothberg (10m 15s):
If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s a duck. One of the things that really started to change from that, what we now think of as being the standard in The Job Board world, the indeed the LinkedIn, the Monster, the career builder era. In the UK, you’ve got sites like Total Jobs. In Australia, you’ve got all the seek jobs. In Germany and some other countries, you’ve got the step stones, but basically big general sites where employers would advertise and search for resumes. They would do that on a duration basis – X dollars for Y days or X dollars for Y months.
Steven Rothberg (11m 1s):
That model has really started to fade away about five to seven years ago with the popularization of two things. One is a lot more employers and their representatives, the advertising agencies, the RPOs, the job distributors, becoming better and better at paid-for-performance. Generally, that’s pay-per-click or pay-per-application, and coincidentally at the same time, programmatic, where you’ve got software making decisions about which ads to run on which sites, how prominently, for how long.
Steven Rothberg (11m 49s):
That software is not doing anything that humans couldn’t do, didn’t do, some times still do with job slots. Job slots where basically you buy a posting or maybe five postings, and then you can run whatever jobs you want in those and swap them in and out over the course of a month. Programmatic, pardon me, we’ll take your postings. Rather than deciding that I should run this posting on XYZ job board for 30 days because I saw an ad on the Superbowl for that job board, and therefore it must be a good job board.
Steven Rothberg (12m 33s):
Instead, it’s going to run that posting on the sites that are likely to generate the best results. Of course, Matt, we know what the best results are in the eye of the beholder. Some employers want a lot of applications. Some employers want what they call quality applications. If you ask them what quality is, they know it when they see it. That’s a hard thing to then hold your vendor accountable for because if you don’t know what you’re looking for, how does somebody else who really doesn’t understand your business know what you’re looking for. To bring it up to today, what we’re seeing, where we’re going, and I think that it’s shared by a small number of other sites as well, is that which programmatic with paper for performance.
Steven Rothberg (13m 31s):
Maybe some of it is due to the pandemic with a lot more people working remotely and still continuing to do so to some degree. We’re seeing a real consolidation in recruitment advertising spending that if you and I had been talking about it 15 years ago, almost all recruitment advertising spending would have been very local. If you had a big box retailer with 300 stores, probably 80 to 90% of your recruitment advertising budget would have been owned by the store managers. That manager needed to hire three people, she would put an ad in the local newspaper or maybe on Monster and spend $200 or a thousand dollars or whatever, and hopefully hire the two to three people she needed.
Steven Rothberg (14m 16s):
That would be it and head office wouldn’t be involved at all. It was for the budget. What’s happened in the last couple of years is that budget has really shifted from the local level to the national level and sometimes to the international level, like the global headquarters. It’s, I think, a push poll. One of the reasons that it’s happening is it’s being pulled into the headquarters because they have created the employment branding company or departments. You’ve got people within those departments who are very sophisticated with marketing. They understand programmatic, they understand performance-based marketing, they understand branding, and they care about it much more so than somebody at a local level who just needs to put a butt in a seat right now.
Steven Rothberg (15m 3s):
At the same time, with that consolidation, you’ve got a push if recruitment advertising dollars are going to be much more efficiently and effectively spent at that international level because they can better use the software, they have better techniques and strategies. Then those dollars are naturally gonna flow in most organizations to where they can be best be spent. It’s not at all untypical now to see an organization with 50,000 people or a hundred thousand people, whatever, and there are two or three people who are controlling the entire recruitment advertising budget for that entire organization.
Steven Rothberg (15m 48s):
What starting to do for our business is that we’re seeing organizations, a small number to be sure, but rapidly increasing, who are saying things like, “Hey, you’re helping us in the US. We’re advertising our early careers jobs, our part-time retail jobs, whatever with you. Can you also do that for us in the UK? Can you do that in Australia? Can you do that in Germany?” Some of the sites out there, like the LinkedIns and the Indeeds of the world, they’ve been doing that for years, but it’s new or to the smaller sites, like a college recruiter, to the niche sites.
Steven Rothberg (16m 29s):
It creates a lot of complexities when you are operating across borders with different currencies, with different employment laws, and different customs and practices. It’s an interesting world now.
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Matt Alder (17m 10s):
I’ve been a keen follower of job boards for many decades now. In fact, my background was buying job board space for ad agencies so followed the evolution very, very closely over the years. I think in the last couple of years coming up to the pandemic, we were seeing so much innovation and change in The Job Board space. As you say, it’s interesting to see what’s happening now, but I suppose to dig into that a bit deeper, how has the pandemic affected that evolution in job boards?
Matt Alder (17m 50s):
Obviously, many employers are now struggling to find the talent that they need. Are your boards benefiting from that? Are they themselves struggling to fulfill that demand?
Steven Rothberg (18m 5s):
If I had to guess, I would say that at least 80%, probably more in the 90% range of job boards, large and small, US, EU, UK, Singapore-based, globally have benefited greatly from the emergence of COVID. COVID hits the job board industry very hard, very quickly, just like it did for a lot of other industries. There were hardly any industries in those first few months that actually benefited. The Amazons of the world and the food delivery, their business was up incredibly in March, April, May of 2020.
Steven Rothberg (18m 47s):
The job boards started to see some real uptick in certain areas around June of 2020. That’s when our business started to really take off. It was in June of 2020, but we are very heavy on the early talents so part-time, seasonal, internship, entry-level jobs. A lot of the employers that were hiring a lot were the employers with e-commerce warehouses, the Amazons of the world, and then the United Parcel Services, FedExes and et cetera, with shipping to all of our homes. The grocery stores that had food delivery, there was a lot of hiring of those people.
Steven Rothberg (19m 33s):
If you were running a job board focused on chemical engineers in Slovakia, you were probably still hurting pretty big in June of 2020, but virtually, every job board that I have talked to over the last year through just my work at College Recruiter. I’m also a co-host on a podcast called The Job Board Geeks. We get to talk to job boards on a weekly basis. Almost all of them now, their revenues and profitability are far greater than they were a couple of years ago. It’s due to the massive increase in hiring over the last couple of years.
Steven Rothberg (20m 16s):
What some people will call a labor shortage, I think it’s much more about a labor mismatch. Interesting to me though, is that very few are talking about the impact of that labor mismatch or labor shortage on the actual job. Not just on their customers and therefore how much their customers are spending, but the job boards often are having trouble hiring the people that they need to hire too. I’ve talked to several job boards that have said that they are starved for talent, especially on the technology side, hiring enough software engineers or software engineers that are good enough but maybe it’s wishful thinking on my side.
Steven Rothberg (21m 3s):
What I see over and over again from employers that are really struggling to hire is that the chickens are coming home to roost. A lot of these employers have spent decades treating their employees like crap and paying them like crap. The shoe is now on the other foot. They’re not able to retain or attract the talent that they need because they’ve done a remarkably good job at alienating that talent, the people who have actually worked for them. They’ve also built a really negative brand in the industry. It’s not 1982.
Steven Rothberg (21m 43s):
It’s pretty easy to jump online and see that XYZ employer, early in the pandemic, overnight, let go 42% of its employees, right? They did not care nearly as much about their employees as they cared about their profitability. Those people remember how devastating that was, and so do their friends, and so their family members, and so does anybody who reads a blog or watches a Tik To video about how somebody was let go. They lost their home, and in some countries like the US, that caused them to lose their health insurance.
Steven Rothberg (22m 23s):
Those are the employers buying large that are really struggling. Also, for employers that even did treat people well, the pay increases that they’re able or willing to give are just not sufficient. I’m in Phoenix, Arizona right now in business and I just heard of a city here that made a big announcement and “Yay us.” They raised the pay of all of their employees by 5%. Well, three years ago, that would have been fantastic. I’m thinking, if you put a one before that five, now you’re probably paying competitively.
Steven Rothberg (23m 8s):
They probably need to increase their pay by 15%, not five. If I was somebody who had been working for that municipality for the last eight years, and probably received a total of a 2% pay increase over that period of time, for them to come to me now and say, “Your pay has gone up 5%, you should be so grateful,” I think I would be searching the job boards.
Matt Alder (23m 31s):
To shift our focus slightly, I just want to talk a little bit about experience for job seekers. One of the things that became very obvious to me and a lot of the employers that I work with was, as job boards started trading traffic with each other more and more and we move more into this programmatic world, there was a real negative effect on the candidate experience because people are applying for jobs that they found on job boards, then being sent to other job boards and then other job boards. I think it got very confusing from a candidate’s perspective. Is that something that you think the industry is addressing? Is it improving?
Matt Alder (24m 12s):
Is the experience for candidates when they’re using the job boards getting any better?
Steven Rothberg (24m 18s):
I wish I could tell you that the experience is getting better. There are two main schools of thought. I think that the scenario that you’re painting, unfortunately, is the dominant one. That is if an employer posts a job to job board A, it is very normal for that job board to then repost that, share that, or distribute that, call it what you may, to a number of other job boards. Now, that’s a good thing when it comes to programmatic working.
Steven Rothberg (24m 58s):
Just in general, the job runs in a lot of places. The job seeks out the candidate who’s both qualified and searching actively enough that they’re going to apply to it. At a high level, that’s a good thing that job boards share postings as long as it’s properly disclosed to employer. Employers should know that their job is going to be distributed and they should know, at least generally, where. They don’t want to see their job posted on a porn site, for example, but if it’s on 12 other well-regarded job boards, that should be a good thing for them.
Steven Rothberg (25m 40s):
Unfortunately, the norm in the job board industry forever has been to use employer content to drive registrations to the job board. Job board A post that job to job board B. In order for the candidate on job board B to apply to it, they first have to register with job board B, then they get sent over to job board A where they have to register again. Then sometimes they have to get sent over to the employer’s site, to the ATS, and they have to register, apply, or both. That’s ridiculous. Candidates should not have to hand over their information to three different organizations to get a job from the last one in line.
Steven Rothberg (26m 27s):
I believe that job boards shouldn’t actually be taking candidate data in a scenario like that. If you’re going to send that candidate over to the employer’s website to apply, the candidate should only be asked to hand over their information once. They don’t care about The Job Board. I know a lot of job board owners, and I had dinner with a couple of folks last night who heard me say this and thought that I was speaking heresy, and I should be ex-communicated from the job board industry. Well, not quite, but I don’t think that job boards, long-term, are going to be able to take candidate data.
Steven Rothberg (27m 6s):
I think it’s the move to privacy. More and more consumers are aware of it. More and more governments are acting on it. I think five to 10 years from now, the vast majority of the world is going to say, “Look, if you operate a website or some other kind of media, you’re only going to be allowed to take data if it’s absolutely necessary to function.” If you want to send a job match alert to candidates, and the candidates want that, well, they have to give you their email address. If you’re just passing that candidate over to the employer to apply, you don’t need that candidate’s data. I think that some of that’s going to go away.
Steven Rothberg (27m 47s):
At College Recruiter, we’re in a very small minority where we actually do not accept personally identifiable information. We just moved to that a couple of months ago. We did so because when a candidate comes to our site, we believe, pardon my French, they don’t give two craps about us. They come to our site to find a job. We’re not the employer. We are helping to connect that employer with that candidate. The more hurdles that we put in front of that employer, in front of that candidate, the more difficult we make it for them to have that match and, for them, that employment to happen.
Steven Rothberg (28m 31s):
We want to minimize involvement in that. It also has the benefit of if we don’t have that candidate data, we don’t have to protect it. If we don’t have that candidate data, we have no privacy issues. If an employer posts a job to us, and then we post it to a college or university career service office site, or some other kinds of partners site, that candidate might see that job on the career service office site and click the apply button. They get instantly redirected through us and they go over to the employer’s site to apply. We are essentially invisible to the candidate. There’s no stop.
Steven Rothberg (29m 12s):
I’m starting to see more and more job boards doing that where the candidate does not stop on the job board, but instead they get passed through. The fact that a job gets distributed to five, 50, or 500 job boards, and that candidate goes from job board to job board, to job board, that can be handled in a way that’s completely invisible to the candidate. The Job Board then really get to the core of their business, which is the business of connecting candidates with employers. Job boards that really understand that and truly embrace that would not want to create a scenario where candidates have to hand over their data simply to then be allowed through the next door to them, to go to the next step in the process.
Steven Rothberg (30m 11s):
I understand from a financial perspective, why job boards want that data because then, if they have that data, they can then market other jobs to that candidate. They can then sell resumes searching access, or CV searching, and employers will pay for that. That’s all about the job boards financials, and that’s not what the candidates want. Generally, the vast majority of candidates don’t care about the job board. They don’t even really care about the employer or the employer’s brand. They work, they trade their labor to get a paycheck so that they can put food on the table.
Steven Rothberg (30m 54s):
I don’t think that we should fool ourselves that most people work for some enlightenment or because they believe in an employer’s mission. People like you and I are fortunate. We were able to do that, but we are way out of the norm. The vast majority of people go to work for a local shop not because they think that selling olive oil to somebody is a wonderful experience. It’s because on Friday, they’re going to get a paycheck for $500 and that’s going to allow them to buy prescription medication for their kid.
Matt Alder (31m 29s):
Absolutely. As a final question, and you’ve already hinted at aspects of this in the conversation already, I’d be really interested in your perspective of what the future for job boards looks like and what should be on our radar in terms of things like technology or the way that things might change? What can TA leaders expect from job boards moving forward?
Steven Rothberg (31m 53s):
Super question because I think a lot about this. As you might recall, at the beginning you asked me who I am and part of my job title is chief visionary officer. Part of my job is to have my head up looking around, looking at trends kind of sounds probably familiar to you for what you do. It’s fun. It’s interesting. We’re probably proven wrong on more than we’re proven, right? If I had to hazard a guess, what I think, five years from now, we’re going to see is much less fragmentation, far fewer siloed talent solution providers.
Steven Rothberg (32m 37s):
I think that that rate now, our industry is very much out of the norm. In almost every industry, you see very, very large players and you see very, very small players, and the middle-sized organizations tend to get squeezed out. They don’t have the scale, they don’t have the capital to compete with the big boys, and they’re not small and nimble and dynamic enough to compete with the small organizations. When you think about where you buy stuff, grocery stores, cars, medicine, almost anything online.
Steven Rothberg (33m 21s):
If you’re buying shoes, if you’re buying whatever, you tend to either buy it from the very largest players, the Amazons of the world, or the very small ones build, the local grocer shop. You know Fred, who’s the person who owns the shop and also put the apples out for display that morning. The talent solutions community is very different. There aren’t very many very large players, and there are a ton of medium-sized organizations. One of which is one of the ones that I helped direct, College Recruiter.
Steven Rothberg (34m 2s):
We’re not tiny, nor are we anywhere close to being massive. I think that there’s going to be a lot of consolidation. I think that there’ll be a lot of organizations that have built really good tech but don’t know how to generate revenue. Their tech will be snapped up by some of the startups and have really good funding or more likely some of the really big players. I could absolutely see the Indeed’s of the world, the Seeks of the world, the Microsoft with LinkedIn, et cetera, coming along and snapping up a whole lot of these organizations that have raised 50 million, a hundred million, $200 million, and are going to burn through that cash and create a really interesting product with really interesting technology that nobody is willing to buy, but that product can be folded into something that then actually delivers on its promise.
Steven Rothberg (35m 3s):
Just as an example. This is an organization that actually is good and is viable and has really good revenue, but just last week, the candidate ID acquisition by iSense is consistent with what I’m thinking. Candidate ID is a really great business. They raised a decent amount of money, but not exorbitant. They’ve got, from everything I’ve heard, a really great product, but candidate ID, as a standalone organization, would never be able to bring that product to as many employers that can really leverage it. Now, as part of the iSense family, almost overnight, they’re going to have thousands of additional enterprise-level customers that should be able to pretty easily plug that in.
Steven Rothberg (35m 56s):
That’s going to take this really great product and scale it up very, very quickly. I think we’re going to see a lot more of those deals.
Matt Alder (36m 6s):
I agree with you a hundred percent. Steven, thank you very much for talking to me.
Steven Rothberg (36m 10s):
Matt, it has been an absolute pleasure and I look forward to, at some point, being in the same room with you again.
Matt Alder (36m 17s):
My thanks to Steven. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at recruitingfuture.com. On that site, you can also subscribe to the mailing list to get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks so much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.