A Whole Lot of Job Huntin' Goin' On

By: Steve Outing

Employment ads are the bread and butter of many newspaper classifieds sections. For the U.S. newspaper industry, employment liner ads and classified display ads are the largest of the traditional classifieds categories, representing more than one-third of all print classifieds. (Indeed, some newspapers -- the Wall Street Journal and Sunday New York Times, for example -- are far more heavily dependent on employment advertising. Many European newspapers rely even more greatly on recruitment ads.) In 1995, according to the Newspaper Association of America, recruitment ads were worth $4.8 billion to U.S. newspapers.

That dependence on recruitment ads should cause concern among publishers, then, about the growth of the electronic recruiting industry. According to a new research publication, there are now more than 3,500 recruiting Web sites in operation, many of them looking to siphon off some of the revenues enjoyed for so long by the newspaper industry. (Others represent technology partnership opportunities for publishers, it must be noted.) As of December 1996, there were some 1 million resumes posted online, and 1.2 million jobs being offered.

The report is the 1997 Electronic Recruiting Index, published by Internet Business Network (IBN) of Mill Valley, California (price: $997). The size of this index alone gives you an idea of the level of activity in online recruiting: 600 pages. The Index includes detailed profiles of what its editors consider to be the Top 100 recruiting sites, plus shorter reviews of another 2,100 Web sites that IBN gives a passing grade.

The electronic recruitment sites run the gamut -- from "master sites" that include a variety of employment categories and industries; to recruiting sites that specialize in a particular niche; to corporate sites and educational institutions that advertise their own job openings; to sites developed by print publishers; to "new generation" recruiters operating only in the digital space. Editor & Publisher's Web site, which includes newspaper industry recruitment ads, is included in the Index's Top 100.

No longer newspapers' game

According to John Sumser, CEO of IBN, the report is designed to give deep insights into "the needs of the paying customers for employment advertising." And if it's not obvious, newspapers now have a LOT of competition for employers' recruitment dollars by cyber-competitors. To stay in the game, and avoid an eventual decline in employment ad revenues due to losses on the print side, publishers need to be developing electronic recruitment services themselves.

Sumser says the recruitment sector is quite different from other categories of classifieds. It's the priciest segment of classifieds, because it can afford to be. When a company needs to fill a position, cost of the ad is not typically an issue. "You just pray that you can get the ad in," he says. "It's desperation based." Other segments, say autos or merchandise for sale, are much more price-sensitive as advertisers will shop around more.

The real issue, then, is can newspapers offer value to corporations in matching job-seeker with employer, in comparison to the new electronic competitors. Judging by the level of competition on the Internet, many entrepreneurs believe they can devise systems that do a better job -- using such interactive features as automatic resume matching, e-mail notification of matching candidates or jobs, hyperlinks to employers allowing job-seekers to send in electronic resumes, etc.

Clearly, newspapers remain well positioned to fight off the cyber-competition because of their entrenched roots into their communities, established relationships with local employers, and deep pockets. "It's idealistic to think that (newspapers' position as dominant employment marketplace) will topple just because the wind shifts," Sumser says.

Many approaches to online recruitment are being tried by cyber-entrepreneurs in an attempt to chip away at newspapers' employment ad franchise. But as Sumser points out, for many small companies, "make one stupid move and you're dead." Newspapers, on the other hand, have the capital resources to experiment in the electronic sphere, make mistakes, and go on to try the next concept. "A newspaper can make a lot of dumb moves before it's over."

Unfortunately, says Sumser, the newspaper industry in general is not experimenting enough; too many still "don't get it." He cites CareerPath.com as an example of an ill-conceived strategy and one of the "dumbest expenditures of funds I've seen" to date on the Internet. CareerPath.com is a newspaper-founded national (U.S.) recruitment Web site featuring employment classifieds from two dozen newspapers.

What's so terrible about CareerPath.com? It's useful in finding "all the exotic dancer jobs in the country," Sumser says. It is based on the premise that a 3-line ad -- which is what CareerPath.com publishes in many instances, since it repurposes what ran in its client newspapers -- is useful. But that's not the strength of the World Wide Web, he points out, where greater depth of information -- intelligently deployed to provide customized services for employer and job-seeker -- will more efficiently put together the two parties.

In the employment game, big is not better, which is part of the problem with CareerPath.com, Sumser says. Recruitment services that will work best for employers (and job seekers) are those that specialize and target. While CareerPath.com gets 3.5 million search requests a month, a particular ad might be seen by only a handful of people; big doesn't translate into useful for employers seeking the right individual to fill a job, he says. They'd be better off placing their ads in a niche site where more of the "right" people will see them.

Sumser thinks that smaller newspapers need to worry about large metro papers, since technology allows the big publications to regionalize their ad sections better than they have in the past and gain even more competitive advantage.

Newspapers do have an advantage over the "master sites" like The Monster Board, meanwhile, because of publishers' local ties. While master sites can get search results down to a 25-mile radius, they'll never understand the nuances of the local market, says Sumser. And that's the advantage that newspapers must leverage in operating in the online recruitment environment.

Master sites

Sumser says there are about 16 major recruitment Web sites that bear close watching, and that pose the biggest threat to newspaper employment classifieds. Some of the best online recruitment sites started out as media placement firms (ad agencies that place many of the employment wanted ads that appear in newspapers) that recognized the potential of the Web to become a superior recruitment medium than newspaper classifieds. Examples include The Monster Board, Online Career Center, CareerMosaic, E-Span, and A Virtual Job Fair.

Several recruitment Web companies have ties to the newspaper industry, including CareerWeb, owned by Landmark Communications, and Best Jobs on the USA, which publishes the employment ads from USA Today.

A scary thought?

What of the future of online recruitment? Sumser expects some twists and turns over the next few years. Technology is putting qualified candidates on the desktop computers of personnel directors and recruiters. The low-tech print "help wanted" ad is far less useful and convenient in comparison. Newspapers have little choice but to figure out how to use Internet technology to better serve their existing corporate customer base, lest employers figure out that someone else can do a better job of filling job vacancies.

One approach -- which must at least be considered, despite its radical nature -- is for newspapers to get away from supplying the content of recruitment ads. That is, stop doing the data entry involved in soliciting ads (getting out of the content game), step back, and reconceive the newspaper's business as carrier rather than content provider. Someday (soon?), the newspaper industry may wake to find that all those online recruiting companies have changed the game.

Contact: John Sumser, jrs@interbiznet.com

Happy birthday, old-timer

The New York Times on the Web is one year old this month, and to commemorate the newspaper's one-year anniversary online the Web site staff has produced a Netrospective, a "homepage gallery" recapping the memorable events of 1996.

The Times site will be adding several new features in the coming weeks and months: The New York Times Book Review online; searchable Times archives (surcharged); global weather data; round-the-clock news from The Associated Press; a consumer reference service from FIND/SVP; and a "personal filing cabinet." The latter feature will allows users to download information to their PCs -- the electronic version of clipping and saving an article.

(Note: The Times site requires registration; Internet users outside of the U.S. must pay a subscription fee for access.)


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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at steve@planetarynews.com

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company


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