Online Recruitment: Putting Up a Fight

By: Steve Outing

In a recent column I noted the rapid growth of the online recruitment industry, and the threat it poses to newspapers' long-held dominance in the employment advertising world. (The recently published Online Recruiters Index identified 3,500 online recruitment Web sites, found 1.2 million jobs listed online, and 1 million resumes posted.)

The newspaper industry is not sitting still as aggressive cyber-entrepreneurs chip away at printed employment classifieds. And among the leaders in developing services that compete with fast-growing online recruitment sites like CareerMosaic and The Monster Board is the San Jose Mercury News and its Mercury Center Web site. The Mercury's Talent Scout Web service is a direct response to the online recruiting industry. It specifically targets jobs in the Silicon Valley high technology field.

Content play

What distinguishes Talent Scout from the online competition is its emphasis on editorial content, says Talent Scout editor Mark Hull. "We looked at the online recruitment sites and saw that they had nice jobs databases, but not much strength in content," he says. "We figured we should (play to) our strengths." Five days a week, new editorial material covering the high technology employment scene is posted to the site, much of it written specifically for Talent Scout. That content helps drive traffic to the jobs and resume databases and other components of the service.

Hull devotes the majority of his time to Talent Scout. His work does sometimes appear in the printed newspaper, but his responsibility is to the online service. He also has lined up two columnists: the president of Women in Technology International, who writes bi-weekly; and another who writes regularly about online job sites. Hull is looking to add a Silicon Valley careers "gossip columnist" soon.

Editorial content is designed to offer practical information to technology industry job seekers. A typical story might focus on such topics as how to put together an online resume, or identify a high-tech job sector that is rife with opportunities currently. The site also includes wire stories on employment topics, and links to material on other (competitors') online job Web sites. (With a small staff, Hull must rely on other sources out on the Web to fill Talent Scout with useful information.)

The service, which launched last summer but was completely revamped and relaunched in mid January, is growing in large part due to the Mercury brand name, says Hull. The name "Mercury Center carries a lot of weight," which has helped Talent Scout establish a growing position in the online career marketplace. The service typically posts 3,000-4,000 job listings (highest on Sunday) from the Mercury News newspaper, and averages about 60,000 accesses (not "hits") of the site per week, says Hull.

Like most online job services, Talent Scout is free to job seekers who want to post a resume in the database, with income coming from employers. The service also receives a portion of printed employment ad revenues from the newspaper, since those ads are repurposed online.

A key part of the revenue model is a partnership with the Lendman Group, which operates job fairs for the Mercury, tied in to the Talent Scout program, and maintains the database. The fairs were started specifically as part of Talent Scout.

Key to the service offered employers is a system where resumes submitted to the database are analyzed and categorized -- partly automatically, and partly by humans eyeballing the resumes -- and appropriate resumes are sent off to participating employers looking for candidates with specific skills. Meetings between employer and prospective candidates are encouraged and facilitated at the Mercury-Lendman sponsored job fairs.

The shift to online-only ads

Talent Scout also accepts online-only employment ads -- a feature that is being used increasingly by high-technology employers who no longer find it necessary to publish ads in the printed newspaper. The database currently contains mostly repurposed print ads, but Hull expects online-only ads to grow quickly.

For 1997, the Mercury plans to enhance the service to make it more competitive with competing online job sites. Hulls expects to add an agent feature that notifies job-seekers and employers when a possible match enters the database; a personalized calendar that notifies users of events occurring in their profession; and a service that reads a user's profile (stored in a client browser "cookie" file) and alerts the user to hot new jobs in his/her field. A feature to give job seekers door-to-door directions on how to get to an employer's offices is being developed -- made possible by Mercury parent Knight-Ridder's deal with online Yellow pages directory company Zip2.

There's also a partnership with an outside company to provide video virtual job fairs. This might include an Internet live video-conference with job seekers chatting with the chief recruiter of Netscape, for example, Hull says.

Hull believes newspapers are well positioned to succeed in the online recruitment space, but they are being forced to "play defense" right now. Setting up Talent Scout-like services is a logical strategic move, he believes, especially for those papers that rely heavily on employment advertising from the technology industries, which are increasingly conducting their recruiting activities online and abandoning print.

There are now no formal plans to expand the Talent Scout concept to other Knight-Ridder papers, although the newspaper chain has a history of developing new electronic services at one of its properties then later implementing them at other papers.

Contact: Mark Hull,

I look forward to seeing everyone who is going to Houston for Interactive Newspapers '97 and the E&P Best Online Newspaper Service Awards this week. If you can't make it, keep up with events by reading the "Conference Daily News" web site being set up by E&P. It's attached to the main E&P home pages at


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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

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


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