Friday, April 08, 2005

On The Other Hand: There is a Place for Specialty Sites in Employment

There is a category in which specialty classified ad websites may remain a viable alternative, namely employment. Not general employment, but more of a headhunting style of employment. Let me explain.

I tend to segment the employment market into a few categories. First, I segment it according to employee skill level: low, medium and highly skilled. Then I classify it according to active and passive job seekers. Finally I address the job openings that are either secret or for very high-level executives. Companies will need to use different approaches to appeal to these various segments.

Low Skill or Manual Labor Employees:
Newspapers will continue to appeal to low-skill or manual jobs (e.g. ditch digging) for some time, because of the low correlation of Internet access and computer skills among this group of employees.

Medium and Highly Skilled Employees:
Young educated people (e.g. college graduates) are very computer and Internet savvy. This group of people will turn to the Internet as their primary tool in job searching. Skilled employees in mid-level and executive-level positions will also turn increasingly to the Internet to find their jobs.

More interesting is the active versus passive job seeker classification. This classification is more interesting because this is where the specialty employment websites can earn their place in the classified ad ecosystem of the future.

Active Job Seekers:
This group of people, whether employed or unemployed, is actively looking for another job. They will scour the job listings on classified ad websites, individual company job listing web pages and employment search engines. Since these job seekers are in the market, they will go where they can find the jobs that fit their profile (location, job-type, etc.). One might argue that websites that specialize on a particular location or category of jobs will standout in this scenario. But as big-box classified ad websites add best of breed functionality to address location, category, etc., this advantage goes away.

Passive Job Seekers:
Passive job seekers are those people who are happily employed and aren’t looking for a new job. However, if their dream job is presented to them, they can be pried away from their current employer. This is the bread and butter for executive search professionals (AKA headhunters, executive recruiters). An employer comes to the headhunter and says that they want someone who fits a certain mold and might come from a specific list of companies. These companies might be the hiring company’s competitors. The headhunter then approaches these individuals and tries to pry them away from their employer.

I believe that specialized websites like LinkedIn can participate in this realm if they are able to mine links to approach target employees, validate their fit and present them to the employer. Clearly, they need a way of emulating the headhunter’s intermediary role. If they can address this opportunity, they can carve out a profitable niche in the employment world.

Secretive & Highest-Level Executive Positions:
When HP was looking for CEO to replace Carly Fiorina, they didn’t list it in Craigslist. This is not the type of position you list anywhere. This is such a critical hire, that it required a team of individuals comprised of people inside the company in partnership with high-level executive recruiters.

The same thing hold true for secretive positions. If the employer has not yet informed the executive that they are looking for someone to replace them, they they need to keep the search on the down-low. A targeted solution like the LinkedIn approach outlined above could work, but to ensure discretion the employer will probably still use an executive recruiter.

In summary, I envision the bulk of the employment listings moving to large classified ad websites. There is a role for specialty sites to target passive job seekers through relationships a la LinkedIn. And the highest-level executives and secret or sensitive job opportunities will remain the realm of executive recruiters.