Job Board trends in 2008 sheds light on the road ahead

The past often reveals what the future holds. I looked back at some of the major job board related trends in the Australian marketplace.

1. Vibrant but volatile industry
In 2008, some 150-170 job boards exist in Australia. The number increases five folds if the definition of a job board is expanded to include online destinations that list employment opportunities. With off-the shelve software and free job board technology easily available, starting a job board has never been easier. On the flip side, running a successful job board proves to be difficult. For every new job board that opened its doors, another closed shop. Besides the challenge of getting noticed in a crowded market, many of the new entrants seems unwilling or incapable of navigating the difficult task of serving two masters – candidates and advertisers. However, high failure rate does not seem to deter new entrants.

2. Big players dominate, grew at the expense of print
Accounting for roughly 80% of the market share, the big generalist players continue to hold sway over the landscape. Much of the growth comes at the expense of print media. The shift of advertising dollars to online platforms is permanent, with spending on online classifieds rising to around $390 million. SEEK’s share price dropped to a nadir of $2.45 but continues to dominate a three way boxing match. Second-tier generalists aren’t making much of a dent either. Acquisitions and alliances formed part of the strategy to win larger market share. Monster re-entered the market with a local partner, a job matching product was imported and overseas job boards were acquired.

3. Niche players comes of age
Many of them barely registering noise at the national level, every conceivable niche – geographic, regional, professional and industry sector is represented by one or more job board. The likely market scenario is 90% of job boards scramble for 20% of the revenue pie. While the big players dominate the space, nimble and well run niche players with a sharp focus on audience and advertisers are thriving. By offering domain expertise and providing an intimate relationship to a selective audience, a clear value demarcation exists between niche players and generalist. Given advertisers penchant to be on multiple sites, the success of niche players will increase the industry’s revenue pie, rather than eat into the market share of existing players.

4. Technology reversal
While a range of new technology were introduced (RSS feeds, Job matching technology, Social network applications, VIDEO etc), it is the humble SMS that showed the most promise. VIDEO browsing is almost universal in Australia, yet its use in job search and recruitment is still limited. Most job boards flirtations with social networks aren’t providing results either. Job matching technology is gaining little traction. A few players successfully cashed in on the ubiquity of SMS. With a flurry of new smart phones entering the market, it is easy to be bullish on mobile. Mobile channels are highly likely to be the new frontier for job distribution and access.

5. ‘Associations’, a sleeping giant slowly waking up.
4,200 industry and professional associations exists in Australia. Each of them communicate regularly with a focused talent pool. Driven more by a sense of service to their members than commercial interests, the vast majority of associations are yet to discover their unique position and potential. In 2008, many of the larger, mainly white collared associations run impressive job boards and are fast becoming important outlets to reach candidates. We will see a flurry of alliances between job boards and associations in the coming days.

6. Aggregators sided with candidates and filled a gap
Free from the burden of having to win clients, aggregators positioned themselves on the side of the candidates and offers convenience and a wide range of jobs not available on traditional job boards. Often front runners in embracing new technology, aggregators offers employers another channel to net candidates at a very attractive price-point, including using Google style pay-per-click services. Some job boards depended on them to increase their own traffic, while some sees them as a threat. In 2008, some ten players, both local and international, compete in this space. Consolidation is likely; momentum will be with established overseas based players whose fortunes are not entirely dictated by happenings in Australia. Aggregators gains from candidates’ lack of loyalty to any particular job board, but overall awareness is still low.

7. Job posting solutions (JPS) become gatekeepers
By positioning themselves as gatekeepers to hundreds of job boards, job posting services (JPS) are cementing their position as a critical pathway to talent. One of the big success stories of 2008, job posting solutions (pure plays and ATS players with job posting modules) lessen administrative burden, increase market reach and provides measureable metrics. Ironically, advertisers most likely to gain from JPS services, SMEs, remains largely oblivious. Alliance or integration with job posting service providers becomes an essential strategy of job board operators. Overseas players are eyeing the market, but pesky local players armed with deep market knowledge and powerful alliances will be difficult to dislodge. Prepare to see a flurry of innovations in this space.

8. Resume database and CV services stake their claims
“We have a talent pool that no one else have”, seems to be the main selling point of resume database providers. Typically armed with free services (free job postings) and charging for database access, resume database providers flirted with a range of business models. While offering employers and recruiters access to a ready talent pool at an attractive price-point, there are little immediate benefits for candidates. As new services to build CVs and maintain online profiles proliferates, options for candidates to announce their availability increases. Only a few players gained any real traction in 2008, this trend is likely to continue.

9. Search engines becomes gateway to talent
Search engines quietly but steadily became an integral part of recruitment strategy. Each month close to 2.3 million searches, with the keyword ‘jobs’, are performed on Google. Most job boards invested in search optimisation strategies simply because a lot of candidates started their job search on Google. SEO/SEM forms the biggest component of job board advertising budgets, this trend is unlikely to change.

10. Communities, content sites and the blogosphere
Where a community thrives, a job board exists. From internet forums to blogs, from user groups to news sites, pockets of communities exist all over the Internet. Many of the popular blogs launched their own job boards, and the largest forums maintain listings rivalling traditional job boards. Content rich destinations (including online version of print publications) also jumped on the job board wagon. Meanwhile blogging and micro-blogging is rampant, job listings are appearing on Twitter. The capability to hold intimate conversation with a small audience is within the reach of everyone. Attempts at presenting job opportunities to small pockets of communities are where lots of experiments are happening. Results of what works and does not work will be clearer in 2009.

11. Online referrals make noise, shows promise.
Online referral sites make their mark, but real results remains largely unknown. Long the domain of professional recruiters, online referral providers shows immense potential by automating a proven recruiting tactic and involving anyone who knows someone. Paying ‘education tax’ will be a major part of the front runners’ investment, before the model goes mainstream. Meanwhile, with ½ a million professionals registered, LinkedIn reached critical mass in Australia. A favourite jaunt of recruiters, LinkedIn is fast becoming a preferred resume database, without all the problems present in traditional resume databases. Referrals in various forms will dominate conversations in 2009.

12. Alternatives abounds but job boards delivers
Serving a workforce of 10 million, a large number of job boards exists and thrived, largely because they do a good job. For all their limitations and the potential (and talk) offered by alternatives, Job boards remains a proven tool and are one of the most cost-effective channels to reach out to job seekers. For many, it is cheaper and easier to buy candidate traffic from a third party than build on their own. Given that a vast majority of employers and recruiters fail to invest in building their own traffic, job boards will continue to have an important place in the talent acquisition space.

Looming is the great test of an economic downturn. Already, 2008 saw many advertisers cutting down on job board numbers, and are becoming more discerning about results, while being more open to alternatives. The downturn will sort out the grains from the chaff.  In a future post I’ll hone in on the road ahead.

Also see my presentation on the Australian job board landscape.

1 reply
  1. Clayton Wehner
    Clayton Wehner says:

    Hi Phillip – thanks for this great overview.

    The latter part of 2008 was tough and early 2009 looks to be much the same. At we’re finding it very challenging to recruit and retain advertisers. With the recent proliferation of job boards, there is plenty of choice out there in the marketplace and it’s a real task to convince advertisers to use us as a ‘secondary’ advertising platform, behind the old staples – SEEK and print media.

    Money is short, so advertisers aren’t really inclined to go beyond their existing advertising arrangements, particularly as these sources have *generally* provided the goods in the past. I think we’ll just need batten down the hatches to see this ‘downturn’ out and I suspect that many niche and small jobs boards are in the same boat.

    At times like these, the old ‘chicken before the egg’ scenario rears its ugly head – no advertiser wants to advertise on a site that attracts no visitors, and no job seeker will visit a website that has no content. Getting some momentum and critical mass is tough and I know that there are job boards out there that are sweating on this problem. The emergence of job aggregators isn’t really helpful either, because they compete for our customers’ ‘headspace’ and they boast significantly higher numbers of jobs.

    After reading Seth Godin’s Purple Cow, I’m convinced that it will take some real innovation and a ‘killer application’ to really bite into SEEK’s market share in Australia. The first mover advantage has ensured SEEK’s predominance and no amount of advertising by Fairfax or News has been able to reel that in. MyCareer and CareerOne simply don’t provide anything different to SEEK, and SEEK was here first.

    Whilst the niche job boards will slowly capture small pockets of market share, this will be easier said than done – unlike the UK and USA, where niche job boards have spawned successfully, Australia is a very small market and there just isn’t the room for all these job boards. Until somebody comes up with an application that does more than display ads / collect CVs then I suspect that the status quo will remain for some time to come.

    In the meantime, I’ll keep racking my brain to come up with that ‘killer’ idea….

    Clayton Wehner


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