Monsters Can Be Ugly: The Problem With Job Boards

I am frequently asked about the use of large job boards as a recruiting source for finding top performers. My answer is always quick and to the point: Don’t use them! Most advanced recruiters smile and quickly agree, while others question my sanity. But the main difference between the supporters and the naysayers is that, almost without exception, the supporters of large job boards:

    • Do not measure the on-the-job performance of those they hire (quality of hire)


  • Are not searching for currently employed top performers

The same recruiters who believe in job fairs and the tooth fairy are the also the ones that have never bothered to measure the effectiveness of each source that they use. If they did, they would recruit differently and avoid most job boards altogether. Here is the case against most Internet recruiting approaches and large job boards in particular. If You Want Top Performers, Avoid Job Boards Currently employed top performers (also know as passive candidates) don’t look for jobs in the same way that average job seekers do. Passive candidates:

  • Use networking. Top performers are already well known and they stay well connected through networking. They get most of their jobs through referrals.
  • Use executive search agencies. Top performers are well known by the aggressive search firms. They don’t need to post a resume to be found. Whether you want to admit it or not, the fact is that most top performers already appear on the radar screens of top executive search and corporate recruiters. These recruiters “shop them around,” so they don’t need to look for job on a job board.
  • Fear being “caught.” Employed people are reluctant to post a resume because of their very real fear that their current boss will find out. Especially in tough times, looking disloyal is to be avoided. Incidentally, for this reason, they do not attend job fairs either.
  • Are not even looking. The very best performers already have a job, and as a result, they are not active job seekers. They are, by definition, good at their jobs. Odds are that they are well treated and coveted by their current mangers. In fact, at any one time, less than 20% of employed people are actively seeking a job, which means that the vast majority of employed people (80%) will be “non-lookers” at the time you are seeking to hire them. This also means that employed top performers must be talked into looking for a new job. And because most Internet job postings and job descriptions are so dull, they have little chance of spurring these job seekers’ interest in a new position.
  • Require an updated resume. Most top performers do not have an updated resume because they are not actively looking for a job. Besides, they are usually too busy to generate an updated resume. Because job boards are resume databases rather than “name” databases, this precludes most top performers from participating.

Forget the Over-Hype About the Internet No recruiter wants to appear to be behind the times, so it’s only natural that recruiters want to be able to say that they use the Internet. The problem with that approach is that smart recruiters need to use the very best sources (flashy or not), and there is no hard evidence that large job boards produce quality hires. Even when you consider the volume of hires, large job boards seldom make a big contribution. In fact, corporate users routinely report that all job board hiring makes up less than 10% of their hires. Following are a few of the common problems encountered with large boards:

  • Proof of quality of candidate. Many large boards offer promises of huge databases and exciting technology, but none that I am aware of offers proof of the quality of their candidates. Without data on the actual quality of the candidates from a particular board, recruiters might end up reading 100 resumes to get a single qualified candidate from a job board, compared to only 10 from other sources like employee referrals.
  • Proof of quality of hire. Boards fail to provide (or even collect) data showing that the people that are hired from job boards end up being better performers on the job than those from other sources. Companies I know that do measure the quality of hire from large job boards report to me that job boards are weak performers and that manager satisfaction rates with the process are low.
  • Volume. As job board databases become larger and more global, the sheer volume of resumes can inundate managers. As job boards make it easier to post and cross-post resumes, job boards become no more than electronic “telephone” or resume books that include millions of people. Because there is no penalty for “spamming,” it’s common for people to apply for almost every possible job, even those jobs that they are not really qualified for or seriously interested in.
  • Age of resumes. In many cases, the resumes you are looking at could have been posted many months ago. You could be looking at resumes of people that are no longer interested in a job. Furthermore, because top performers are generally gone from the job market in 10 days, 11-day-old resumes are unlikely to be from top candidates.
  • Interested in your firm? You have no way of knowing if the candidates that you find through generic postings have any interest in your firm. Unless they posted for a particular job at your firm, you are likely to get a high number of rejects from your initial search. People who did not initially select your firm as their first choice might also be less loyal after they are hired.
  • Competitive advantage. If you are looking for unique candidates that no one else knows about, boards are a big mistake. Since most boards make resumes available to all firms willing to pay, there is no competitive advantage for a single competitive firm to use them.
  • Keyword games. As job seekers get more sophisticated at (and frustrated with) job searching, they learn to load up their resumes with keywords in order to increase the likelihood of getting selected. This practice increases the number of “false positives” and makes sorting out the “players” difficult when the volume of resumes increases.
  • Identifying what worked. Even though you might capture a resume from a job board, you often have no real way of identifying what original recruiting tool spurred their interest. This makes improving your firm’s recruitment ads and other sourcing tools difficult.
  • Diversity. Most boards fail to inform recruiters about their diversity hire rates or even the diversity percentages within their databases.
  • Ease of use. Tight recruiting budgets mean that a large amount of recruiting must be done directly by line managers. Unfortunately, many get frustrated quickly with the volume of resumes and the difficulty of using job boards, and the result is that they postpone or even abandon their recruiting.
  • Location. Resumes don’t always indicate that the person is willing to relocate, so looking at resumes outside your zip code can result in a high reject rate. In a similar light, most firms can’t afford relocation expenses, so unless the resumes are effectively sorted by the precise job location, you can waste a lot of time on these limited-value resumes.
  • What job? Because firms use so many different names for the same job, applicants might not be able to actually find the correct job fit among your job postings. As a result, they may apply to many jobs in hopes of hitting the right one. These mismatches can be time wasters.
  • A global focus? Currently most job boards are U.S. focused, while much of the “unknown” talent in the world resides outside the United States. As offshoring increases and technology allows more workers to work “at home” for companies that are located in other countries, the importance of true global databases will increase.
  • Expense. Although on the surface job boards might appear to be cheap compared to other sources, like employee referral programs with their associated referral bonuses, the real costs of job boards generally go unmeasured. These real costs start with the tremendous waste of time that recruiters and managers must spend sorting through hundreds of inappropriate resumes and in interviewing dozens of mediocre candidates. The real costs should also include the “missed opportunities” of failing to hire numerous superstars that could have occurred if the recruiter had instead utilized superior approaches like top performer referrals and employment branding.

Conclusion I know that many vendors in the recruiting industry will disagree with this article, but most of the individuals that will speak the loudest will come from those who think it is acceptable to hire on emotion rather than facts. Recruiting is too important to be left to those who make their decisions based on testimonials, single instances, or intuition. When confronted with the lack of real proof of the value of job boards, the common response from corporate recruiters is, “No, we don’t measure the on-the-job performance by source. But I have gotten some really good hires from job boards.” I don’t question that assertion. But I do question the probability of that event occurring. Hiring walk-ins, friends at the pub, and people from job fairs might also occasionally result in a good hire, but the probabilities are minuscule compared to the better quality sources. The Internet can be a great recruiting mechanism for top performers, but only if you use the non-board tools like a great corporate site or Boolean or Google searches to find the names of top prospects from articles, conference agendas, or chat rooms. If you are using the Internet to search for resumes, you are making a fatal error. I have no “religion” when it comes to sources. I recommend that you use whatever produces top-performing hires. In the case of job boards, I recommend that you stay highly cynical. When an organization states that it has millions of resumes, it’s time to wonder why they don’t quote data about the quality of those resumes and the percentage of actual hires that occurs as a result of using their services. You can’t tell what works unless you measure the on-the-job performance by source. I challenge both the large job boards and corporate recruiting managers to undertake the research necessary not just to prove my assertions wrong, but also to continually improve and refine any recruiting source or tool. It’s a simple fact ó you can’t improve what you don’t measure!

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

Check Also

The “No Application Required” Recruiting Strategy (Providing employed top talent with “job search deniability”)

Top employees are reluctant to apply for external jobs because it makes them appear disloyal. …