Little more than a decade ago, online job searches were primarily the province of a tiny population of hardcore techies. Today, online recruiting forms one of the central pillars of a smart staffing strategy for firms in every economic sector.
Increasingly, job seekers are turning to electronic resources such as corporate web sites, federal, state, and municipal job postings, online job search engines and aggregators, Internet classifieds, and online versions of local and national newspapers to facilitate the job search process. Conversely, a growing majority of employers have moved a significant proportion of their recruitment efforts online. For professionals on both sides of the hiring equation, the notion of conducting a job search or candidate hunt offline is virtually inconceivable in 2007.
However, while it is undeniable that the movement online of many recruitment functions and job search resources has vastly expanded the scope, accessibility, ease, and efficiency of the recruitment process, the long-term implications of this trend remain shrouded in ambiguity. In the interim, the ever-quickening pace of technological advancement has thrust many HR practitioners into the awkward position of being forced to define a set of best practices for online recruitment on the fly, as it were, even as the protocols and methods that are being used in the process continue to evolve.
As with any moving target, the exponentially expanding trend of online recruitment resists easy definition and description. But by relying on a number of recent analyses and indices, it is possible to piece together a clearer picture of what the trend of online recruitment is and what it isn’t — and what it may portend about the future of HR.
Tracing the Trajectory of the Online Recruitment Trend, 2000-2007
Like virtually every other Internet-facilitated service, online job search and recruitment activity have vastly expanded since the year 2000. However, unlike many other Internet-based service trends that declined in the early 2000s, some analysts contend that the dot-com crash and the subsequent tightening of first the IT and then the general labor market actually facilitated the expansion of online job searches and recruitment efforts.
As the labor market was flooded with a sudden influx of laid-off workers, many of whom were refugees from the IT industry, online job search resources gradually emerged as a touchstone for millions of jobseekers. Although many firms had been listing open positions on their corporate websites long before this, the early 2000s was the period during which a truly distinct online recruitment paradigm emerged and first attained a level of critical mass.
Market data and statistical analyses of the burgeoning online recruitment industry seem to confirm this account. In 1999, it was reported that less than one-third of Fortune 500 companies were engaged in any form of online recruitment whatsoever, including the posting of open positions on the firm’s own corporate website. By 2003, that qq online figure had jumped to 94%; today, it registers as 100%.
Job seekers are also focusing extensively — and in many cases, exclusively — on online sources in the process of seeking a new position. In 2003, it was reported that 45% of job seekers confirmed having consulted the Internet as part of their job search. By 2006, a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management put the number of job seekers who used online resources in their job searches at a staggering 96%. It appears that for a growing number of employees on the lookout for a new position, the concepts of “job search” and “online job search” are now virtually synonymous.
In the early days of online recruitment, most job sites were either maintained by a corporate parent solely for the purpose of internal recruitment, or operated on a volunteer or donation-only basis by individuals involved in a particular field or industry. Today, however, online recruitment is a lucrative industry in its own right; the top job search sites now regularly pull in hefty profits. This income is derived largely from ad revenues generated by companies willing to pay big bucks to market their wares to the millions of job seekers who regularly peruse sites like Monster.com and Yahoo! HotJobs.
In 2003, the online recruitment industry was generating slightly more than $3 billion in annual revenues. In 2007, the figure now exceeds $16 billion, with analysts estimating that the online recruitment industry could take in more than $20 billion annually as early as next year.
Taken together, all of the statistical indicators tell a story of exponential growth and expansion in the prevalence, popularity, importance, and profitability of the online recruitment industry. In the course of just a few short years, what once was a narrow niche market has exploded into mainstream ubiquity.
However, while there’s no denying the skyrocketing popularity of online recruitment, the outcomes and implications of this trend are not as clearly defined — or readily definable. Once the easily quantifiable variables of ad revenues and user counts are left behind, we enter the somewhat murkier territory of gauging the efficacy and impact of online recruitment.
These more subjective measures aren’t as precise, but they still offer valuable insight to firms seeking to refine and optimize their online recruitment strategy. In the next section, we’ll take a look at some of the benefits and pitfalls of online recruiting — and how they can impact your firm’s bottom line.