Steve Crosbie, Managing Director at job board operator Supply Chain Management International Ltd reflects upon the state of the job board market as we approach the end of 2009.

It seems as if there is an insatiable appetite for individuals and companies to launch job boards. You do not have to trawl the Internet too deeply to find what seems like a new job board launch nearly every day. Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against budding internet entrepreneurs wishing to make their mark, but I am often left with a feeling of pity when I see ill conceived job board projects that were probably doomed from the day that they were dreamt up.

The problems that can bring an ambitious job board entrepreneur down are many. When asked in 2008, “Is it getting harder to launch a job board?” job board entrepreneur Don Firth famously replied, “My best advice is to launch your job board in the late 90s or early 2000s. Today, it’s very difficult for any new job board to compete against the established boards…..”

Perhaps the most significant challenge is the sheer cost of launching a job board into a typically over populated market. The job board market is now relatively mature and taking on established players is likely to be expensive, very expensive. You may think that you have identified a niche that has not yet been covered, but somebody is probably covering it somewhere, even if it is only as a sub-set of another larger market segment. It doesn’t really matter how your launch and marketing strategy have been devised, you are going to need very deep pockets, a strong constitution, and a very long-term perspective.

Many new job boards start with the “soft launch” approach. They will put the new site online and convince a few recruiters to post jobs with the aim of making the site look busy when the main launch takes place. It is at this point that many budding job board enthusiasts will realise that the adage about putting a website online and the traffic will come does not quite work out. The inevitable “chicken and egg” situation develops. Recruiters who initially posted jobs did not receive many applications, so are not too interested in continuing to waste there time. Candidates who visit the job board in the early days are disappointed by the volume of jobs on offer and decided to go elsewhere. The challenge of generating and sustaining enough job listings, and of course attracting enough relevant candidate traffic on an ongoing basis make the whole thing very frustrating. To make matters worse all of this usually has to be played out in a market where the existing leaders already have impressive candidate traffic levels, a large existing database of candidates, significant natural listings in main search engines, a healthy revenue stream, and of course a history of delivering results.

Of course the new job board entrepreneur could be focussing attention in an area that is not currently populated by job boards. The potential risk to be considered here is why the sector is not already targeted by job boards. Chances are the market size is too small to be able to profitably sustain a job board.

Over the years we have seen many hobby/kitchen table job board businesses launched in situations where the person behind the board is not overly ambitious, but simply wants to run an internet based business on the back of some recruitment industry knowledge. History has shown that such small operations eventually run out of focus, interest, money, or the will to fight in the market against the larger players. Resources are typically limited with the result that growth is difficult and the gap between them and the leaders expands to the point where they give up, or they put them on free posting and go and find something else to do.

A number of job boards have been launched with the proposition of offering Free job posting. This may initially be received as a commendable activity by recruiters and employers, but the old notion that “if it seems too good to be true then it probably is” generally finds its way into the mix. At the end of the day the business behind the board generally has some other agenda to promote. Often it is a recruitment company hiding behind a job board in the knowledge that nobody would post jobs if they knew of the link, but the recruiter benefits from the candidates of the recruiters and employers advertising, whilst also having access to the job posting activity of recruiters in competition with them.

The visible job board market is now largely defined by strong and highly effective sites that dominate their relevant sectors. The leadership sites in each sector have become so entrenched in the search engines and generally in the Internet structure that they are able to achieve incredible candidate traffic levels. The results for advertisers can be truly spectacular if the advertiser is prepared to put in the effort to maximise the effectiveness of their job ads. The net result is a truly potent yet incredibly cost efficient way for recruiters and employers to generate applications.

It should be no surprise that the newspaper and print media groups have tried to enter the online job board market with such gusto, given the mass migration of advertisers and job seekers to the highly efficient Internet. Unfortunately these traditional media groups appear, in the main, to have hung onto the hope that the fad will pass. They seem to continue to focus attention and love upon their printed titles, whilst begrudgingly financing their online job board investments and acquisitions. This may be the reason why traditional media businesses are failing to match the achievements of dedicated online advertising businesses.

Few can doubt that as the economy continues to improve an acquisition frenzy is likely in the job board sector. There are some incredibly strong sites and businesses around and the only way to be a leader in any sector may be to buy the existing market leader. However, whilst the leading sites ride the crest of the wave there are unlikely to many willing sellers. As the market continues to mature and the leaders become more defined, the “Golden Goose” may be starting to come into focus following years of honest and committed toil. Of course there will always be a few second rankers keen for the attention, but make sure you bring your deep pockets and your broken watch. Otherwise the future may be painful and prolonged!

Supply Chain Management International Ltd operates job boards in the UK, Europe, and North America.

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