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Why Most Job Boards Suck

NOTE: This is a modified version of an article, originally posted on LinkedIn. We’re re-posting here to illustrate what makes BendOregonJobs.com–and a handful of other niche job board sites–different from big job sites.

Perhaps you’ve seen the TV commercials or heard the pitches on the radio:

Big job boards–those nationwide sites with millions of jobs–position themselves as a one-stop-shop for your job search needs. It’s a superficially appealing message. With that volume of jobs you’ll have no problem finding the perfect role, right?

Wrong.

The value of these big job boards is largely illusory. A huge number of job listings won’t make your jobs search any easier. And time spent sifting through these mega sites is more likely to lead to frustration than to meaningful job opportunities.

Here’s why.

Most of the jobs on big sites aren’t organic.

Have you ever found the job of your dreams on a career website, only to discover that the position was actually filled months ago? Or you find the same job posted on hundreds of different sites, all with different application instructions? Or you find a job on one site but after clicking the link, you’re directed to a job board you’ve never seen before.

All these annoyances have the same root cause: scraping.

Only a small number of the jobs you see online are organic–in other words, a recruiter or hiring manager consciously posted the opening on that specific job board.

A vast majority of all the listings online are inorganic copies of the original job posts. Many job board operators use automated web tools to “scrape” jobs from their original source and repost the job on their own site. In some cases, the employer knows this is happening; in other cases, the job board is scraping without the employer’s knowledge.

And, increasingly, job boards are scraping jobs from each other. One board copying jobs that it found on another board which, in turn, it copied from another board, ad infinitum.

Why do job boards do this? First, it helps them appear more robust and attract more job seekers. Second, it helps them poach customers (employers) from competing job boards.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with inorganic job posts. In practice, however, the predominance of scraped jobs creates problems for the job seeker. Scraping is an imperfect technology and it generates inaccurate facsimiles of the original. For example, scraped listings frequently mistranslate the location, salary, application process, and other details of the job. Sometimes they don’t even get the name of the employer right. (LinkedIn, for instance, currently lists 281,280 jobs with the employer “The Job Network”–which itself is just a job board.)

Most frustrating for job seekers, scraped jobs are also more likely to remain on a job board well after the employer has closed recruitment. Even if you sort by “most recent” you’ll often find expired jobs because the “posting date” refers to when the job was scraped, not when it was originally posted by the employer. The result: a job is advertised as “new” even if the employer is no longer hiring. One industry expert estimates that 10-15% of all scraped jobs are not current employment opportunities.

All this volume is sold as a value and convenience. But, in truth, it creates more work for job seekers, not less. Since the big job boards aren’t really doing quality control, the burden is on candidates to dig through an ever-growing volume of duplicative, incomplete, and expired job postings.

Job board application processes aren’t optimized for your needs.

There’s a simple reason that most job boards are free for candidates: it’s because job boards make most of their money from employers who need to promote open positions. As a job seeker, you’re not the customer; you’re the product that is being “sold” to these paying employers.

Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this model. (In truth, it’s how many media companies operate.) But with job boards, this dynamic can manifest itself in processes that are optimized for employers–or the job board operator themselves–rather than what is best for you as a job seeker.

One example of a job board process optimized against the interest of the job seeker is the “easy apply” option. Many sites offer this alluringly simple application process. But unless you’re looking for low-skill, entry-level work, you’re unlikely to land a job with a one-click application.

The main beneficiary of these easy application tools is the job board operator. Job boards sell themselves on their ability to drive applicants to employers. By lowering the requirement threshold for an application, these one-click processes generate a huge number of candidates. This creates the appearance of value for job board operators. But, again, this is a value proposition of quantity over quality. To achieve high applicant volume, job boards implicitly encourage unqualified candidates to apply for jobs.

Even if you’re a perfect fit for a job, the easy apply process lumps you in with a huge pool of unqualified candidates. Many employers simply lack the tools to vet candidates who come through such a low-barrier application process.

And sometimes one-click applications don’t even reach the hiring manager. If the job board’s easy application process contradicts the employer’s preferred application system, your resume will likely never be seen by the right people.

Some job boards aren’t really job boards at all.

There’s a legitimate role for job boards in the relationship between employers and job seekers. In the best circumstances, a job board is a value-added service, creating value for both parties.

However, many larger job boards operate outside of this ideal. In search of easy money and higher profits, some job boards have a business model that serves neither employers nor job seekers.

For example, some “job boards” aren’t job boards at all, but rather well-disguised passthrough advertising schemes. Populated entirely with scraped jobs, these aggregators buy traffic (clicks into their site) from other sources and then sell traffic (redirects to other job boards) for a marginal profit. There are literally thousands of job boards that operate this way–serving no real audience and adding no real value. Even some of the larger job boards embrace this inane arbitrage-model.

More troublesome are the big job boards that are recasting themselves as data farms, rather than recruiting services. Some operators are leveraging their databases of job seeker data–in some cases hundreds of millions of users–and redesigning their whole system around data collection. This data is often sold to data brokers for uses than can be entirely unrelated to employment.

A better alternative. 

If you’re looking for work, it’s hard to avoid the big job boards. With millions of marketing dollars, LinkedIn, Indeed, and Google dominate the online job search market. And, in truth, they have some value in a job search–but not the “one-stop-shop-to-find-a-job-quick” way that they implicitly advertise.

Their real value, I believe, is primarily for top-of-the-funnel information gathering: getting a sense of who might be hiring. (And, of course, LinkedIn has huge value as a professional networking platform.) I personally use these tools to look for general hiring trends, to learn about prospective employers and to see the language they are using to describe themselves. But when it comes to specific job posts, I treat these sites with a high-level of skepticism.

If you do find a job that is interesting on a big job site, I encourage you to take the following steps:

  1. Go to the employer’s website and find the original job posting on their career page. This will ensure the company is, in fact, still hiring for the role. (If you don’t see the job listed on the company’s page, it’s likely that they’ve closed recruitment.)
  2. Whenever possible, apply for the job through the employer’s career page or the process described in their original job posting. This is the best guarantee that the recruiter or hiring manager will see your application.

For more reliable job listings, I encourage job seekers to use smaller job boards, more catered to their niche career interests or geographic locations. (If you’re in the Pacific Northwest, there’s a job board I strongly recommend—although I am, admittedly, a bit biased!) These smaller sites are generally going to have a more direct relationship with the employers whose jobs are on the site. The application processes are more aligned with what the employer wants. And, even if the job board is scraping jobs, the employer is generally aware that this is happening and is making sure that the job information is up-to-date.

While smaller niche job boards are likely to have only a couple hundred jobs (rather than the millions of jobs promoted by the big sites) the jobs are much more likely to be real work opportunities. What you lose in quantity you absolutely gain in quality.

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