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Functions of Job-Search Dot-Coms Evolving

August 08, 2000|Karen Robinson-Jacobs

In the latest marriage made in cyber heaven, many traditional employment recruiting services are finding that Internet jobs boards can be more friend than foe, as both seek to cash in on the tight job market.

So far, jobs boards like and have raked in substantial amounts of revenue from employment agency job postings--for both temporary and permanent placements.

At the same time, agencies scrambling to find the latest hot-shot programmer or medical technologist are finding a sea of talent in online resume pools.

But the union is still young, say experts in the $70-billion staffing services industry, and the business is evolving rapidly.

In time, they say, increased sophistication of Internet job-search sites, including some automated skills testing and checking for "corporate culture compatibility," may shave dollars off the agency industry's bottom line. And at least one major online employment prohibits agency recruiters from using its site to post jobs or search through its resume database.

For now, though, cooperative competition is the order of the day. Just as clicks-and-bricks alliances have proved to be viable in retailing and the financial sector, so too in the world of human resources have two possible adversaries chosen to work together in deference to the bottom line.

"If you go back a year ago, there was some speculation that the jobs boards were going to . . . replace the staffing services," said Darren Bagwell, vice president of research for Robert W. Baird & Co., a Milwaukee-based brokerage and investment banking firm. "If you look now, probably the biggest single customer of the jobs boards is staffing companies.

"The difference between jobs boards and staffing companies is going to continue to blur," added Bagwell, who tracks the "talent procurement" industry for Baird. "These two started at opposite ends of the spectrum, but they're meeting at a common midpoint."

Trends in the industry are being closely watched by the area's job-search companies, including Glendale-based Apple One Employment Services and Sherman Oaks-based Sharf, Woodward & Associates, which places information technology people in temporary jobs.

Bernie Sharf, co-president of Sharf and its sister company Search Associates, estimates that 90% of the information technology people his firm places, and 70% of the permanent, full-time people he places via Search Associates came to his company via the Internet.

Some come from the half-dozen boards that post the company's jobs, others from referrals from people who found the company via the Internet, and still others from the company's own Web site at

Industrywide, the figure is closer to 10% to 15%, experts say. Last year, they said, it was more like 5% to 10%.

Adam Waldo, an analyst with Credit Suisse First Boston in Chicago, noted that for industry leader Manpower International, just under 10% of the total candidate pool came from Internet sites, with figures as high as 25% for some professional categories.

"If I'm Manpower, with $11 billion in revenue worldwide, and if 10% of that's coming through the Web, that's still a big, big number," he said.

Although the Internet has siphoned off some of the dollars that might have gone to agencies, the traditional shops remain much more profitable, as a group, than jobs boards.

And so far, no agency executives see extinction on the horizon, betting that the "human touch" and hands-on service that they offer cannot be found in the Internet ether. What can be found, they say, is talent--the commodity in shortest supply in this supply-starved market.

"The boards are a valuable tool to identify potential candidates," said Marc Goldman, vice president of sales and marketing for Apple One, which provides temporary workers for a variety of jobs including office work, accounting and health care.

"They're a good starting point, but we're noncompetitive," he said. "It's an entirely different level of service that we're offering."

Although some boards--and there are literally thousands of them--have begun to get more sophisticated, offering job search tips and career advice, most are basically post-and-pray operations, in which job seekers submit resumes and hope for the best.

Employers, meanwhile, post jobs and await, in some cases, an avalanche of responses, including some from secretaries in the former Soviet Union hoping to snag a sponsorship for a U.S. job.

And that, insiders say, is one of the key drawbacks to the jobs boards--there's a lot of data, but a lot of it's not relevant.

"Half the battle with the Internet is information management," said Dimitri Boylan, chief operating officer at in New York. "At some point, too much information is like no information, both for the job seeker and the recruiter."

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