Beyond Job Boards: Targeting the Source

This article originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal
July 2, 2009

For many Americans looking for work, the first stop is an online job board. Now job seekers are finding that prospective employers increasingly are looking elsewhere to find new hires—the companies’ own Web sites.

To draw more applicants to their sites, companies such as software makers Intuit Inc. and Adobe Systems Inc. are revamping their online career pages, including making them more interactive by adding videos and employee profiles. Companies also are trying to reach job seekers through social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Sodexo Inc., which provides food services to institutions, offers online “widgets” at its Web site, which send alerts to job hunters’ computer screens when the company has new openings.

Companies say they are scaling back advertising on online job boards, which saves them money. By focusing more on their own career pages, companies also reduce the number of applications they need to sift through. And, they say, people applying through a prospective employer’s own Web site are on average better-qualified than applicants coming through job boards.

The developments mean job seekers may have to change tactics. Craig Halfman, a chef in Lynchburg, Va., began looking for a job seven months ago after being laid off from a previous position. He set up profiles on about seven online job boards and created a personal Web site to publicize his accomplishments and resume. “A lot of the [job boards] gave me stuff that had nothing to do with me,” says Mr. Halfman, 37 years old. “I’d get responses for nurses and medical stuff and jobs that didn’t apply to me whatsoever.”

About three months ago Mr. Halfman joined a group on LinkedIn hosted by Sodexo for former, current and prospective employees. After seeing his LinkedIn profile, a Sodexo human-resource representative contacted Mr. Halfman and suggested he apply for an opening as executive chef at a university in Virginia. He applied through Sodexo’s Web site and was hired last month.

Human-resource experts say job hunters shouldn’t give up on job boards, but should use every tool available to them. That includes making a list of companies that meet their requirements for a desirable employer and researching the companies to understand their business. “You should really tailor and target your cover letter and resume to the needs of the company,” says Mark Stelzner, a principal at management consultant Inflexion Advisors LLC.

Networking Online

He adds that many successful job seekers are finding luck by first networking with employees at the company via social media like LinkedIn and applying directly with the company instead of through the job boards.

For people wanting to check out companies and industries,, offers a good starting place to do basic research. It has information like company overviews and the names of major competitors. Another site,, has a large directory of businesses organized by industry.

Despite the recession, many companies continue to hire new employees, at least to replace departing staff. Sodexo, for instance, which has 350,000 employees world-wide, says it expects to fill about 5,000 management and professional jobs in North America this year.

Flood of Applications

As unemployment soars, applicants are flooding traditional online job boards like, Careerbuilder and Yahoo’s HotJobs. In May, 22.9 million unique visitors searched for work on job boards, according to comScore Media Metrix. That’s up 37% from a year earlier. Company career sites also are seeing greater traffic. Adobe says applications are up 30% since it revamped its career page about four months ago. Intuit says online job applications also have increased.

That makes it harder for companies to screen the best applicants. Companies are asking, “now that we are overwhelmed with talent, how do we attract the right talent?” says Mr. Stelzner, the consultant.

Sodexo this year added a page to its career site called Network With Us that links to the company’s Twitter and YouTube pages and to its LinkedIn groups to interact with potential job applicants. The page has helped build a database of 137,000 people who have shown interest in working at Sodexo, the company says.

“Our strategy has been to build this targeted talent pool and to reduce our reliance on job boards and advertising,” says Arie Ball, vice president of talent acquisition at Sodexo. She says cutting advertising at job boards, and seeking out applicants directly, saves the company hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and has improved the efficiency of the job-hiring process. The company says its career site had about 161,000 page views in May, more than twice as many as when it revamped the site about a year earlier.

For many companies, beefing up their online career pages is part of a larger strategy to boost brand awareness to compete for the best employees.

Intuit last month launched a new interactive portion of its career site where visitors can see a short virtual representation of what the Intuit offices are like along with pop-up videos and photos.

“Part of it is letting people know who we are as a company,” says Melissa Rutledge, an employment-branding manager at Intuit. “We are getting away from the job boards a little bit,” she adds. “We will probably never get away from it completely, but we are moving more toward viral advertising.”

Adobe also launched a new career site, which features a professionally produced video chronicling a day in the life of several Adobe employees. One shows a designer in San Francisco beginning his day surfing in the ocean at 6 a.m. and then follows him through his work day.

Selling the Culture

In a competitive job market, “all things being equal, our key differentiator is the culture and our core values,” says Jeff Vijungco, senior director of talent acquisition. Adobe does only a small amount of advertising on traditional job boards, “but we find more success on our own job board,” he adds.

Among the most successful new hires are those referred by existing employees, some companies say. “One of our main philosophies is to get smart and talented people. They tend to be connected,” says Molly Graham, manager of human resources and recruitment at Facebook Inc. About 50% of Facebook’s new hires come through referrals, she says.

Employing Algorithms, an online shoe retailer with 1,300 employees, is tapping social-media sites to find more such referrals. The company last year hired Jobvite Inc., one of several firms that manage companies’ career sites. Jobvite also provides software that allows Zappos employees to tap into their LinkedIn and Twitter contacts to make referrals for job openings.

The software uses a matching algorithm to sort through those contacts to find which person might be best suited for the job. Employees can then get in touch with the people who are selected and invite them to apply.

“It opens up a larger sized window to people and potential,” says Rebecca Ratner, Zappos’s director of human resources.