Job Board Industry Closes a Productive 2004

Continued growth expected for niche job boards providing high-quality, targeted candidates.

By any standards, 2004 was an excellent year for job boards. The economy improved in most industries. Hiring increased, encouraging more job seekers to return to online job hunts they’d abandoned in despair during the dark aftermath of the dot com collapse.

A recent survey by outplacement guru John Challenger, of Challenger, Gray and Christmas, found that executives in the fourth quarter of 2004 were being hired at the fastest pace in three years. These managers needed only three months on average to find new positions, the shortest amount of time since early 2001. Management hiring traditionally foreshadows trends in other areas of the employment market. “With the right skills in the right industry, one’s job search could be significantly lower than the average,” said Mr. Challenger.

With more jobs to fill, companies turned increasingly to the most efficient way of casting a wide net for candidates, the Internet. They purchased more job ads on employment Web sites than in 2003, especially from sites that have a track record of providing top candidates. Revenues on these job boards consequently rose sharply.

“This was a very strong year in the job board world," said Don Firth, the founder of Nicheboards.com, the largest alliance of niche job boards in the U.S. The 11 Nicheboards.com member Web sites, each focusing on different industries, drew a combined total of more than three million visitors per month. Their revenue growth ranged from 20 to over 100 percent. “Our customers recognized the value targeted sites such as ours can bring to them.”

Firth is also the creator of two Nicheboards Web sites, JobsInLogistics.com and AllRetailJobs.com. Revenues at those two job boards, which focus on the transportation and retail industries, grew about 60 percent in 2004. He expects continued growth as recruiters seek the most efficient ways to successfully find top talent. “There’s real momentum out there,” Firth said. “Barring the unforeseen, that’s unlikely to stop.”

The first issue of the year for any publication is always a good time to take stock and look ahead. Below we present the main stories of 2004 and what’s likely to happen this year.

  • New growth: The end of the roughly 40-month hiring slump was tonic for employment Web sites. What’s likely: The market should continue its up-tick as business improves for many companies. A number of these firms cut staff when the economy soured but now need employees to address customer demand.

  • Prove it: Companies paid extra attention to metrics, meaning they wanted to know how they filled most of their jobs. What’s likely: Expect companies to continue analyzing how they’re filling most of their jobs. Job boards long ago ceased to be a panacea where firms felt assured of finding perfect employees. Companies understand this and are choosing their sites more carefully. They’re weighing not only how many people they hire from job boards but also where they’re paying the least money per hire. Sites that don’t measure up will be cast aside. That bodes particularly well for niche boards that can provide a highly qualified, targeted audience at lower costs than the generalist boards. To wit, CareerXroads, which tracks the job board industry, found that niche job boards combined were well ahead of the best-known generalist employment sites as the source of new employees.
  • Give me quality, quality, quality: The era of big volume is over. Recruiters didn’t want to be bothered by hundreds of resumes. What’s likely: Expect companies to place more value on the quality of candidates than quantity. They know that too many applications clog hiring pipelines and make it difficult to pinpoint top candidates. It’s better to choose from fewer, more talented job seekers. “Our clients appreciate knowing that they won’t be inundated by a huge number of unqualified candidates,” said Bill Gaul, the founder of the DestinyGrp.com, a member of the Nicheboards group. DestinyGroup targets military and ex-military personnel looking for work in the civilian ranks. “We provide a highly select audience. If you’re looking for a fish, go to the ocean. If you’re looking for a salmon, go to a small river in Oregon.”
  • More and better information: Job seekers rely on job boards to provide information on companies and industries, including tips on compensation and links to other helpful Web sites. What’s likely: All this will continue. The best job boards know they’ll win more customers and a wider audience by sharing their expertise and connections, as well as listing job openings. “If we can be a one-stop resource, we do our clients and job seekers a favor,” said Gaul.

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