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3/29/2005
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Jobster Tries To Tap Social Networks To Improve Internet Talent Searches

Jobster's aim is to use E-mail and the Internet to find people who aren't actively looking for new jobs.

By offering employers an online recruiting service that combines aspects of social networking, search, and viral marketing, a new recruiting company, Jobster Inc., is looking to make the Internet work better as a medium for finding workers.

Along the way, it hopes to reduce one of recruiters' biggest headaches: resumé spam. Everyone's got a least-favorite among today's unsavory flavors of spam--classic E-mail spam, SMS spam, blog comment spam, referrer log spam, TrackBack spam, RSS spam, Usenet spam, IM spam, and search-engine spam--but for recruiters, resumé spam is the most unpalatable.

"It is a huge problem," says Kevin Wheeler, president of recruiting consulting firm Global Learning Resources Inc. "Recruiters get literally hundreds of not only unsolicited but unqualified resumés submitted every day." Companies simply can't deal with the deluge. "We go through a lot of resumés," says Zane Clutts, director of staffing for telecom company SBC Communications Inc. "I'd say maybe 5% to 10% are worth moving forward with."

SBC is among 40 companies that have been piloting Jobster in recent weeks to see if there's a better way to manage online recruiting. Other companies include BearingPoint, Boston Scientific, Coca-Cola, Expedia, Harris, Massachusetts General Hospital, Nordstrom Pfizer, Starbucks, and T-Mobile.

Jobster, which received $8 million in first-round venture funding early this year from Trinity Ventures and Ignition Partners, will make its public debut Wednesday at the Electronic Recruiting Exchange Expo in San Diego.

Jobster CEO Jason Goldberg contends that the popularity of online job boards is making them less useful to those who are hiring. "Companies today have to bring together teams of highly qualified people," he says. "The Internet has made that harder." According to a 2004 Global Learning Resources study, 24.6% of recruiters identified online job board postings as the most effective source for professional hires in 2002. By 2004, this figure had dropped to 7.7%.

A Jobster recruitment campaign consists of a recruiter E-mailing to colleagues and other contacts a link to Jobster that contains job-notification messages. The messages contain links to job postings on a private area of the Jobster Web site. Recipients--who need to register to look at jobs--are encouraged to forward invitations to view the posted positions to friends and associates if they're not interested. The result is something like an online ad campaign, complete with metrics to measure results for click-through and application.

So will the effort to eliminate resumé spam lead to a new variant: Jobster spam? Jobster contends it won't, because the volume of these messages will be low since they rely on personal connections, and people won't consider them intrusive because they come from someone they know.

Jobster is trying to use technology and social networking to achieve a long-sought-after goal of recruiters to find "passive job seekers"--qualified individuals, typically employed, who aren't actively looking for a job. Goldberg points to research from recruitment services company WetFeet Inc. that suggests passive candidates represent 89% of the potential employees out there, while just 11% are actively pursuing jobs. (Steve Pollock, president of WetFeet, acknowledges that Jobster could be beneficial if it helps companies reach and hire passive candidates, though he notes those numbers appear to be based on a 2000 study, which may not accurately reflect the job market today.)

In theory, this process lets recruiters reach higher-quality candidates, if you assume that those with jobs have more to offer than those without. And that's not an unheard of assumption. "This is a generalization, but if someone's in a job and not looking, they're probably pretty successful," Clutts explains.

Retailer Nordstrom would welcome a more productive channel, since the resumé spam it gets is the downside of fame. "We have a very strong brand name, so whenever we post a job, a whole host of people will apply simply because of the brand name itself," explains Jim Mahan, the company's director of staffing. Mahan has hopes for the concept behind Jobster. "I think that the whole idea of relationships and social networks is a good one," Mahan says. "Employee referrals are the No. 1 thing that brings the quality [of employees] higher."

Both Clutts and Mahan say it's too early to tell whether Jobster really improves the recruiting process. Neither seems particularly bothered if employees found through Jobster happen to come from competitors. But taking talent from other companies isn't a goal, Clutts says. "We don't look at it that way," he insists. "I don't want to call it a side benefit, but it is a consequence."

It's a consequence that might prompt IT administrators, fearing a brain drain, to block access to Jobster. "If we get to that point," Goldberg says, "we're probably in a pretty good place."

Wheeler doubts such measures would be effective and suggests that Jobster's approach has the potential to change the way recruiting is done. "That's why I'm excited by it," he says. "What's really happening in the 21st century as we move into it more, and we really run into this talent shortage, and ultimately even perhaps a people shortage, the candidate is going to be in control, just like they've gained control of all the customer-service things that we're familiar with."

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