The Lost Job Seeker

It’s probably no surprise that resume writing companies had some of their best results ever over the last six months. With millions of people thrown out of work by the pandemic, job searching is a sign of the times. It’s much more than that, however, at least for job boards. The legions of people now looking for a job also represent a turning point for these sites. It’s the moment when they should make a second change in the way they serve job seekers.

Running a job board has often been described as a chicken or egg dilemma. Do you invest your limited time and money in attracting employers and the job postings that pay the bills or do you focus on attracting job seekers so you actually have a product to sell to those advertisers? The best strategy, of course, would be to do both, but in the real world, most sites had to set just one #1 priority. So, most sites concentrated on selling to the paying customer and hoped the resulting content – jobs – would bring job seekers in the door.

That approach worked until the job board industry got noticed. As more and more entrepreneurs and businesses recognized the low barrier to entry in the segment, they flocked to what looked like an easy enterprise to start and monetize. By my estimate, the job board population in the U.S. alone had grown to over 150,000 sites by 2010, and most were less than five years old. In effect, the market had become supersaturated, and even the best sites were finding it difficult to differentiate themselves from others. And, that’s when a different kind of content became much more important.

Jobs, of course, remained a key element of every site’s content. The more relevant jobs (or at least interesting ones) that a site could offer, the stronger its brand among job seekers. To make that brand even more compelling, however, many sites began to offer job search content or dramatically augment the content they had been publishing. They posted articles on how to write an effective resume, how to excel at an interview and how to navigate all of the other challenges of looking for a new job. As a result, and in many cases without even realizing it, they became virtual employment counselors for active and passive job seekers.

That approach worked. Despite the preposterous claims of some, job boards weren’t dead. They were more active than ever. They had become the go-to resource in every job seeker’s reemployment campaign. They were the one place where job seekers could find both open jobs and useful advice. They may not have said so to their colleagues or even in their survey responses, but they voted with their feet. Whether they were looking for a blue-or white-collar position, whether they had fifteen years of experience or fifteen minutes, whether they were white, black or brown, the vast majority of job seekers wouldn’t even have considered ignoring job boards when they were looking for a job.

The Covid Change

While job boards remain central to most reemployment campaigns, today’s job seekers are facing a world turned upside down. Historically, job seekers knew that, no matter how stressful and frustrating it was to look for a job, they could depend on the structure of the workplace and the economy to remain relatively unchanged. To use a word intoned with great reverence these days, they were looking for a job in a “normal” job market. They were confident that the future would look exactly like the past, maybe even better. And now, the Covid-19 pandemic and recession has changed that, maybe forever.

Job searching in 2020 is just as stressful and frustrating as it’s always been, but now job seekers face an additional challenge: an abnormal job market. It’s not that the job market itself has changed, it hasn’t – employers are still posting thousands of blue- and white-collar openings. It’s that job seekers no longer recognize the future offered by that job market. They are unsure of both the benefits and risks of the opportunities they see and of their own prospects for success. They sense that whatever happens will almost certainly be different from the past, but whatever that might be is unknown.

This disconnection from what is normal and known has left many job seekers feeling lost. Their career track suddenly seems less clear and dependable. Their sources of career support have somehow become inaccessible or irrelevant. It is a jolting, even destabilizing change in their circumstances. Some fall into depression. Others are paralyzed. And still others become overwhelmed with fear. All need a new kind of support from job boards. A new kind of content that will help them deal with an abnormal job market.

Job boards didn’t replace career counselors and coaches when they added job search content to their sites or upgraded what they had been publishing. They won’t replace clinicians either as they add a new kind of content to help job seekers find a way to deal with the novel challenges of the pandemic job market. I’ll explore what that content should entail in my next posting, the week of November 9th.

Food for Thought,

Peter Weddle is the author or editor of over two dozen books and a former columnist for The Wall Street Journal. He is also the founder and CEO of TAtech: The Association for Talent Acquisition Solutions. You can check out his latest books on Amazon or in the TAtech Bookstore.


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