The Job Board Summit Interview Series – John Sumser

John Sumser was the job board industry’s first analyst. He was its first blogger (although it wasn’t called that in 1994). He was also its first expert witness for an FTC hearing on whether a proposed acquisition would create a monopoly. He published its first newsletter and has been quoted everywhere you can think of.

John Sumser
John Sumser

In the late 90’s and early 00’s, John relentlessly championed targeted recruiting, talent communities, employment branding plus a series of other notions that we take for granted today.

Today, he blends his passions for imagining the future and clear communications  as a consultant and industry analyst. He also helps companies clarify/improve their product road maps and development direction.

He’s currently rolling out an industry Master Class (July 11th in Princeton NJ). The course teaches the ins and outs of company development in the HRTech and Recruiting marketplaces. He believes that Recruiting is a local sport.

We caught up with John in his home town of Occidental, CA. The mountain village of 1100 was the home of innovation in California. As we walked down Bohemian Highway (which runs through the village), we talked about the job board business and its future.

Jobg8 – You spend a lot of time talking about Recruiting as a local sport. What do you mean by that?

John – In the western world, the population is ageing and fewer and fewer people are willing to move for work. That means that you have to hire where you live or manage a remote workforce. While some jobs can be done well from a distance, most of a company’s core operations benefit from geographic proximity. Similarities in regional culture, class, sophistication, ethnicity. and fashion make it easier to build a culture in a specific region. For the vast majority, the vast majority of the hiring will be local.

Jobg8 – Therefore?

John – Most Recruiting tools (from job boards to ATS) have a national or global flavor. Anything that isn’t local distracts from getting the core work done. Local can refer to a city, a region, a profession or an industry. In a nutshell, the right people end up in concentrated areas.

Your actual competition for employees is in your geography. If the smartest and most capable people live in a distant city or country, you may get them to telecommute. You won’t get them to move easily.

That means that employment branding is a war that is fought town by town job category by job category. Companies that help discover and nurture relationships on that level have a real future. That’s where all but a few job board businesses will end up.

Jobg8 – Okay. The local market is rich and recruiters need help with the supply of candidates. Do you really think that the future of job boards is in the small to medium business space?

John – Well, that’s where all of the workers are.

Things work differently in those companies with broadly recognizable brands. There are maybe 3,000 or 4,000 of them globally. The cost of reaching candidates is underwritten by the company’s core brand equity.  People want to work there because they’ve heard about the company. The rest of employers are virtual unknowns.

The small players all have an inverse problem that begins with ‘no one has ever heard of them.” There are armies of consultants and enterprise software providers trying to solve the problems at the enterprise end. They’re agile and willing to customize extensively. The smaller players are quicker to close and easier to navigate.

Jobg8 – We think you’ve sketched an outline for a debate, John. We’re not so sure that your idea isn’t completely America-centric. What else are you seeing?

John – There’s a land rush of job boards offering some form of job cross-posting and some comprehensive database of social profiles. It’s as if LinkedIn were the only competitor who mattered.

While it’s true that LinkedIn has taken the place once held by Monster or CareerBuilder, its grip is limited and relatively small. If you’re watching the experiment, much of their product is only so-so. They’ve  just occupied the ‘you can’t get fired for buying LinkedIn niche.”

The job boards that try to respond to LinkedIn without carefully considering what business they want to be in will suffer. The world is not hunting for LinkedIn clones. It needs service differentiation.

The future involves making customers successful.

Jobg8 – This was just a beginning and John will be running his HRExaminer Radio Show Live from the Summit, so we’ll continue the conversation in the future. See you at the JobG8 North American Job Board Summit in Orlando.

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