A History of the Job Listing and How It Just Died [Infographic]

January 12, 2017 By Chris Johnson

2016 was the year the online job listing finally went belly up.

This is driven by the fact that what people want from a job and a company has changed. It’s a massive preference shift.

The largest generation of people in the workforce today (millennials) has come to value different things; you can’t convey how thoughtful a team is, how inspiring a workplace is, or what a company actually stands for in a job listing alone.

In short, the transactional listings era has been replaced by the content era.

Companies now understand that to win talent acquisition online – and to end up on the right side of the talent divide – they have to deliver content of value to people, not commercials or simple listings.

The history of the job listing and the companies that relied on it, however, is fascinating and, in many ways, reflects the history of the internet itself. It also helps us understand how companies will build relationships with talent in the future.

First, here’s what happened in 2016.

The last of the pioneering sites built around the job listing were sold off or put on the block: Monster was acquired by Ranstad and both DHI (Dice’s parent) and Careerbuilder are said to be for sale. Additionally, the assets for Simply Hired were acquired by Japan’s Recruit, which also owns Indeed.

(LinkedIn, of course, made headlines for its $26 billion sale to Microsoft. Yet that’s a different animal entirely – LinkedIn’s core source of revenue is an array of talent solutions that goes far beyond listings, and the platform itself is built on a community, not on a marketplace.)

Monster’s sale was perhaps most remarkable at $429 millionroughly one-nineteenth of its peak historical value, coming after years of declining revenue.

These events really do mark the end of a staggering run for a remarkably simple format (a few lines of copy).

Here’s a deeper look at that history.

history of the job posting

When the consumer web sprang up in the 90s, digitizing components of the newspaper was a natural first application. (Classified ads themselves date back to the start of the 18th century or earlier.)

For job seekers, this was real magic.

In an instant – or after a half-minute of modem gurgling at least – you could access job opportunities beyond those in the local newspaper classified section spread on the kitchen table.

The concept was big for companies, too, of course; the prospect of finding people beyond the offline constraints, and even in the next city, state, or country, was a tantalizing one.

Monster is the most iconic of those that brought the service to market, and the first to do it at scale.

In 1994, Monster.com registered as one of the first 500 commercial domains on the internet – founder Jeff Taylor previously ran a help-wanted ad agency. The idea for the online platform came to him in an actual dream he had about building a “monster” job board that everyone could access.

His online listings database made a splash, and by 1996, the company had been both acquired and taken public.

Yet Monster wasn’t the first of these companies that are still around. Dice was actually launched in 1990, initially as a bulletin board service for recruiters – and by the late 1990’s had ascended to prominence as the go-to site for finding software developers in Silicon Valley.

(Interestingly, Dice’s founders had moved the company far from Silicon Valley – to Des Moines, Iowa – before the late 1990’s crash.)

Careerbuilder hit the market in 1996. Careerbuilder was initially a service that helped companies launch job listings and then managed the inbound application volume. Subsequent investment and growth would lead to an IPO in 1999.

The go-go tech of the late 1990s brought internet companies to the forefront of Super Bowl ad hysteria, and job listings sites feature prominently. Monster’s 1999 Super Bowl ad is considered to be one of the most memorable of all time. The When I Grow Up spot tapped into growing societal angst over the cubicle careers on offer in mainstream professional life and was the only commercial named to Time Magazine’s Best of TV list for that year.

HotJobs was another that bought Super Bowl ad time, and the story behind its first commercial features prominently in internet lore. Founder Richard Johnson mortgaged his house and liquidated other assets to fund the $1.4 million cost of the ad. It worked: venture capital poured in and the growth propelled the company to a $436 million sale to Yahoo in 2001.

Job listing sites were some of the few that weathered the dot-com crash that laid waste to many of the consumer web’s high-flying properties. They had revenue, after all.

The early 2000s saw Careerbuilder and Monster going head-to-head for market leadership – largely in a race for distribution. In 2003, in a monumental shakeup, Careerbuilder wrestled the exclusive distribution rights for both AOL and MSN away from Monster in the same week.

At the same time, a second wave of innovation for job sites was cropping up, marked by two major developments: the appearance of listings aggregators (Indeed and SimplyHired, both founded in 2004), and the founding of LinkedIn (in 2003).

The aggregators gave jobseekers even more selection and imported advertising’s pay-per-click model to the market – moves that would begin unrelenting downward pressure on job listing pricing.

No one watching the industry could have predicted the impact of LinkedIn. That, precisely, was its magic.

LinkedIn was anything but a listings marketplace. Instead, it was effectively a place to hang out online. This was the very question every jobs marketplace had tried to solve: how do you get people to come back to the site when they’re not looking for jobs. In other words, how to get the attention of the passive candidate?

While LinkedIn was ramping up, Monster would hit fever pitch: by 2006, it was one of the 20 most visited sites on the web. Such prominence would begin to slip and the ensuing years really belonged to LinkedIn.

By the end of 2009, LinkedIn had amassed 32 million users on the platform, and launched both public profiles and Talent Connect – signaling a more focused push into the talent market.

(For a look at their user growth, this timeline features a vertical scroll of user counts by year.)

In the ensuing years, with market pricing and growth becoming increasingly challenging, the original market leaders began acquisition sprees that focused on new geographies and on adding new services.

Careerbuilder launched consulting services and bought properties in France and elsewhere. Monster bought HotJobs from Yahoo! along with Affinity Labs – a platform that build social networks for communities like firefighters.

With social networks growing in importance, and venture capital coffers filled anew, a rash of new utilities appeared in 2010 and 2011, all looking to compete with LinkedIn and leverage Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms. This included Branchout, which raised $49 million as a Facebook app that mapped a user’s connections to companies and employees on the Facebook graph.

Branchout ultimately failed (it was relaunched as a workspace chat application) but further signaled that both users and companies were looking for ways to connect beyond the listings marketplaces.

Meanwhile, Indeed – despite being almost entirely bootstrapped – had outdueled SimplyHired in the SEO and listings aggregation race. Indeed was acquired for $1 billion in 2012, an acquisition that received surprisingly little fanfare despite the head-turning price for an NYC-area startup.

That brings us to the most recent years. Investment has been flowing into all parts of the HR tech landscape, giving companies new options in everything from sourcing to outplacement – and further reducing dependence on the job listing for sourcing. This dynamic was likely the final straw that led to the vast consolidation of the legacy listings companies in 2016.

This makes 2017 the start of the post-listings world for online talent acquisition. Outside of specific niche communities, companies are now committing to making bigger content investments and on prioritizing employer brand, particularly through video.

At Uncubed, we’re certainly seeing the shift in our clients. Companies that were wary of video twelve months ago now have it as a top priority. And companies that weren’t as focused on showcasing the innovative side of their brand, are now committing significant resources to it.

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