As a young-ish industry, subject to change at any time (as is the wont of many internet businesses) the online recruitment sector is subject to the threat of game changing moves, which can radically alter the premise upon which we mostly operate.  Our industry is entirely predicated upon a set of assumptions, about how we can deliver a free service to candidates and a commercially viable offering to clients.

Online recruitment is, by definition, a game changer, and has successfully disrupted the formerly conventional way of advertising jobs.  However nothing is certain, and our industry itself can be disrupted.  There have already been several significant “moments” in this sector, which have shaped the path of online recruitment. To me these are; the onboarding of all major recruitment firms around 1999, the “deep-linking issue” addressed primarily by Jobserve and Stepstone in 2003, the founding of Freecruitment by Reed, and the launch of as the country’s first aggregator.  There have been many other ideas, which could have threatened the status quo, but never really got off the ground.  Finally, the enormous elephant in the room has always been Google.  Everyone knows that if Google decided to be in the online recruitment business, it would have a very good shot at cornering the market very quickly.  I doubt it’s going to happen anytime soon, however, mainly because they have much bigger fish to fry.

In the past week, I have been made aware of a smaller, but very significant play being made in the UK by a major recruitment firm.  On its own, I doubt it would change much, but it’s quite possible this could gather momentum.  On the 17th August Hays Specialist Recruitment Ltd sent letters, I believe, to every UK job board with which they advertise.  Given the size of HAYS, this is likely to be every significant job board in the UK.  In this letter, the company stipulate that respondents to all Hays vacancy adverts must be directed straight to the Hays website, and must not go through the registration process for each job board.  In essence, they want to retain exclusive access to every applicant, and do not wish to contribute to the candidate database of the job board in question.

The concerns being addressed by Hays in this request go right back to the original worries about online recruitment advertising amongst traditional recruitment agencies in its earliest days, between 1995 and 1999.  Back then, agencies were used to applicants responding directly to print adverts. The notion that, say The Telegraph would receive all applications, and then distribute them to the recruitment agencies would have been unthinkable.  Imagine then that The Telegraph collated a database of all candidates that all advertisers could then share (for a price).  In 1998, agencies rightly saw that their participation in online recruitment, via job boards, could well result in putting themselves out of business – but they did it anyway.  The attraction of candidates to their job adverts would, in itself, add immense value to those job boards that they were paying to advertise on.

In the intervening years, as far as I am aware, no major recruitment agency has formally acted upon these concerns in this way.  It has absolutely been a source of keen discussion, but perhaps only now, given the recent recession, is the climate right for a stand to be taken.  Don’t get me wrong.  I can see both sides of the fence.  I totally understand that an agency would want exclusive access to candidates responding to their adverts.  Equally, I agree that it would be a serious retrograde step for job boards, and restrict the exposure of candidates to fewer opportunities.  On balance, I’d have to come down on the side of the candidate.  If this idea gathers momentum, I’d like the candidate to have the option of either applying exclusively for one job at a time, or to add their CV to a publicly available database.

I’d be very interested in views on this subject, but understand that many people may not feel able to do so publicly.

PS. I’d like to apologise for any inconvenience caused by naming Hays in this article.  I believe the veracity of the piece would be compromised without doing so.  I have removed the name of the job board from the Hays letter.

Stephen O'Donnell is a lifelong recruiter, internet enthusiast, fadgadget and peripatetic writer.

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