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History of the Online Job Search

The mid-1990s were the cradle of many of today’s top job websites. There was a mad rush for developers to push their unique spin on the modern day, online job search, and hundreds of sites exploded onto the market as part of the dot-com boom. By the 2000s, things settled down as companies continuously merged and competed to add the next great features. Through it all, job seekers have had to constantly adapt to be on the cutting edge of the latest résumé and job search techniques.  One quick glance at the history of the online job search will show why it’s so important to keep up-to-date. 

1994 – The Monster Board 

1994 brought the world’s first online job search and the first public résumé database. 

Jeff Taylor founded the site to collect and post help wanted ads from newspapers across the country. After two years of sluggish user growth, a press release was picked up by the media, driving hundreds of thousands of users to their site.

The Monster Board was bought out and subsequently went public in 1996. Three years later, they would merge with the Online Career Center—another of the first online job search sits—and rebranded itself as Monster.com. In 2000, they acquired JOBTRAK, a system designed in the 70s to help both men and women college students and graduates to find jobs. The new feature aimed to bring on younger, tech-savvy users was called MonsterTRAK. Monster was also the first online job search company to feature “alerts” that notified users of potentially relevant new job postings.

By 2007, Monster launched its mobile services, again one of the first in the industry to do so. Then, in 2010, Monster acquired Yahoo! HotJobs. In the ensuing years, stocks slumped and Monster was struggling to keep investors happy. In fact, between 2007 and 2014, its stock plummeted 90 percent. It released its new feature, “Apply with Monster,” that allowed easier, one-click job application, which linked through ZipRecruiters, as well. 

1995 – CareerBuilder 

Robert J. McGovern began NetStart Inc. as a software company that managed job listings and incoming email applications. With his proof of concept shown through outside sales, McGovern was able to obtain a two million dollar investment that pushed the company to have its own website and rebranded itself as CareerBuilder.

Within a few years, 7 million dollars more came in as investment and the company was snapping up many smaller job websites, like CareerMosaic and HeadHunter.net. One of its most impressive buyouts was CareerPath, a collection of 6 of the country’s largest newspapers listing classifieds online. These print media companies knew head the toll signaling the death of their classified ads unless they took advantage of the growing online market.

McGovern made an interesting move by partnering with two major national media companies, Knight Ridder and Tribune Company. The goal was to merge the newspapers’ classified job sections with the new online platform. Two years later, media company Gannett came on board, as well. But the story nearly came to an end when the “dot com” bubble crashed, and CareerBuilder teetered on the verge of bankruptcy.

During the economic downturn in 2008, CareerBuilder rebuilt itself with 34% of the market share among job seeking websites. By 2013, CareerBuilder was in full rebound, second in monthly visitors only to Indeed.com. The site remains today one of the top 5 places for job seekers to search for openings.

20 years from its inception, Monster.com is still the number two job site in the world, making it a vital resource for any job seeker. 

1996 –HotJobs 

HotJobs was born as one of the first niche job posting websites. Founder Richard Johnson intended his company to focus on jobs in the technology field. One year later, Johnson would expand his brand, offering Accounting and Sales job postings and would eventually grow to be an all-sector industry leader.

HotJobs shocked the financial world in 1999 when it purchased a Super Bowl television ad. Unbeknownst to the average viewer, Johnson had decided to spend 64% of its $2.5 million annual revenue for the ad spot, a highly risky decision that could have lost the company everything. Luckily, the gamble paid off with $25 million in revenue over the next year attributed all to the 30-second clip. By the end of 2000, Johnson was hiring more experienced executives to oversee the massive growth that ended the close of the year with $100 million in revenue, a 50-fold increase in just under two years. Still, it took until 2001 for the company as a whole to enter into the black.

It was around this time that Yahoo and Monster both entered bids to acquire HotJobs, with Yahoo winning out at $436 million. Yet in 2010, Monster would have its day as well; the company bought HotJobs from Yahoo for $225 million under a profit-sharing agreement.

1998 – Applicant Tracking Systems

With an ever-growing selection of online job posting websites, employers were able to pick candidates from the cream of the crop. The number of incoming applications, though, was becoming more difficult to manage. Soon, Applicant Tracking System (ATS) software would become the bane of every online job seeker.

Some of the first contenders were software applications like Recruitsoft and Recruitmax. At first, these programs helped large companies process and save incoming résumés, but it didn’t take long for the technology to expand. Bigger businesses needed help with more efficient filtering and sorting to get to the right candidates more quickly, thus ATS software began to include parsing technology.

The ability to parse means only résumés which fit specific, predetermined criteria can be pushed through to human eyes. Usually, this means requirements in education and experience as predicted by keywords like “manager,” “B.S.,” or particular skills relevant to the job.

By 2011, ATS had expanded to include all parts of the hiring process from beginning to end. Software updates allowed video interviewing, background checks, social media checks, assessment questionnaires, and more.  They also help employers post job listings across multiple sites more easily.

Today, some ATS programs are so advanced they serve as virtual recruiters, scanning and forwarding LinkedIn profiles without the candidates ever knowing they’re in the running for a new gig. All of this new technology means job seekers must be aware of the current trends in order to keep their résumés at the top of the pile, so to speak.

2003 – LinkedIn

This year brought one of the biggest game changers in online job searching. Founded by Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn sought to become the first professional social media website with an emphasis on networking. The concept was simple—if users could access more of their past career connections, they were more likely to benefit from hearing about new job opportunities.

Hoffman had proven the concept himself, having built LinkedIn with the help of former colleagues and past college roommates. His investors were also obtained through networking. As LinkedIn grew to its current 400 million-plus users, the newest trend was not to mindlessly search for relevant job postings (although LinkedIn still offers a database of jobs) but to allow users the chance to connect and share job opportunities of their own accord. Many times, these opportunities would come with a personal recommendation, an “it’s not what you know but who you know” benefit finally brought to the online domain.

In the past 13 years, LinkedIn has acquired multiple companies, mostly for the technology that allowed new features, e.g. CardMunch to scan and import business card info and Pulse, the new blogging platform. But more recently, LinkedIn has sought to expand and broaden its focus to include professional education. With the partnering of Lynda.com in 2015, for example, LinkedIn hopes to offer online classes with training in hundreds of fields.

As part of LinkedIn’s innovative approach to online job searching, users will be able to search for positions they hope to attain and be offered the chance to take the relevant Lynda.com classes to qualify for that job title.

2003 – The Ladders

The Ladders serves as a good example of the type of niche-seeking going on in this time period. This site focused exclusively on $100k+ salaried positions, charging both employers and job seekers to access the database. By 2011, this model was beginning to falter and the site opened up to lower salaried professionals. 

2006 – The Rise of Scraper Sites

By 2006, a decade of buyouts had led to somewhat of a monopoly, with a few top leading job posting sites, e.g., Monster and CareerBuilder. There were also hundreds of more niche job search sites that refused to sell out to the conglomerates. For job seekers, the amount of databases to search was overwhelming.

Seeking to make a one-stop site for job seekers, job aggregators began to dominate. These aggregators became known as “scraper sites,” collecting job post data from hundreds of other sites.  They employed what is known as “meta searching,” using a search engine to search other search engines. While this certainly made it easier for job hunters, the main job websites were not happy. Monster became one of the first to block these scraping attempts in an effort to keep traffic on its own site.

There was another problem, too. Less-than-savory sites began posing as legitimate job aggregators. They collected and shared the job posting information without the consent of the companies or—even worse—they collected résumés with no intention of connection job seekers with companies, usually to sell the data.

Still, the legitimate aggregators like Indeed.com, SimplyHired, CareerJet and more were booming. Indeed.com was launched in 2005 and in a mere 5 years managed to outpace Monster as the most visited job website.

2007 – FlexJobs 

FlexJobs entered the market as another of the more interesting niches. The site focused on those needing flexible work schedules, either as work-from-home, part-time or freelance/contract work. Job seekers pay a monthly fee to have access to a database of screened-for-legitimacy jobs, with FlexJob weeding out the “scams.”

2008 – Glassdoor 

Marking another milestone in the history of online job search, Glassdoor was founded in 2007 and launched the next year. The story behind the concept is quite interesting. The CEO of travel company Expedia, Richard Barton, had left an employee survey inside a company scanner. When discussing with friends what might have happened if anyone had discovered and leaked the employee’s opinions about the company, Barton and his friends decided it might have been quite useful information for job seekers. Thus, Glassdoor was born as a way for potential employees to get the anonymous scoop on company practices, salary, potential job interview questions, and overall rating and job satisfaction.

Glassdoor quickly became a go-to database for job seekers to research any company to which they considered applying. By 2015, the site had 30 million users and enough reviews to provide insightful data into company culture and salary trends. 

2009 – The Boom Slows 

As the next decade loomed, the job website boom waned. There were fewer new entries to the market. Instead, all of the main players were in close competition to add compelling new features to garner a higher share of users.

In April of 2009, all of the job sites combined received nearly 60 million unique visitors in one month, an annual increase of 50 percent. It was clear that the overall economic downturn was leading to more active job seekers logging on. At this point, Forbes listed its top 5 websites as CareerBuilder followed by Yahoo HotJobs and Monster (soon to be merged) with SimplyHired and Indeed as the aggregators closing in fourth and fifth place. The surprising sixth place finish was USAjobs.gov, a list of federal positions that were not as severely impacted by the recession.

2010 – Resume Writing Services Trend 

The economy was still sluggish in 2010. Job seekers knew they had to stand out among fierce competition for every job position in the employers’ market and were always looking for a way to get ahead.

Most job sites at this point allowed users to upload their résumé. Conventional wisdom had dictated that job seekers must tailor their résumé for each job they applied to, highlighting special skills and experiences from a “master résumé.” However, with websites like LinkedIn, users had to go for a more “one size fits all” approach, which made it difficult to know which skills should stand out.

Soon résumé writing services were the “It” thing among the job seeking community. For a small, usually one-time fee, a professional would revamp a user’s résumé, sample cover letters and even optimize online profiles like LinkedIn. Keywords were chosen with care, unimportant experiences purposefully unelaborated, and intermittent work history gaps graciously explained. Résumé writers knew the latest trends among hiring companies and could help give candidates that necessary competitive edge in the online job hunt.

2010 – ZipRecruiter 

Many job search websites are geared toward job seekers. The job posting ability is there, of course, but the primary front-end functionality is not for employers. With ZipRecruiter, the two worlds were more evenly combined.

With a built-in ATS program, employers using ZipRecruiter were now able to post job listings across dozens of sites at once while also managing inbound applications. Job seekers, in turn, are able to directly search the ZipRecruiter database as a job aggregator and post résumés that can send an alert to a recruiter if it matches their job posting.

2011 – The Professional Portfolio 

Much of the history of online job search has revolved around new companies with innovative approaches to collecting and sharing job data. However, perhaps one of the biggest evolutions has been the shift from highly trafficked job search websites to personal-professional sites.

An online portfolio allows a job seeker to expand upon the simple one-page résumé with examples of work, multimedia (images, documents, videos and more), blogging and social media integration. As part of the online job search, users began to link their own websites on LinkedIn and at the bottom of publicly posted résumés.

2013 – “One Click Apply” 

Possibly one of the worst and one of the best features of the modern online job search is the questionable “One Click Apply” buttons. This feature first took off with Monster in 2013 and was quickly followed by Indeed the following year. The idea sounds good: let busy job seekers submit all of their information to companies as quickly as possible, through the click of a single “Apply” button. The idea began to backfire, though, when companies were overwhelmed with applications. ATS software could still sort and filter the most promising candidates, but employers had to apply increasingly stricter parameters, leaving more qualified applicants out to dry if their résumés happened to miss a single keyword.

Of course, the other problem was the massive increase in competition. Jobs that still required thoughtful, more time-consuming applications were much more likely to work out than job postings that obtained hundreds of applications within a few seconds.

2016 – The Top 5 Settle into Place

As of today, an average of three major traffic data providers listed the top 5 online job search websites as follows:

  1. Indeed
  2. Monster
  3. Glassdoor
  4. CareerBuilder
  5. SimplyHired

Interestingly, the oldest online job board still clings to second place, losing out to one of the most comprehensive job aggregators. Glassdoor, the site for employer reviews shows that employees are concerned not just with landing a job but with finding a quality fit.

This 20-year historical timeline shows that job seekers who are up on the latest trends will be able to take advantage of new platforms, technologies and features that can boost their chances of landing a well-suited job.

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