8.11  Monster.com: a monster waste of time

The odds are that you are not going to find a job by searching Monster or posting a resume there. In fact, no one actually knows what your chances are. Monster cannot and certainly will not tell you. What is known is that when you look at the available numbers, Monster looks more like a canary than an 800 pound gorilla.

The data are hard to come by because there is really no way to accurately track how people have come to find their jobs. The question is also complicated by the fact that you can look at this from the perspective of an employer (are they finding the candidates they need?) and from the perspective of the job seeker (are they getting jobs?). The number of struggling job seekers can only be known from the unemployment data. A further complication arises because their is no real measurement available distinguishing between entry level job seekers and lower skilled workers on one hand, and advanced career professionals and highly skilled workers on the other hand.

Does Monster.com work?

One analysis I read tried to tackle this question by comparing the number of new jobs that are created each month to the number of people who are newly hired each month, as reported by the U.S. Department of Labor. If every single job available were to be listed at Monster (or on other job boards), the theoretical maximum would be that you have a 7 percent chance of getting a job through Monster or some other online job board. But job boards are not the primary source of new hires, and if you conservatively estimate that 50% of new hires come from other sources (which I will discuss below), then the theoretical maximum chance you would ever have for finding a job through Monster drops to 3.5%.

Another analysis I read approached the question by looking at the number of resumes posted at Monster relative to the number of jobs posted. The ratio of jobs to resumes is about 3%.

A survey done in 2000 (yes, it's old but it was during the dot-com hiring boom and pre-9/11) asked successful job seekers how they found their positions (Forrester Research). Only 4% said that they found their jobs by using the internet (that is the whole web, not just Monster). This is the same estimate that career guru Richard Bolles gives based on his observations.

Another survey that has been conducted yearly since 2002 (by CareerXroads) asked employers (90% of whom used Monster) how they found their new hires. In the first go around, Monster was credited as the source of about 1.5% of hires. That figure has improved and now stands somewhere in the 3 to 4% range.

With respect to my perspective, I can only provide you with anecdotal data. I know a lot of job seekers who have signed up at Monster and devoted time to it. The number of success stories I can recount is way below 3% and actually much closer to zero.

Instead of hearing success stories, I have heard about people inundated with email advertisements, about jobs that are really work-at-home scams, about jobs that are filled or do not seem to exist and about pitches made by recruitment firms that are seeking a supply of heads to use as a tool to sell their services to companies with actual jobs.

How does Monster work?

First, let me say that it is not just Monster and CareerBuilder. There are dozens of career opportunity sites on the web. The business model is fairly simple. They sign up thousands or millions of job seekers and keep them coming back with advice and services of all kinds. Because they can claim access to hordes and hordes of job seekers, they can charge HR (human resources) professionals large sums of money to post their jobs. And then they can sell the HR people access to the resumes of prospective employees. And at the same time, they can sell premium services to the job seekers.

The business model does not require it to be a good source of new hires or a good way to find a job. All it requires is the ability to generate traffic and to sell the numbers to those on both sides of the hiring equation. The business model depends on traffic and perception, not success.

The same model applies for the job recruitment shops that shop for heads through Monster. There was one recently featured in TIME magazine that focuses on "moms." When the story for TIME was written, the "Mom Corps" had almost 650 job seeking moms for every job they had listed. If you do the math on the numbers they gave for their success since in placing applicants since their 2005 founding, it looks like every applicant has less than 1% chance of getting a job through them.

How do people actually find jobs?

I referred above to the CareerXroads annual survey - a large scale survey of employers. What they found is that about 35% of jobs are filled from within the company. With respect to external hires, the companies surveyed said that at least 30% of jobs are filled by referrals (i.e., people using their contacts). About 20% of the newly hired found the job through the company website. About 8% of new hires come from "direct sourcing," which basically means corporate recruiting. College recruiting, career fairs and open houses, print advertising, outside recruitment agencies, and contract-to-hire (or temp-to-hire) each account for about 3% of jobs filled. "Other" sources account for about 10%. And finally, internet advertising accounts for about 12%.

If you add up the numbers, you will find that there is not much room left for Monster or any other career opportunity site to dominate the hiring market. Monster and the other career sites tend to account for the amount of hires that can be expected: somewhere around 3% to 4%.

Why does Monster persist?

HR personnel have a lot of money to spend on recruiting, and they spend close to half of it on online advertisements. To them, it seems to make sense. Millions of people are searching online, so it can seem like a good way to find employees.

But there is another person in the equation: the hiring manager. In other words, the HR department may be responsible for finding new employees, but it is the hiring manager who will decide who gets the job. Hiring managers say that better than 60% of the people they find come from "word of mouth referrals" (Forrester Research).

On the other side of the equation, the desperate job seeker is looking for any crumb that is thrown their way.

There is also a big unknown factor at work here.

As I mentioned above, there is a big difference between a twenty year career veteran with tons of experience and a student graduating from college. There is also a difference between a highly trained and specifically skilled job seeker and one who is looking for work on the basis of more basic and general work aptitudes. If you have highly specialized skills, perhaps someone will contact you in response to your posted resume. A number of job seekers in the fields of engineering, computer programming and information technology have told me that they have had some measure of success in getting interviews by posting at Dice.com. But if your skill set is similar to ten thousand other people competing for one particular job, there is no reason to expect that your name will be the one that is picked out of the fish bowl to win the prize.

When we look at the modest success rate for those who do find work through Monster, what we don't know is how many were part of that highly skilled and highly sought after group, and how many were just a face in the crowd.

So what is the take away message here?

First, the age old wisdom about job seeking still applies: you need to use your contacts and you need to make new contacts through informational interviewing. Your best bet is that someone will give you the name of someone who knows someone who can tell you about an opportunity.

Second, the want ads are a time honored vehicle for finding employment. Yes, you need to look at the want ads, both online and in the newspaper, and in professional journals. But you do not want to make this your only method and you do not want to spend inordinate amounts of time on this. As you know, you can spend huge amounts of time searching through Monster and other sites and applying for jobs. If the yield is predictably low, that is not where you want to invest your time and energy.

Third, I have no reason to believe that it is useful to post your resume at Monster or any other such site. And there is reason to suggest that you should not. I mentioned above that what I repeatedly hear is that after posting a resume, people end up wasting tons of time on bogus offers and email spam.

And there's a risk involved. On January 23rd, 2009 (and for months thereafter), Monster had the following message posted at their website:
"We recently learned our database was illegally accessed and certain contact and account data were taken, including Monster user IDs and passwords, email addresses, names, phone numbers, and some basic demographic data. The information accessed does not include resumes. Monster does not generally collect – and the accessed information does not include - sensitive data such as social security numbers or personal financial data."

Isn't that great? The thieves did not get your social security number.

Here is my advice:

Yes, keep your eye on posted job announcements. I have been impressed with Indeed.com as a search tool for this purpose. Indeed.com aggregates job announcements from a number of sources, including Monster and Careerbuilder. Instead of hopping from one job board to the next, let the search engine provide you all of that information in one place.

And you can also just use Google search. Google picks up everything in Indeed.com and everything from corporate and government websites.

Searching the web for job opportunities is actually an important part of the career research process. Even if it is not how you are going to find a job, it is an important task relative to understanding your options and understanding the employment playing field.

Bottom line: Yes, you should surf the web for job opportunities. Just make sure you are not wasting time.