I have always maintained that if vertical search went the path of FlipDog they would be marginalized by Google and eventually die. I believe in and support companies like SimplyHired because I believe they have a compelling case around passive candidate acquisition and monetization.
Some of the pieces of that case have been laid out in Joel’s great article and the thoughtful comments from Dave, Peter, etc. However, I believe that there is a critical bit that is missed.
Let’s think of the “passive candidate” market in Geoffrey Moore terms. The vendors (vertical search companies) are approaching this market with a product (search, content and tools, but more heavily weighted to search) that they want the market to buy. In this case, the customer is “buying” with their time and clicks, not with their money, but since by definition passive candidates feel that spending time on searching for a job is a waste, getting these customers to spend this precious commodity is every bit as difficult as getting your grandmother to spend money on a video game.
Classic marketing models say that you want to get the “early adopters” to engage and then continue to provide value and momentum to cross over to a larger buying population. In terms of vertical search, there are two critical inflection points: getting the passive candidate to show up in the first place and getting them to return.
Let’s take the second inflection point first. Getting a passive candidate to return is about the value of the previous interactions. We can safely assume that content and tools that passive seekers find relevant will cause them to return. I’ll leave it to the respective competitors to hash out exactly what content and tools will create that flow. Suffice it to say that this is not an impossible problem to solve given the right talent and capitalization.
The first inflection point is far harder. Like Peter points out in his comments on Joel’s article, most passive candidates (again, by definition) not only aren’t looking for a job they really don’t want to look for a job. So what could cause passive candidate’s to cross that emotional chasm?
Although SimplyHired has been conspicuously quiet on this issue, I think they are showing their hand early and may have the answer: vertical search, but even more so. With their “Working Mothers” and “Dogster” deals SimplyHired is saying the following to passive job seekers “Love your job, but love your (fill in the blank) more?” In other words, what would cause a passive candidate to engage a vertical search engine for the first time even though said candidate doesn't want another job and even experiences emotional discomfort doing so? The visceral pull of something that is more important to the passive candidate than their job: their kids, their dog, quality time with fellow UFO believers... you name it. All of us have something more important to us than our present jobs, and if I can find a new job that will help me spend more time with that person, place or thing, then it will probably be worth spending time discovering the possibilities, no matter how much I like my present job.
Of course (as I have said many times before) only time will tell. But until someone convinces me otherwise, I am going to be placing my bets with the “technology” more than the “community.”