When telecommunications manager Ross Quam decided last spring to leave the U.S. Marine Corps, he assumed his expertise in fiber-optics equipment would quickly score him a lucrative middle-management job. So while still on duty, Quam, 28, of San Diego, turned to the Internet, perusing listings at two large online job sites, Monster.com (www.monster.com) and government-sponsored America's Job Bank (www.ajb.org). But he found no job that matched his specialized skills and experience running tricky multimillion-dollar switching systems. Worse, his resume postings drew only headhunters seeking to place him outside the fiber-optics field.
After six months of idly searching, Quam turned to a niche site called Telecomcareers.net. There, he found no fancy salary calculators or title converters, the tools that help job seekers figure out what their job title would mean in other fields or companies. And the listings numbered only in the tens of thousands, as opposed to millions on the major sites. But a handful of those jobs were tailor-made for him. Quam's resume drew three offers within a week, one of which he accepted. He will soon start working in Sunnyvale, Calif., as switch manager for telecom company Qwest (Q), earning $80,000 a year plus housing. "It's a great job I never would have found on Monster," he says.
Like Quam, many savvy job seekers are eschewing big career sites such as Monster.com, HotJobs.com (HOTJ), and Headhunter.net (HHNT), despite those sites' vast databases and fancy tools. Instead, they find their time is better spent zeroing in on niche boards with more focused listings (table, page 206). There, they don't go through cumbersome procedures to post a resume, and they have more control over what their resume looks like. Many smaller sites also limit listings by headhunters, who may not understand an industry and may try to place candidates in inappropriate jobs. Another attraction: Niche sites seem to have a higher percentage of mid- and upper-management jobs than the giant job boards.
Some, such as craigslist, are arranged by locality, while others, like Telecomcareers.net, focus on professions. A preponderance cater to the tech and media fields. Others are offshoots of trade publications such as ADWEEK, and still others serve as networking hubs and entrepreneurial watering holes. For instance, First Tuesday not only e-mails bulletins of job openings but also hosts cocktail parties around the globe to bring together startups and venture capitalists.
Most specialty boards are too small to appear on Net statistical measures. But anecdotal evidence suggests niche sites are growing rapidly--with users drawn by their manageable size, better quality listings, and community feel. Just ask Susan MacTavish Best, 26, business development director of Paris startup Zden.com. Formerly the founder and editor-in-chief of a San Francisco events guide called Posthoc.com, Best wanted to work in Europe. She found her new job when she posted a hyperlink to her resume on a First Tuesday e-mail bulletin. She was put off by the impersonal tone at big sites. Also, the prospect of clicking through their huge lists was intimidating. "Monster? No, never. Just the name is far too scary and big for me," she says.
Of course, Monster.com, HotJobs.com, and Headhunter.net can produce good leads. Posting a resume or scanning a big job site is often a solid first step in a search. For those seeking entry-level jobs in the big corporations, such as Microsoft (MSFT) or Procter & Gamble (PG), Monster and its cohorts have created an easier path. They're also great places for those with broadly applicable skills, such as sales and marketing. Passive job seekers who just want to troll the employment waters continue to throw their resumes up on the big sites by the thousands each week.
But for serious job hunters, megasites can be more trouble than they're worth. Take the experience of 32-year-old David Byelick, a former executive director at Bay Area-based Strategic Consulting. To build his resume on Monster.com, he filled out multiple screens of information and check-off boxes. "I spent more than a half-hour trying to fill out my resume on Monster when I already had a resume put together that I liked," he says. Byelick also hated that Monster.com imposed a chronological job history format when he wanted to use a project-oriented approach. The big sites want resume data in a standard format to make it easier for prospective employers to search through them. The downside: The process tends to overlook persons with unique skills or experience.
Byelick, who wanted to stay in the Bay Area, finally tried the craigslist San Francisco job board, one of 11 run by the community site. It let him cut and paste his own resume. Within a day, he got two calls for interviews that fit his bill while his Monster.com resume languished. The San Francisco craigslist, according to a Forrester Research survey, is the Net's most efficient job placement site.
SPECIAL SKILLS. Another drawback of the big boards: At least 50% of postings come from headhunters. Often, these don't reveal the name of the potential employer, a serious omission.
Job seekers aren't the only ones bypassing the big boards. Companies, too, are resorting to alternative sites, bolstering their usefulness. For instance, businesses seeking candidates with special skills may find the pool is too small on the giant boards. And those with unusual job listings can get an avalanche of responses from the wrong kinds of candidates.
Some big corporations have built their own online recruiting sites. Lucent Technologies (LU), Sun Microsystems (SUNW), and Nortel Networks (NT), just to name a few, all have sophisticated recruiting sites one click away from their home pages. They boast many of the same tools found on megasites.
A growing category of niche sites are the Web links of trade publications. Partly because of the sites' select audience, companies are comfortable posting high-level job openings. Take CIO.com, a companion site of CIO Magazine and a unit of high-tech job listing site ITCareers (www.itcareers.com). It posts a growing number of chief information officer openings, most of which get filled within days. Internet news magazine Industry Standard's job site has succeeded in snagging top-level job listings, including slots such as senior vice-president for marketing, chief financial officer, and even an occasional CEO.
"SCATTERSHOT." List-servs, while not Web sites, are an increasingly important electronic resource in job and employee searches. List-servs link people with similar interests via e-mail. They have always been crucial in staffing academic posts, but now everyone from artists to assistive-technology users have these informal communication boards. Argus, an Ann Arbor (Mich.) information architecture firm, turned to list-servs followed by library science students to hire 15 of the 22 staffers in its operations department. Argus advises clients how to structure data so that information is easy to find, but its postings on the big sites drew candidates whose skills were in building and planning computer systems. "The big job boards are a scattershot," says Samantha Bailey, Argus' vice-president for operations.
The sites of social and networking forums also provide fertile career building grounds. For instance, Mediabistro, which hosts networking parties in such cities as New York, San Francisco, and London, offers a great site for media jobs.
Perhaps the most convincing testimony to the niche sites' popularity is the efforts of Monster, HotJobs, and Headhunter to create more focused sections. HotJobs.com has a telecommunications section, albeit one without Telecomcareers.net's cachet. Monster.com says it is building rich veins of niche information and jobs to match. If Monster and HotJobs can't build solid niches, they might take the tack of Headhunter.net. In September, it bought health-care job site MiracleWorkers (www.miracleworkers.com) to gain a foothold in the booming hospital jobs field. MiracleWorkers co-founder David Cormack, 32, says he expects the job giants to acquire more targeted providers. In the meantime, niche is often proving better than broad to online job seekers.
For more coverage of the job market, go to www.businessweek.com/careers/.