For Some Job Seekers, the Killer App May Be Texting

Photographer: Jetta Productions
A Seattle startup called Jobaline wants to use texting as a means to find work.

While the Web makes it easier for professionals to find jobs, technology has left behind millions of hourly workers who don't have regular access to the Internet.

A Seattle startup called Jobaline wants to change that by tapping into one of the most basic communication technologies out there: texting. This allows hourly employees, who made up about 59 percent of the U.S. workforce in 2012, to easily access the online employment service without the need of a computer or smartphone.

Consider the construction worker riding the bus home from his project that will end in a few weeks. An ad on the wall across from him displays a number to text if he wants to apply for a job. He opts in and receives a few questions in response, such as "are you available to work nights and weekends?" and "what about this job interests you?" It's the equivalent of a pre-screening for the employer.

He may also answer queries that are more important than listing previous employers, such as whether he can lift 47 pounds without assistance. If the applicant's pre-screening answers are sufficient, he'll get an automated call that asks him questions chosen by the employer. He'll go in for an in-person interview at the end of the process if all goes well.

More than 162,000 job applications have been filed on Jobaline, which is less than a year old. About 17 percent of its users texted to apply, and 35 percent accessed the company's website on a smartphone. This mobile-first approach has potential in emerging markets such as Latin America and Asia where consumers have largely skipped over PCs and instead choose to access the Web using tablets and smartphones.

Jobaline CEO Luis Salazar also sees a big market among those using features phones. While sales of smartphones surpassed feature phones globally for the first time in the second quarter, flip phones and the like still made up 48 percent of mobile phones worldwide, according to Gartner. Salazar is looking to expand next year in Mexico and Brazil, which have sizable feature phone populations.

For now, Jobaline is focused on "rapidly" growing in the U.S., where it offers its service in Seattle, Miami and the San Francisco Bay Area, with New York and San Diego next on the list. The company charges employers a fee based on the number of job applicants.

One in five adults in the U.S. doesn't use the Internet, according to the Pew Research Center, and Spanish-speakers without a high school education and living in households earning less than $30,000 a year are the least likely to have online access. That makes Hispanics a big focus for the company, which can text and automate calls to applicants in Spanish.

Another tech startup that's focused on the hourly staff market is Evolv, which crunches data to help managers make workforces more efficient. Its research shows that Jobaline's texting method may save employers a lot of money. While there were 75 million hourly workers in the U.S. last year, there are 100 million hires annually in the sector, which indicates high turnover. That attrition costs companies about $350 billion a year spent on things like posting jobs, prescreening applicants and conducting interviews, according to Evolv. That's one billion hours lost on those operational inefficiencies, according to Jobaline.

This may be a smartphone world, but for some employers and jobseekers, the killer app may simply be texting.

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