Meet Jobs in HR founder Kevin Howard

Last month I posted an interview with an internal recruiter from Oracle Australia, David Talamelli, and decided this will become a regular feature. I have always wanted to profile interviews on the blog however up until nowI did not feel Australia had enough of a local online market to generate interesting posts. That has changed.

Today’s interview with with Kevin Howard founder of Jobs in HR, an email jobs list for HR professionals. I have known Kevin for about four years now, but only meet him once in person just after I started Inspecht, and felt it would be good to get an understanding of how Jobs in HR operates. I thank Kevin for the time he took to get through the interview, I hope you all enjoy it.

Tell us a bit about your background, you have a recruitment background correct?

I have a technical background originally. I worked on radar systems for 8 years, followed by a couple of years with a specialist computer systems company when I first came to Australia. Like a lot of people in recruitment I got into by chance in 1989, when a company I was using to recruit staff offer me a job!. I started off servicing the electronics industry initially, mainly in communications and then the large IT companies as networking technology really took off. I worked in recruitment for 12 years, ending up as CEO and part owner of a recruitment agency with offices in three states, which we sold to a large UK firm in ’97. I stayed on as CEO after the sale and left at the end of 99 after merging our company with another IT recruitment that the group had purchased.

When did you setup the Jobs in HR email list?

We launched Jobs in HR in August 2004.

Who or what was your inspiration to start the email list?

I was advising an environmental consulting firm on their recruitment strategy and discovered that there were a couple of recruitment advertising products based on the subscriber mail list concept. I wanted to do something a little different to recruiting but utilise my knowledge of recruitment, so I decided to start developing similar targeted advertising products for other disciplines. Building a product for HR profession was a no brainer from a strategic perspective.

Why did you choose an email list as the delivery vehicle when everything was going on to the web?

Precisely because email is a delivery system – it’s ‘push’ advertising, rather than ‘pull’, so it doesn’t rely upon people visiting a passive job board on the web. The copy is delivered directly to the audience’s desktop.

How does you service work from an advertisers point of view as you do not seem to run jobs more than once, unlike many job boards?

It’s important to note that we are not trying to be like the typical job boards – our goal is to complement the big job boards, by reaching the people they don’t usually reach. This means reaching passive and senior job seekers who rarely visit job boards, if at all.

We work on the premise that if you deliver quality content, you attract a quality audience. This means don’t ‘spam’ your audience with repeated, cross posted and irrelevant job ads. People don’t want to see the same jobs again and again, nor do they want to receive jobs in Perth, when they’re looking in Melbourne. We also exclude jobs for commercial (agency) recruitment consultants because we know most career HR people are not interested in these sales oriented roles.

We know for a fact that this quality approach works. Within a few months of launching Jobs in HR, feedback from our regular advertisers (HR recruitment specialists) was that they were receiving applications from passive and senior candidates whom they would not expect to be browsing the usual job boards.

Some of Australia’s leading HR recruitment specialists have advertised all their jobs with us from the outset. But even after 4 years of operation there are other recruiters who still don’t “get it”.

How do you feel this approach benefits the advertisers and candidates?

Our value proposition is very simple.

Advertisers reach a targeted audience whom they are very unlikely to reach through other advertising channels, particularly the big job boards.

Candidates get fresh HR jobs delivered directly to their desktop without having to trawl through thousands of jobs on a job board.

There is however added value for recruitment agencies who advertise their jobs with us – they are putting their brand in front of over 8000 HR people every week.

You have over 8,000 subscribers to your list, what do you feel has been the key to the success?

Word of mouth and the quality of product has certainly been a big factor. We also spend a lot of money each year on promoting Jobs in HR to HR people.

With over 8,000 subscribers do you track how many times the email is forwarded to others?

No we don’t, and although we know people do forward our email bulletins, we don’t count that in our audience numbers because it’s impossible to quantify. Without using questionable means it’s not possible to track this anyway.

We also know that there are other people who don’t subscribe but simply treat our as a normal job board and simply browse the site from time to time. Again, we don’t count those in our audience.

8,000 subscribers is just under 10% HR practitioner’s in Australia, do you feel this means they are all active candidates?

There isn’t really much reason to subscribe to Jobs in HR unless you are at least moderately interested in a new job, so I would say they are all potential ‘candidates’.

Around 35% of our audience subscribe to daily email updates. These people are obviously “active” job seekers. The other 65% will range from people who are reasonably active through to very passive candidates, who are only likely to make a move if something really special comes along.

I should mention that there is also constant ‘churn’ – people unsubscribing and new people subscribing every day. In the region of 50-100 new people per week.

You have an RSS feed on your site, is this method used by many people, if so why?

We adopted RSS at your suggestion. Although we were happy to do so it hasn’t proven to be very attractive to HR people. Less that 2% of our audience use it as far as we are aware. I don’t think RSS is used much by people who are not involved in technology in some shape or form. I thought this might change when IE7 came along (with it’s ability to read feeds) but it didn’t make much difference.

Email is still the killer application as far as communication is concerned.

What do you see as the current trends for recruiting in Australia?

If, as some economists are predicting, we are heading for a deep global recession in 2009, then the recruiting landscape will change markedly.

Some big employers have already frozen recruitment, others have announced significant job cuts and I suspect there is much more similar news to come.

I believe we will see a reversal of the trend for large employers to build in-house recruitment services. As an employer you really need to be doing a lot of recruitment to warrant employing dedicated in-house recruiters.

If companies shed their internal recruiters this may result in more opportunity for the RPO suppliers or a return to using external recruitment agencies on an ‘as needs’ basis.

I think we will see an increase in the use of contractors instead of hiring permanent staff.

I believe some employers in the private sector will use the downturn as an excuse to shed non performing staff but some may also be quietly doing some recruiting shortly afterwards.

Having the right people on board becomes even more important in a tough economic climate but hiring them doesn’t necessarily get any easier. Companies don’t usually lay off their best performers and good people are less likely to change jobs if they think they are secure where they are. Smart companies will be keen to retain the talent they worked so hard to recruit and develop in the last couple of years.

Despite the fact that there are few positives there for external recruiters, I do believe the recruitment industry will contract significantly. Jan is a notoriously quiet month in recruitment so we may start to see some lay offs before Christmas.

As for recruitment advertising, the market has become increasingly fragmented with a plethora of new job boards large and small. Although many recruiters and employers have actively sought out alternative ways to reach prospective candidates, my belief is that only those products that reach a different audience to the large established job boards will survive.

These are of course only my personal (pessimistic) views and it could all pan out very differently!

You have expanded into vertical areas other than HR recently how did you decide on which areas to focus?

One of our products, Jobs in Planning existed before Jobs in HR. The planning profession (town/urban, environmental, social, economic) is small and easily identifiable so we chose that as a pilot product.

The most recent product is Jobs in Safety. We knew there was increasing demand for safety people, it overlaps with HR where we are already well established and we also felt Safety was not very well serviced by the big job boards.

What blogs do you read and why do you recommend them?

I read yours of course, because it’s one of the few local blogs which is directly related to HR, recruitment and related technology and is reasonably unbiased.

I read TechCrunch regularly, because it’s probably the world’s most influential web 2.0 blog, and Vitamin (thinkvitamin.com), because we build web sites. The Nowhiring blog was good fun but it’s replacement, Jobadder, is pretty quiet nowadays.

There are heaps of other blogs that I read regularly, usually because I’ve seen an article in an email newsletter. I subscribe to several email newsletters, one of the best being a daily email from an NZ recruitment advertising company called the Haines Morning Report.

Have you ever considered blogging?

Considered it yes, but I just don’t have the time with all the other projects I have in the pipeline. If I can find some spare time I will likely spend it contributing towards HRbuzz.com.au which is a forum we run.

What other social media tools, if any, do you use?

I joined Facebook just to see if it was worthwhile – it wasn’t. I’m on Linkedin, although I don’t really ‘use it’ much (but that’s a serious recruitment tool). I spend more time on forums, such as Whirlpool and a few obscure ones relating to personal interests. I prefer forums to blogs because anyone can post on a forum (usually) and they also usually have more functionality.

Any final comments or words of wisdom?

I think I have said enough already 🙂

Tips for laying off employees in a social media world

Over the weekend Techcrunch posted about the layoffs traking place due to the economic downturn. There are two main themes in the post; first some of the layoffs are clearing out of dead wood and the other being it is hard to keep layoffs a secret when everyone is a publisher.

To the first point. This is not new companies have always used downturns to shed deadwood, not sure why this was even raised by Michael Arrington. 

The second point is far more interesting and will have major impacts on employers for years to come. In a world where anyone can publish, and does, how you manage this process is critical.

But in the age of everyone-is-a-publisher it takes just a second after someone is walked out the door for them to post about it on Twitter or their blog, and it spreads from there.

Blog posts, tweets, video content all remain in search engine caches for a very long time, if not forever! Which means if you are thinking of cutting back here are some tips for doing so in a social media world, some of these are just plain common sense.

  1. Do it quickly, ok this is always the case but even more so now. Use the old carpenter’s rule “measure twice, cut once” the last thing you want to people having multiple chances of publishing about the process.
  2. Remember the jobs you are cutting have people in them. Treat them that way.
  3. But also remember humans do not make rational logical decisions based on information given to them. They will instead pattern match with either their own experience, or collective experience expressed as stories. This usually means they will react poorly initially.
  4. Provide employees some advice about being careful if vent online, make sure if they do it will not lead to nasty legal battles down the track.
  5. Expect things to be blogged, tweeted, and generally discussed. 
  6. Monitor the internet to see what is being said. Allow people to vent but if needed gently correct the messages if they are blatantly wrong.
  7. Don’t get into a online publishing war over the smallest of things published, sometimes ignoring it is the best option. The more times search engines find a topic the higher they rank it in the results. Also bloggers tend to react quickly and harshly don’t give them additional fuel to write about.
  8. Communicate with the employees who are leaving, but do so honestly and openly, limit the corporate bullsh#t.
  9. Communicate with the employees who are staying, again do so honestly and openly, limit the corporate bullsh#t.
  10. Setup a Facebook alumni group (if you don’t have one), automatically invite all of the employees who are leaving. Remember some will be boomerangs.
  11. Setup an internal wiki to allow the people leaving to document their knowledge in a central location. This way you might collect some of the knowledge that is leaving before it leaves.
  12. Communicate to your customers, suppliers, media, analysts and blogosphere what is going on and why.
  13. Make sure you are not applying double standards with your executive team as this will certainly get people talking. 
  14. Make sure the rest of the organisations is also cutting back on expenses. If you keep people flying first class while laying off employees this will also get people talking.
  15. Highlight the other cost cutting measures that the organisation is taking to show layoffs aren’t the only thing.
  16. It is a great time to have the CEO start an blog, this will show them as a real person a factor that should not be overlooked during this period of change.
  17. Finally make sure you pay severance packages fairly and on time.
These are my initial thoughts, have to head off and join the family but chip in with your own while I am gone.

 

New job site for startups

Over the weekend I saw on Techcrunch that a new job site for startups in the US was launched, Startuply. There are a few of interesting things here. Firstly it is not really a new site more a re-launch of Jowba, secondly they have taken funding and support from Y Combinator, finally they have a very nice user interface making job search easy.

A few of the user interface features I liked:

  • Roll over job ads, no need to click on the ad to get a summary
  • Pictures from the company
  • Maps of the company locations
  • Company profile pages
  • Searching by funding, with maps
  • Searching by company size
  • Very simple job application process
  • Job widgets to allow companies to have jobs posted on their site

While not all of the features are suitable for all types of job boards and some are just “neat” it doesn’t stop the fact that some Australian job boards could learn a few things on how to build a innovative user interface.

Finally the site is free to post jobs so I am not sure how they are going to make money, but I am sure there is a plan.