When I was taking the first big step in my media career, I found myself in the enviable position of leading a newspaper group as we were coming out of a recession.
The local factories needed people desperately, and those help wanted ads made us so much money that we started aggressively going out and looking for more. During such a precarious time for everyone, but especially those of us in print media, local help wanted ads generated more per-space revenue than anything else in that paper.
The driving force behind the success of selling those help wanted ads was the fact that the entire recruitment advertising marketplace was only accessible through newspapers. This wasn’t new—it was just the first time I’d seen it from the newspaper’s side.
When I was first starting out in life, I’d go out on Saturday evenings, pick up a copy of The Chicago Tribune, and pore over the third of the paper that was just help wanted ads. And now that I’m a bit older, I can appreciate how sleek that business model was.
Businesses paid newspapers obscene amounts of money to run help wanted ads, then job seekers paid for access to where the employers were. The employers would get resumes over the next week, sift through them, then make their hires. In this way, you had newspapers as the middleman between employers and workers, selling access to the job market to both sides.
But monopolies rarely last forever, and like with every other facet of life, the internet came in and disrupted the traditional dynamic.
Nowadays, that monopoly has disintegrated. Sites like Monster and Indeed became the go-to spot for job seekers, and the way that people access the job market has shifted. The growth of digital media with virtually no barrier to entry on either side has skyrocketed the volume of transactions.
I don’t mean to paint this as a wholly negative change; undeniably, there are benefits to this new job marketplace. Once upon a time, if I saw a job that I wanted to apply for, I had to print out my resume, break out my typewriter to draft a cover letter, then mail the whole package off to my prospective employer. That was my investment in reaching out to an employer—I had to put some amount of skin in the game just to get my name out there.
But now, that friction has been drastically lowered, at least on the side of the workers. Employees can apply to any job in which they have even a passing interest, and it’s often as easy as clicking “apply now.” And that’s not wholly a bad thing, but it’s got some clear drawbacks.
For employers, a listing that used to get them 20-40 applicants could now easily get them several hundred or even thousands. And while a wider talent pool isn’t a problem, exactly, there are logistical realities to going through that many applications, especially when half or more of them aren’t even truly interested in or qualified for the position.
Solving this new problem required new services and other players, so now automated systems recommend jobs to potential candidates and job seekers to employers (for a surcharge, of course). And this “solution” seems to please exactly nobody.
For businesses, you have to set ridiculous standards for each job listing just to avoid being flooded with unqualified applicants. And job seekers have to keyword stuff their resumes and exaggerate experiences just to get their names in front of a hiring manager for a position that they’re more than capable of filling.
And frankly, these workarounds don’t begin to solve the core issue. Applicants still have to over-apply to have any chance at getting seen, let alone hired, and businesses still get so many candidates that they can’t read every application in detail.
In this constant, droning noise, there isn’t really time to do more than glance at a job listing or an applicant before deciding to, to use what my children assure me is the parlance of the day, swipe right or left.
So, what’s the solution to dating app culture becoming the way we hire people? No, really, I’m asking. Because nice as it is for me to fantasize, I can’t quite see newspapers coming back to replace ZipRecruiter or LinkedIn.
Maybe a more realistic solution will come in the form of a highly curated platform to stop this never-ending hiring arms race. Guard rails to put serious applicants in front of employers (and vice versa) could be what it takes to afford everyone the space to take real, serious looks at their hiring decisions.
It’s a hard situation, and I’d love to hear your solutions. Is it going to take another monopoly to straighten this out? Or are we all stuck being ghosted and ignored until the next big disruptor comes along?