By BOB TEDESCHI
RECRUITERS with six-figure jobs to fill know better than to post them online and start a stampede of marginally qualified job seekers. But they also know that the Web is the easiest way to find applicants.
The Web’s surprising answer to the problem? Charge them to look.
A growing number of niche sites devoted to high-end jobs are finding that applicants are willing to shell out a few dollars — or a few hundred, in some cases — for the chance to get access to job ads. The strategy will not help the big online job boards find more applicants for entry-level positions, but analysts say it is ideal for sites like TheLadders.com, ExecuNet and others seeking the senior executive crowd.
“It turns out that having the job candidates pay is a great screener, and employers love it,” said Charlene Li, an Internet analyst with Forrester Research.
Ms. Li said that the online employment category, which is dominated by Monster, CareerBuilder and Yahoo’s HotJobs, is expected to generate about $1.9 billion in revenue this year, up from about $1.6 billion last year. But she said that the category in recent years has undergone an explosion in the number of job boards that serve specific niches. (Industry executives say that there are roughly 40,000 job boards online.)
The upper-level jobs niche has been slower to develop, though, because companies typically hand off such jobs to corporate recruiting firms. Those firms, like DHR International and Korn/Ferry International, set up their own Web sites, but those sites are used mainly to market the firms’ offline services instead of connecting applicants with companies online.
To fill that void, several former HotJobs executives introduced TheLadders.com in 2003, with the mission of posting only those jobs with annual salaries of $100,000 or more. At the time, the company made an odd bet — that it could attract more applicants if it charged them a monthly entry fee of $30.
That is precisely the opposite of the approach used by mass-market employment sites, which charge applicants nothing but charge companies varying fees to post job openings.
In its early years, TheLadders.com was slow to grow, partly because it did not attract enough job postings to justify the site’s cost. But as employers and corporate recruiters learned that they could find qualified applicants for nothing, the number of job postings jumped.
Now, according to Marc Cenedella, the chief executive of TheLadders.com, the site listed 70,000 jobs last week and is on pace to exceed $30 million in sales this year from about 1.4 million subscribers. And the site now counts Microsoft and the EMC Corporation as clients.
“We’re doing the same thing that’s done in national parks: put a price on it so you get the right number of people,” Mr. Cenedella said.
Mr. Cenedella said that the company is not yet profitable, but is “cash flow positive.” The number of subscribers who hear about the site from word of mouth, he said, has nearly doubled, to 34 percent, in the last three years.
Mr. Cenedella, who was a senior vice president at HotJobs when the company was acquired by Yahoo, said TheLadders would expand in the coming months to include jobs with annual salaries of $75,000 or more. (Only about 10 percent of the roughly 150 million workers in the country earn $100,000 or more, he said, while 20 million earn from $75,000 to $100,000.) Even that lower salary threshold, however, is high enough to attract job candidates who will pay to see the listings.
Ms. Li, of Forrester, said that TheLadders and other fee-based online job boards could face difficult times as baby boomers retire and the job market opens up.
“Companies say they’re going to lose 30 percent of their forces over the next five years, and those will all be upper-echelon jobs,” she said. “So if you’re paying to look for jobs, in some ways it’s signaling that you’re not a very good candidate.”
Heather Hamilton, a staffing manager at Microsoft who uses the site to fill marketing positions, disagreed. “If you’re not serious, you’re not going to pay the money,” she said. “That’s a big part of why we’ve found TheLadders to be more fruitful than other job boards.”
Some of the big online job boards have also tried to aim at the highest-paying jobs. In 2000, Monster started ChiefMonster.com, which screened prospective job seekers to ensure that they were worthy of the best jobs, but the service failed to attract a following and Monster shut it down.
Other sites devoted to six-figure salaries and senior executives say that they, too, are thriving. ExecuNet, a service based in Norwalk, Conn., charges about $400 annually, or $39 monthly, for its online networking, industry data and job listings, among other things.
According to David B. Opton, the company’s chief executive, the business has about 25,000 subscribers, but their average income is $221,000 and the average age is 48. Job postings have increased about 30 percent over the last year, he said, and, perhaps as a result, ExecuNet’s membership has risen 15 percent.
Networking sites have become an increasingly important tool for companies looking to fill senior positions. LinkedIn, in particular, has emerged as a favorite trolling ground for corporate recruiters across the spectrum of job levels.
The online market for high-priced talent extends beyond full-time workers. Take HotGigs, for example. The company, which is based in Minneapolis, provides job listings for contract workers. In the three years since its debut, its customer base has grown to nearly 70,000 consultants who pay $100 yearly for the right to answer job listings
from about 19,000 companies and recruiters.
Doug Berg, the company’s chief executive, says the idea of paying to apply for a job is foreign to some people.
“We get a lot of people who e-mail us and say they shouldn’t have to pay for a job,” he said. “Our thing is, if you’re a professional consultant, you have to learn how to market yourself. Besides, if I didn’t charge, every wannabe in the world would come in.”