Frank Quinn on the challenges of JobUniverse

IDG New Zealand recently launched www.JobUniverse.co.nz, an IT recruitment site which is part of a global IDG initiative. Dublin-based Scope Communications publishes three IT publications in Ireland as a licensee of IDG and is contracted to run JobUniverse which has been set up as an IDG subsidiary. Scope publisher Frank Quinn was in New Zealand recently to meet with IDG staff, and spoke to Computerworld reporter Kirstin Mills about JobUniverse.

IDG New Zealand recently launched www.JobUniverse.co.nz, an IT recruitment site which is part of a global IDG initiative. Dublin-based Scope Communications publishes three IT publications in Ireland as a licensee of IDG and is contracted to run JobUniverse which has been set up as an IDG subsidiary. Scope publisher Frank Quinn was in New Zealand recently to meet with IDG staff, and spoke to Computerworld reporter Kirstin Mills about JobUniverse. How did JobUniverse start? It originally kicked off at European managers meeting of IDG last June, which was held in Ireland. I was asked to do a presentation on our own site, called JobFinder.ie. We'd been running that for two years previously. I suppose that, in relative terms, we were reasonably early starters. We had reasonable commercial success and last year we won business web site of the year in Ireland. So I did this presentation, and what grew from that was the idea of a gateway site for IT recruitment, globally. The idea was that this would be a meta-site, which would amalgamate content from all of IDG's recruitment sites around the world. You would have separate recruitment sites and each of them would be pooling their data into one central site called JobUniverse.com. Our mission at that point would be to build a brand globally which was the number one place you'd look for an IT job, anywhere in the world. The benefit of the site would be that the data would be very rich because it would be built from the ground up and that's quite a significant point. A lot of the big monster sites in the US, like Monsterboard for example, have been built from the top down. For example, if you click "international" on HotJobs.com, you'll see a smattering of jobs from around Europe, but they're mainly from big American multi-nationals who have bases overseas, and therefore they pick up the overseas content that way. They're not doing it because they have subsidiaries working in those countries. That's the essential difference with JobUniverse, and that's actually where JobUniverse has at least as good a chance of success. So what happened to that original idea? Well, that was my proposal - share the economies of scale and share best practice. But when we looked at the reality of the situation, we discovered that not an awful lot of IDG business units in Europe, or around the world, were actually going with IT recruitment (on the Internet). There were some exceptions - Denmark had a very good site with Jobworld.de and Sweden had one too. There were one or two others dabbling in it in a small way, but ourselves, Denmark and Sweden would have been pretty much the ones who had made a serious attempt to do it as a stand-alone project with proper database back-ends. What did you decide to do then? Well, the idea of the super-site moved into the background and we discovered that our real challenge was to roll out separate sites to IDG business units. The logic there was to build one large body of programming with an enterprise-level back-end and to build a very robust system, develop it by numbers and to host it centrally in one place, i.e. Ireland, and then roll out clones of that site to individual business units in Europe and around the world. In theory if the bandwidth is sufficient, it really doesn't matter where the central server is. It meant huge economies of scale, if you consider database site licences are very expensive, especially if you've got multiprocessor system - they charge per processor. So we've built the system once. It has a robust back-end, and it's running on a one megabit feed and we'll be scaling that very quickly as the needs dictate. We've already translated into French. We have a Dutch version; InfoJobs.com, which is the one for InfoWorld in the States; our own in Ireland; and the one here. Another significant point was that when you do come back to this idea of the super-site integrating all the data, we want also to be able to integrate data from all these other sites which were already in existence before we came along - Denmark and Sweden. So we faced the challenge of massaging data from these diverse models into one common set. So we wrote a system called Exadus, which is developed in Java and designed to go to remote servers, to work with their data set that they've got, manipulate that into a common set and get that into JobUniverse.com. That's currently working with Denmark and Belgium. One thing that we've discovered since we've started, only in the last eight or 10 months, is that it's suddenly become quiet significant to be able to batch update jobs from corporate web sites. For example, there's a company in the States called Restrac. Its background is resume management software. It has a system now on the Web called the WebHire Network where it talks about one invoice per customer. It uses a system called Junglee. It's a very clever piece of technology that describes the web as a virtual database. It can go to remote sites and wrap them. Let's say it's Cisco's jobs page. It will grab them literally, from the HTML pages and pull their content out and get it into one place and then place that on a series of content sites. Now, we've taken this idea on board. If you go to Cisco's job pages in Europe (ww.cisco.com/jobs/emea) they have a series of jobs, maybe 120, 140 jobs that they rotate every week or so and therefore positions that they want to fill in Europe. Those job pages are only in English and in no particular hierarchy. If, say, there were 10 jobs in there for Cisco technical professionals in Amsterdam, in my opinion, that data would be much better served if that content was pulled from the Cisco pages, and repopulated back into the Dutch JobUniverse site with the key words and job titles translated into Dutch. So if you do a Dutch job search, you're likely to find those jobs and you'll respond to them. So the challenge was to be able to go to the big multinationals who want to place jobs all around Europe and don't want to deal with translation issues. Let's say you've worked in New Zealand and you're a contractor and you want to work as an analyst/programmer in Europe for six months. Typically, you'd have to go to a series of European web sites and you wouldn't know intuitively which is the one to go to in France, Germany and Spain. And you'd have to deal with the separate languages, and do a different keyword search for each one. What JobUniverse.com will do is take each of those different sets of data in the different languages. Exadus slices the top off the data - ie the key skills, the job title, the location and employer - and translates that into English. That means you can do one English language keyword search, which is then throwing back data from these sites, even though the data originated in French or German or Dutch. Because we're based in Europe, we think we probably have a better handle on it than the bigger US sites. The US sites tend to focus on the US, and maybe on South America. They don't necessarily see the European challenge from the inside like we do. JobUniverse.com has amalgamated data from Belgium, Netherlands, the US and Ireland [and now New Zealand]. Now, we wouldn't describe that critical mass. We need to have at least France, the UK and Germany in Europe. In the Pacific area, we need hopefully a site in Australia. Then in the other regions of the world there's Latin America obviously. Obviously time is of the essence because we're working in Internet time. We've got this far since last June. My goal is to have at least 10 flags on JobUniverse.com by the first anniversary in June. The whole paradigm has changed. If you've got job openings of IT personnel you're basically taking anybody with a pulse with an IT degree. It's now got to the point where companies have to market themselves to candidates. This whole idea is EOC - Employer of Choice. Companies like Hewlett Packard are an employer of choice. People want to go and work for them. It's quite possibly going to be the case that print as the medium for actual classified ads will probably go to the background and print will probably take more prominence in getting across the Employer of Choice message: "We are the company that you want to work for". It's company PR advertising. It's more suited to print than it is to the web, whereas fast database look-ups are more suited to the web. That is the way the two may be able to evolve. Why is the web so good for IT recruitment? It has a critical mass of users. We're not talking about medical jobs or farming jobs or sales jobs. We're talking about IT positions. The important thing to remember is that keyword searching with the Web works very well with IT, particularly because the skills are very defined. The other significant thing we discovered with JobFinder in Ireland is that the job alert (an outbound email alert) works very well. This is actually a secret weapon. You might not go back to the web site every day to look for a job if you're a passive job seeker. But you might go to the site once and set up a job alert. We encourage people to make the job alert very defined and really focused: geographic location, the particular skill set and maybe even the company you want to work for. You're not going to get bombarded every day by 20 or 30 emails. You know any email that arrives in is a very good fit if you've taken the time to personalise it properly. There are different business models in IT recruitment on the web. There are models where you let employers to come in and look at your resume database and there are models such as this one which is primarily a media model. It's a very sophisticated advertising and matching medium. As soon as you have a client come and look at your resume database if you have one, you're doing the same job as a recruitment agency, practically. And when you do that you're stepping on the toes of the very companies you rely on for your revenue stream. We're very clear about that. We say: `if you want to hire somebody, sure we've got some resumes you want to look at, but the way to get those people is to put an ad on the site which they will respond to'. It's not anything more than a very efficient media model. What sort of challenges do you have when you're taking a model developed in Ireland and trying to put it into other countries? One issue is translation, although that has worked well. A big challenge has been variations in the way the different sites want to treat data input. Some people want to batch update jobs; others want to put them in singly. The biggest challenge is keeping the integrity of the core system and not allowing too much variation on that, because otherwise it gets vary hard to control. But we're trying to just respond enough with the tweaks that the various business units need. The other challenge is obviously related to time zones. New Zealand is the complete flip-flop of us business hours-wise. We're addressing that by setting up a mirror site at San Mateo. There's a mirror site there with people trained in the admin so that that if for any reason the site in Dublin goes down or there's a problem, there'll be at least some variation in the business hours. We think somewhere down the line as this project grows there will be a necessity for 24 by 7 back up in Dublin. What about technical hurdles? We're running on NT with an Informix back-end and using Cold Fusion as the middleware. It was developed pretty much in about three months and it went into live beta testing. We were very conscious about web time - time to market is so important. We had some issues with multi-threading on Cold Fusion which Allaire is working out. We've had no real problems with the robustness of the database. At the level we're at now, Informix isn't even flexing its muscles. It was designed from the start to be scaleable and platform independent, because if we eventually decided that a move to UNIX is needed, the systems can be very quickly recompiled. We're running a triple server configuration with three 400mhz dual processors, one running the database, one running Cold Fusion and one running the web server. How did you decide which vendors to use? We were working with a company in Dublin; a start-up called Technology Software Services. We just found each other at the right time. They had experience with Informix so rather than go through a learning curve of four weeks or so with Oracle, we said it's going to be database independent anyway. Any other non-technical challenges? Finding a name. JobWorld would have been the obvious IDG one but it was already being used in the UK. There was one called PlanetJobs, which was kind of funky, but it turned out the brand was already being used by a Philadelphia newspaper. So JobUniverse emerged as clear and free. The logic is that JobUniverse, as a brand would be recognised wherever it is. The end of the road for us would be if get to the point where people use JobUniverse in the same way they would intuitively go to yahoo or whatever and know they'll get that web site in whichever country. Hats off to Yahoo =— that's the absolute Holy Grail of marketing on the Web. IDG needs to own the IT recruitment space. Focusing on IT is very important - whatever aspirations individual business units might have to add other categories. For example, in Ireland we have medical and financial categories. But it's very important for IDG, because it's got mindshare of readers to own the IT recruitment space. What's your view on having other categories? Well, we very deliberately didn't call it ITJobUniverse.com or ITJobs.com, I suppose, because of the IDG books. If IDG books had been called IDG IT books, it would have been a little bit harder to do Chess for Dummies and Gardening for Dummies. You really don't know where the Internet is going. And if this emerges as a significant opportunity, we certainly don't want to stand in the way of business units who want to add other categories. We discovered in Ireland that the pressure came from recruitment companies who already dealt in medical and professional and other professions. We already had an established line of contact with them. They were getting results from the site and they liked doing business with us and said to us: 'why don't you do other jobs?' So while it's very important to stick to the knitting, we've been carefully adding these other categories. And I say `carefully' because the response levels haven't been the same in medical and financial jobs just yet, principally because we don't own any complimentary media. It means we have to invest more heavily in mainstream media brands. Producing a professional-looking site is obviously important - how careful have you had to be to ensure that happens? It's so important that the individual sites are run to a high standard, that the jobs are quality jobs, that even when the data is entered, that it's entered correctly, that you're not looking at misprints or insufficient matches coming back because data hasn't been entered properly. Attention to detail really pays off. The acid test of any recruitment site is resumes and desktops. There really is no other way to measure it. You can talk about pages, number of visits and they're all important but the acid test is resumes and desktops. It means that you can very quickly benchmark yourself against the competition. JobUniverse.co.nz will do well when it reaches the point where it can go to a recruiter and say `how many resumes did you get from this site, this site and this site?' and they can all stand up and be counted. There's no fudging that. You can't fudge responses. How important is the career resources section of the site? It's very important. It makes it much more than just an IT jobs database. It's a proper career management resource. So, for example, we're planning to look at the while idea of training, and not just links, but a way that looks for a training course in your local area. As the site develops we'll look for was to integrate the jobs and training. For example, if you search for an Oracle job, the last confirming page that you get back, having sent your application away, would say, `we notice you're interested in Oracle. How about some Oracle training? Click here and here's the latest batches of courses in your area'. There are commercial possibilities for the site - selling sponsorship space to training companies etc. On the .com site we want to get to the point where there's comprehensive information on Visa programs in different areas of the world - relocation programs and what does it mean to work in Belgrade as opposed to Auckland. And that kind of information will take some digging to compile. IDG has a bigger opportunity than anybody does in this area because of its global spread. IDG already has operations in 70 or 80 countries. If we can get the maximum number of separate JobUniverse sites operational in those countries, each pooling data to a central site, that will make a huge difference in terms of the quality of data, the richness of the data and how often it's updated. How important is marketing the site? It's all about branding and there's no escaping the fact that branding costs money. It's particularly important that we promote it in other media, besides our own. There's clever ways of doing that too - placements in newsgroups, getting into email lists, generally getting the name out. IDG is a little bit late to market in IT recruitment on the web and that's possibly because we were protecting our print franchise and that's quite understandable. The real challenge is to find ways to integrate print and online and maintain the value to clients. It needs to reach the point where we're still delivering the results. Traditionally the results came from print. We need to maintain that same value proposition and say we have just as good a medium online as we used to have in print. But in fact we have the two, and they compliment each other, and if you want to cover all the bases you need to do both.

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