Giving Job Postings the Boot 

Online shoe retailer Zappos is ditching the traditional job-posting process in favor of a new online talent community, but will the new way gain enough traction to cause other organizations to follow in their footsteps?

Monday, June 16, 2014
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If you're looking for a job at Zappos, the company doesn't just want to see your resume -- it wants to learn more about you as a person.

"We want to get to know you, whether there's a current opening or not!" reads the introduction to the Insider FAQ page on the Las Vegas-based online retailer's website, under the headline "No more job postings?! What's up with that?" "We wanna hear from you, chat with you and learn more about you ... and job postings kinda get in the way of that!"

Zappos' recent decision to do away with traditional job postings in favor of a new online community, Zappos Insiders, for people who are interested in working at the company represents the culmination of the talent-relationship management trend in recruiting, in which employers and candidates (active and passive) are trying to get to know one another a bit better, say experts.

"I don't think this is the future, per se, in that we will all drop job postings, but I am a fan of what Zappos is doing," says CareerXroads co-founder Gerry Crispin, who is personally acquainted with the recruiting leadership team at Zappos.

"Their new strategy is really pretty interesting -- I like it and support it," says Lisa Rowan, Framingham, Mass.-based IDC's research vice president for HR, talent and learning strategies.

Zappos Insiders replaces a traditional recruiting method that is "too transactional," Michael Bailen, who heads talent acquisition for the company, told the Wall Street Journal. "We spam them, they spam us," he said, referring to the traditional dynamic between jobseekers and recruiters. Approximately 31,000 people applied for jobs at Zappos last year; only 1.5 percent of them ended up getting hired, reports the WSJ.

On its website, Zappos describes its new community as the antidote to the bane of jobseekers everywhere: "We don't want you to fall into that recruiting black hole where you apply for a job and never hear anything back," the firm notes on its website.

Zappos Insiders are, according to the website description, "simply people who might want to work for Zappos someday . . . now, tomorrow or sometime down the road. It's like a special membership for people who want to stay in touch with us, learn more about our fun, zany culture, know what's happening at our company, get special insider perspectives and receive team-specific updates about the group you'd like to join."

Companies may have overplayed the importance of job openings at the expense of helping candidates understand more about the organization itself and what it takes to succeed there, says Crispin. As a result, candidates will tend to know less about the company when they apply for a job and will be more likely to have a negative experience -- which will make them less likely to recommend the company to others or to buy its products or services, he says.

"Zappos is recognizing that the experience we give candidates -- not just the ones we hire, but the ones we don't hire -- is becoming more critical to a company's future," says Crispin.

There are aspects of the current process that can leave both companies and candidates ill-served, says Rowan. Applicants who respond to job postings will often "highly customize" their resumes to match the job description, while many of the jobs that are posted to career sites have already been designated for internal candidates and are being advertised only to meet legal requirements, she says.

By eliminating job postings, Zappos recruiters can shift their time from reviewing resumes from too many unqualified applicants to building productive relationships with the most promising ones, writes Donna Weiss, head of recruiting research for Arlington, Va.-based CEB, on the membership-based consultancy's blog. 

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Although she describes Zappos' move as "progressive," Susan Vitale, chief marketing officer at Matawan, N.J.-based talent-management vendor iCIMS, says the ideal recruiting approach is to use a combination of an online talent pool with traditional job postings.

"A talent pool is really helpful for passive candidates who just want to learn more about the company, but active applicants still need to understand what specific roles are available, the responsibilities involved and what they'll be judged on," she says.

Many of iCIMS clients, particularly in retail, have turned to what it calls "candidate relationship management" to build stronger ties with active and passive candidates, says Vitale. This includes everything from maintaining online talent communities similar to Zappos' to staying in touch with candidates who didn't make the cut for particular job openings, she says.

"We have some retail clients that are considering adding online coupons to their messages to candidates -- this way, even if the candidate doesn't get the job, at least they'll get something in return for showing interest in the company's brand," says Vitale.

Zappos is uniquely positioned for its new approach, says Crispin, because "they probably let people down better than any other company in the U.S. If you judge companies by how they handle all the people who wanted to get hired but didn't, Zappos would be at the top of the list."

Zappos' move has some risks, writes CEB's Weiss: negative feedback from candidates about the new process, an "insider" talent pool that's as overrun with unqualified applicants as job postings were and simple content-generation challenges. Nonetheless, Zappos' approach is worth keeping an eye on because it "has the potential to create a more influential employment brand and a smarter sourcing approach," writes Weiss.

"It will be very interesting to see how this works out for Zappos six months or so down the road," says Rowan.

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