Job Boards = Bad Candidates? Don’t believe the hype.

Nov 22, 2010

I continue to see well respected thought leaders in the staffing industry make claims that the value of the job boards is waning and that the quality of candidates on the job boards is low. I weighed in on a discussion a couple years ago in response to the question of, “What would happen if the job boards became obsolete?” I noticed that many people in the discussion took the stance that the quality of candidates on the job boards is low. Is it just me, or don’t these types of statements reek of stereotyping?

Wikipedia states that a stereotype can be a conventional and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image, based on the assumption that there are attributes that members of the “other group” (in this case, job board candidates) have in common. Stereotypes are sometimes formed by a previous illusory correlation, a false association between two variables that are loosely correlated if correlated at all. Illusory correlation is the phenomenon of seeing the relationship one expects in a set of data even when no such relationship exists, and when people tend to overestimate a link between two variables. However, the correlation is often slight or not at all.

Let me be very specific in that when I talk about the job boards, I am referring only to their resume databases.  We’re all painfully aware that the majority of respondents to online job postings are not spot-on (or even close) matches.

I believe that the job board resume databases have a cross-section of all candidates – some would argue a normal distribution (bell curve) and I would agree. From what I can tell, it seems to pretty much be a statistical inevitability. You’ll have a small percentage of horrible candidates, a large percentage of average candidates, and a small percentage of top-notch talent. The same is true of any company at any one point in time – so if you called through a company directory, you’d likely hit the same statistical inevitability: some bad, lots okay/good, some great. I’ll argue that the same is true of Internet sourcing of every type.

Here are three points to think about before saying or believing that the job boards have poor quality candidates:

#1 Statistics

I am definitely not an expert on statistics, but I would argue that the people who enter their resumes into the job board databases are a random sample of the total job seeker population.  With some help from Wikipedia to help me concisely explain these points, a random sample is one chosen by a method involving an unpredictable component (which is fair to say in this case, because who can argue that we can accurately predict the subjective and objective “quality” of people who post their resumes online?). The sample will usually be completely representative of the population from which it was drawn – in this case, job seekers. In the case of random samples, mathematical theory is available to assess the sampling error. Thus, estimates obtained from random samples can be accompanied by measures of the uncertainty associated with the estimate. This can take the form of a standard error, or if the sample is large enough for the central limit theorem to take effect.

The Central Limit Theorem (CLT) states that the sum of a large number of independent and identically-distributed random variables will be approximately normally distributed (i.e., following a Gaussian distribution, or bell-shaped curve, or “normal distribution”) if the random variables have a finite variance. What this all means is that in statistics, it’s generally accepted that if the sample is large and taken at random (selected without prejudice), then it quite accurately represents the statistics of the population, such as distribution probability, mean, standard deviation, etc.

Most of the major job boards claim to have 20M+ candidates in their resume databases – that’s a pretty LARGE sample of the job seeking population, so hopefully you can see where I am going with this. Additionally, I could reference the Law of Large Numbers, which if you boil down all of the technical statistics-speak when you look it up, basically says that the larger the random sample size, the more likely that it “guarantees” stable long-term results for random events. “Stable” results in our case would be that the majority of candidates on the job boards are “average” – with fewer horrible “undesirables” and fewer “A” candidates (see the bell curve coming?).

#2 The candidate’s perspective

And now for the very unscientific side of the equation – why do people post their resumes online? From the perspective of a non-staffing job seeker, many people see the job boards as an online marketplace, not unlike eBay. Most people who are not in the staffing industry and who are not perennially looking for a job don’t view the major job boards with disdain. If a job seeker relies solely on searching job postings online, they are being proactive in seeking employment, but they are reliant on the reactive response of the firms they reply to – and let’s be honest, most candidates do experience the “black hole” effect when they respond to job postings (auto-responders don’t count here). This can lead many candidates to seek to take more control over the process and be actively sought out by opting to post their resume into a resume database so they can be actively found and pursued by potential employers – kind of like posting something on eBay so that people looking for that thing can find it and attempt to acquire it. Many candidates pursue both paths, thinking they’ll cover both angles.

Let’s also realize that some people have not had to switch jobs in the past 5-10 years – most candidates are not professional job seekers. For many of these people, they simply respond to the advertisements of the major job boards as the “new” way of finding a job as compared to the last time they may have had a career transition. Why not let hundreds of recruiters try and find you the best opportunity? Aside from the experience they may have with poor recruiters, this is not a bad value proposition. Many candidates aren’t even aware of how many calls they will get once they do post their resume. But just because they get a large quantity of calls, it does not mean they get a large quantity of quality calls – calls for positions that are very close to their ideal career opportunity.

I’ll also address the idea that all good candidates have a magical network of people who can automatically find them their next optimal career opportunity without them having to look online. Some people have this magical network – but even so, there is no guarantee that this network can provide the ideal job opportunity at the right time.  I have a large network, and if I were to leave my employer, I would certainly leverage it. However, I do not for one second think that this network can be guaranteed to offer me the best possible match for me, nor all of the other fantastic opportunities out there that neither I nor my network can provide me.  A strong analogy goes back to eBay.  If I am looking to sell something, why would I only limit myself to the people I know?

My main point here is that it is not only the “bad” candidates that decide to post their resumes online; I’d go back to the random sample concept.  However, it is easy for staffing professionals to assume this is the case, especially if their primary method of recruiting is cold calling; they’re not going to hit many people who have their resumes posted online.

#3 Sourcer/Recruiter Talent and Ability

I’d also like to take this time to comment on database and talent mining expertise. I have recruited and placed many “A+” candidates from the job boards that my clients and competitors also had access to. For a look into a real world example of how I accomplished this, read this post about a Google Network Performance Tester position that hundreds of agency and contract recruiters had been working for 4 months.

How is it that no one else found these people? Did I get lucky? Only if you can get “lucky” consistently.   Just because many people have access to a database, it is not safe to assume that everyone can find the same candidates, or find ALL of the qualified candidates, or find the BEST candidates in that database. Perhaps the people who are always claiming the job board resume databases have low quality candidates lack the proficiency to actually FIND the high quality candidates.


I firmly believe that many people believe the hype that job board candidates are low quality, and that anyone with access to them can magically find every candidate available – but it’s simply not true.  Take a moment to consider the laws of statistics, the candidate’s perspective, and the widely varying levels of sourcer/recruiter talent mining ability before you are quick to assume that the job boards have low quality talent.

Back to the normal distribution – the exact shape of the bell curve could be disputed, flatter in the middle or more sharply peaked, but I hope I at provoked some thought by challenging the apparently widely held belief that most job board candidates are not desirable, and that conversely most of the “good” candidates are not on the job boards. I hope it helps that I drew upon some statistical and mathematical theories rather than sticking to subjective opinion only.

This article is part of the Boolean Black Belt archives. You can view the original article here.

Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!