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Making money: a tale of two (really big) job boards

Careerbuilder Vs MonsterThe job board industry is (and has been) in transition. Startups are sprouting faster than crabgrass in spring, venture funding is flowing in, and existing players are expanding. Yet at the same time, some sites are fading. The industry growth is not uniform. Some sites are making more money than ever – and some are going the opposite direction.

So what gives?

To answer this question (at least in part), let’s take a look at two long-time industry giants: Monster and CareerBuilder. For years, Monster occupied the #1 position in the job board world – most traffic, most revenue, most widely known – and who can forget those Super Bowl ads? CareerBuilder usually occupied the #2 or #3 position, cycling through various iterations, owners, and attempts to become number 1.

Things began to change a few years ago. Clever advertising started the ball rolling for CareerBuilder (remember those monkeys?). A decision to spin off CareerBuilder from other parts of the Tribune company brought renewed focus. Then a string of acquisitions began – apparently based on the strategic decision to broaden revenue streams and get ‘deeper’ into the hiring process. EMSI, a data analytics company, was purchased to leverage the company’s vast trove of candidate data. The acquisition of Broadbean added distribution capabilities – and revenue. Somewhere in the process, the site’s HR SaaS offering began to contribute significant revenue as well (19% of the total). The result? As of late 2014, CareerBuilder pulled ahead of Monster in revenues.

There was plenty happening at Monster during the same time period. Most notably, it put itself up for sale. This didn’t work out, but it also picked up some other companies – most notably, TalentBin and Gozaik. But it struggled to keep customers – and traffic. Although Monster now offers its own SaaS solutions, it’s too early to tell the effect on the bottom line. It feels like a company that is struggling to find its way – not unlike CareerBuilder a few years ago.

Why does this even matter to the rest of us? After all, the real action in the industry has been in the battle royale between Indeed and LinkedIn, right?

Well, yes and no. Indeed – the clear traffic leader in the job board industry – is pushing its PPC model into new non-U.S. markets every day. LinkedIn is doing its best to worm its way into the internal workings of every business. Both are making lots of money. Both have plenty of ideas worth stealing.

But what’s more interesting, in my humble opinion, is how a perennial #2 competitor like CareerBuilder has managed to move into a higher slot. In essence, it backed away from what everyone thinks a job board does – sell job postings – and thought about what a job board could be. Yes, it’s still a job board – but to the thousands of companies using its SaaS, data analytics, distribution, and sourcing products, it’s more of an ‘end-to-end’ supplier.

Which is what LinkedIn wants to be.

Which is what every job board can be.

Think about it.

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