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JobBoardGeek podcast: Online, offline – a job board doing whatever it takes to reach their audience

offlineJobBoardGeek hosts Jeff Dickey-Chasins and Steven Rothberg talk about TextKernel’s acquisition of Sovren, and then spend some time with Kathleen Smith of and how both offline and online methods of acquisition work.  Kathleen talks about reaching candidates that were always in big demand – no matter what the employment market – and how her company uses multiple channels to reach them. This site defines the word ‘resourceful’! Pick up some ideas and meet a super-interesting industry veteran in this episode.

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0:00:01.4 Jeff Dickey-Chasins: Hello and welcome to Job Board Geek, we’re the podcast about the business of connecting candidates and employers. I’m Jeff Dickey-Chasins, I am the job board doctor, I’m one of the hosts, and I have here with my co-host, Mr. Steven Rothberg of College Recruiter. Hey, Steven, how are you doing?

0:00:20.7 Steven Rothberg: I’m good. Wow, Mr, that’s an undeserved sign of respect.

0:00:26.8 JD: Yeah, I probably shouldn’t have used it actually, it was an accident. It’s reflexive. But anyway, we’re really lucky today, we have a friend of mine and someone that’s very veteran of the industry, Kathleen Smith of and we’ll be talking to her in a few seconds, but right now, I just want to bring up something that I saw on the news, it actually just rolled in yesterday, and I thought it was kind of interesting, the job matching and parsing company, Textkernel has acquired its competitor Sovren and Sovren is a parsing company that a lot of my clients use, for example, as well as Textkernel and it’s kind of interesting because Textkernel had been a solo company for a while, they’re out of Europe.

0:01:13.5 JD: And then they had been acquired by CareerBuilder, and then CareerBuilder, of course, turned around as they tended to do and divested themselves of Textkernel and sold it to a private equity firm called Main Capital Partners. Textkernel just did this deal, Reuters is estimating it at $34 to $45 million, and I just found that really interesting. Steven, what’s your take on this?

0:01:40.8 SR: Yeah, I thought it was really interesting. I remember when Textkernel was a basically spun off of CareerBuilder, and there were a number of analysts, and I think more importantly customers who referred to Textkernel as one of the jewels of that CareerBuilder amalgamation. CareerBuilder tried to put together an end-to-end software solution. I think that the goal was laudable. Nobody’s ever really done it yet. I do think Indeed is on it on its way there, but CareerBuilder wasn’t able to do it, but one of the things that really jumped out at me was just the fact that it was Sovren, and for listeners who aren’t familiar with them, it’s S-O-V-R-E-N.

0:02:21.0 SR: I’ve had a fair amount of interaction with them over the years, including this year, we actually looked at becoming a customer of theirs, we could not have been more impressed by their technology, and I think even more importantly for us by their people, culturally, the way that they approached us, their efforts to create a win-win were just absolutely fantastic. We were looking at potentially replacing the job search technology on our site where the candidate goes and enters one or more keywords and their location, and then you get a list of matching jobs, and that’s one of the things that Sovren does, is provide that technology and just their pricing model didn’t work for us. But man, if we were different or if their pricing model was different, I wouldn’t hesitate at all, I think Textkernel just hit a home run.

0:03:14.9 JD: Yeah, I think the acquisition makes a ton of sense, and if I was in the parsing business right now, I’d be very nervous because these two companies are technically really, really good, and they both have very good market share, Textkernel in the EU and Sovren here in the US and elsewhere, actually around the world, putting the two of them together could be really, really interesting, but I just thought it was fascinating, and it’s something that’s gonna affect a lot of people that are in the job board and recruitment marketing business, because the better job you do in terms of parsing, in terms of what you do to do really high quality job matching is gonna make a huge difference.

0:03:55.8 JD: Sort of like our guests that we had last week, Jonathan Samuels and his company Ntroduced that matching capability is sort of at the heart of their value prop, and it will be interesting to see, but anyway, today we have Kathleen Smith of I’ve known Kathleen for a long time, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing her speak at conferences before, we’ve chatted a number of times, things that we can’t really say on this podcast, but…

0:04:24.9 SR: Not without getting the explicit rating, anyway.

0:04:27.2 JD: Yeah, that’s right. We don’t want the explicit rating, but anyway… Welcome to Job Board Geek, Kathleen, how are you doing?

0:04:33.6 Kathleen Smith: I’m doing great, thanks so much for having me.

0:04:35.8 JD: Yeah, well, you know, thanks for coming on. I was just wondering if you could start out and talk to me a little bit about how you got into this business and a little bit about, who the audience is and what you guys do.

0:04:50.5 KS: Well, thank you. It’s funny, when I went to college eons ago, I never thought that I would be an executive for the job board company, I have a degree in biochemistry and one in law. Marketing has always been my thing. So I was really curious when the opportunity to join the team that started came about, but the company started as a staffing firm, and what’s interesting is looking at the evolution as long as I’ve been in the industry 20 years of how many job boards started as a staffing firm, and how many job boards moved from being a job board into a staffing firm. So it’s unique, we started as a staffing firm and then moved into being a job board. Our customers, our audience are…

0:05:35.9 KS: Our candidates are security cleared professionals, people who have already been cleared that they hold a specific security clearance at a specific level, and that they have a… They don’t have to have a technical background. Because people with security clearances could be admins, they could be chefs, landscapers, truck drivers, machinists, there’s everything you need to run the country, needs someone with a security clearance. Our employers who are our customers as well are cleared facilities employers, people who have been approved by the government to employ and house in their offices, people who have security clearances, and what’s interesting is when we started as a staffing firm and moved into being a job board, it was really about relationships.

0:06:24.0 KS: And I know that you guys were talking about technology before, but the one thing that I have just loved about our business and our customers is it truly is about relationships. We have customers that we’ve had for over 21 years, people who we’ve helped, people who we’ve coached, people who we’ve helped move to other jobs, I mean sort of behind the scenes, if you have a really great customer at one business and they’re moving on to some place else, it’s really great to be able to help them find that job.

0:06:55.8 KS: I sadly had to say goodbye to one of our customers last week when they unfortunately passed away, and so it’s interesting, it’s… Yes, we can talk about the technology, but one thing that we have always really focused on is what is the relationship that we have with the job seeker and with the customer, we even early on, there was several of our competitors, and we don’t have that many who made decisions to sell advertising to staffing firms and to head hunters, and it was a short-term revenue gain, and we really looked at our business model and said the integrity that we have with our customers, both our employers and our candidates is really important to us, so we’re gonna stick to our guns, that we only allow access to our database by people who are cleared facilities employers, not people who are third party. Go ahead.

0:07:50.2 JD: I just wanna jump in here, Kathleen, for our non-US viewers or our listeners. When you talk about security cleared, you’re talking about a United States security cleared people that primarily work in the defense industry. Correct?

0:08:03.5 KS: Correct. So we are talking about US government-cleared security professionals and cleared facilities employers.

0:08:11.7 JD: Got it.

0:08:14.3 KS: We do have a few employers who are based in Germany or our various different bases across the globe, we do allow them access, but it’s a very specific access, but we primarily only allow the access to US-based companies.

0:08:29.9 JD: Got it.

0:08:32.6 KS: As far as our audience, as I said, our customers are cleared facilities employers, people that we literally have had relationships, time in time out. We have lots of candidates who say, time to find another job, and we will look at another job through you, so it’s really great when you have candidates that come back to working with you and being able to say, Yes, you helped me find my job now I’m gonna find another job. So that’s great.

0:09:02.9 JD: Interesting, I just wanna ask one very quick question. In terms of verification, how do you guys verify that someone is actually security cleared?

0:09:12.7 KS: That is actually not our responsibility, that is the responsibility of the employer, the employer has the access to the government background checks, so that is something we don’t do, but we tell people that they have to have the security clearance and they will be called out if they don’t have one, and usually either at our career events are on our job board, if someone does interview someone and checks them for a security clearance and finds out they don’t have one, they usually call us and let us know and we take them out of the database or we don’t allow them to one of our career events.

0:09:45.5 SR: So I had a question, one of the things I picked up on was, Kathleen, was the language that you were using around your customers, and you referred to them both, both regarding the employers and the job seeker at College Recruiter we do the same thing. I think we started to use that language, wait it’s at least five years ago now it might be 10 early on, before we had a more human side to the business, be feeling like better understanding really what we were in the business of doing, which is helping people find great new careers, which is a fantastic thing to do, but we would refer to them like a lot of other job boards were in terms of inventory traffic, kind of dehumanizing terms, talk with me about the importance to maybe you personally, the business, other job boards of thinking of candidates as customers, even if they’re not paying you anything.

0:10:42.3 KS: Great question. Yes, it’s always been part of our vernacular that we have two customers, we have the job seekers are our customers, and the employers are our customers, and actually when we make a decision, and it’s putting the customer needs of the employer and the job seeker head-to-head; the job seeker always wins, so whatever is important to the job seeker, customer is what drives the business model, not what is important to the employer, because the employer at the end of the day, wants us to give them really great candidates, and we can’t do that if we treat them as the second class customer. We also were one of the…

0:11:20.1 KS: I think we were close to the first job board that actually had live customer service, we had that in year two, year three, so we had 800 numbers, we had Skype, we had texting, we had everything available, whatever the job seeker just did not understand about using a job board, and so we really went out of a way to make sure that an informed customer, or an informed job seeker would really be a great candidate, so that was what drove our blog, what drove any of our presentations since many of our candidates come from the military, we did as much as we could getting on the military bases to present, Hey, not only do you need to watch out for our various different social media, but this is what you need to do on the job board. I think that that is something very interesting in the candidate pool, no matter what job board you’re part of is that no one really teaches or looks at the job board from the job seekers point of view, and it’s…

0:12:23.5 KS: When we moved more into cyber security in the last eight, 10 years and talking to many hackers and stuff and they were like, “This is how you need to set up your job board because we don’t understand it this way.” So really having the testing being done by a job seeker rather than what looks pretty to us and what looks sort of what the employer tells us want that will fit in there, their ATS, but we’re not only technology, we started out with our revenue model was primarily driven by career events. So in 2000, 2001, really the security cleared market was all about job fairs, and I could say probably the first four or five years, the majority of our revenue came from our career events.

0:13:09.0 KS: So really having the candidates or customers, we had to put on a really good event. It couldn’t be in a bad location, we had to greet them, help them… We had resume review, we instituted something that was called the best recruiter program in 2010, where actually the candidates could vote for the recruiters who provided the best overall experience, that grew into the Candidate Experience Awards that Gerry Crispin has done.

0:13:39.1 JD: Oh, interesting.

0:13:39.2 KS: So really sort of starting at that point in the career events, really treating the candidates as the customers, and slowly but surely, we’ve moved from more of our job board is our major revenue model, we still do the events for a variety of reasons, one, diversification of revenue it’s also, there are some customers, both job seekers and cleared facilities employers who prefer an in-person event, and that is something indicative of our industry, or excuse me, of my community, because culture is really a big hurdle as far as the next step for a candidate to make in the hiring process, and it’s not only the culture of the employer, but it’s also the culture over of the government client that they’re in front of.

0:14:29.8 KS: And you can shorten the overall hiring process by about 40% if a recruiter has met the candidate face-to-face and can say, “This person will meet the culture or they won’t,” and that’s not something they can you do from a technology. That has to be done face-to-face. With the pandemic, we actually looked at new revenue models and really enjoyed moving into the virtual events. Like many we all use the same platform. We did trainings, we did individualized trainings with each one of our employer customers, we had individual job seeker trainings, we made sure that we had on site, excuse me, in virtual resume review, so as much as we could do it about the candidate experience that we could control, we made sure we transferred from the offline events to the virtual, and that really helped our overall success, we still had the best recruiter program, we still did as many trainings as possible, we have some great staff that are really well-known for providing education and sort of educational presentations rather than marketing presentations.

0:15:35.5 KS: I’m happy that we were challenged over the last two years because I think it gave us an opportunity to really look at our processes, and we didn’t necessarily change a lot of our technology, we changed obviously what we did as far as events were concerned, but we were able to pivot, we pivoted really quickly, even though Martin and 60% of our management team was driving cross-country or in the middle of their own personal panics, so we turned around really quickly, and I just couldn’t be happier with the way our team actually got closer, more successful, more knowledgeable, really just stepped up to everything, so not that I want another pandemic, but I’m really glad that we had some challenges to make us learn better.

0:16:27.2 JD: Well, Kathleen, you’re definitely… Your company and you personally but your company and the way you guys approach things has always been one of the highest touch businesses that I’ve seen, which I think is pretty cool, but I’m just curious, what’s your take on some of the move in the industry at this point, to a higher degree of automation in the form of things like programmatic? Indeed has said, “We’re moving to cost per application in 2022.” I’ve seen this from a couple of other vendors, and all these things are very, very sort of in some ways, the opposite of what you guys are doing. What’s your take on it? Are you guys using programmatic or do you see that as something that might help you in the future?

0:17:12.5 KS: So we have used programmatic off and on over the years, and what’s fascinating, I’ve been… This is literally my third career, and I’ve been part of other industries, and this is the only industry I’ve seen where you can have someone as your vendor or your customer, and within three weeks time they become your competitor. It’s been the case as long as I’ve been around here and I’m just fascinated with it. And you always… I can’t tell you how many times I wrote clauses in partnership agreements saying, “We’ll partner with you, but you agree not to start a job board or you agree not to become a competitor,” and…

0:17:53.8 JD: So you didn’t work with Indeed apparently.

0:17:58.5 KS: No. [laughter] But we have worked with that sort of large professional network that’s out there that got everyone to sign up three year, very lucrative deals, and then announced four months later that they were not gonna work with job boards anymore, and I was like, “Okay, wait a minute, I just paid for a three year, several hundred thousand dollar deal, and now you’re kicking us all out. Wait a minute. Something is wrong here.” So programmatic, yes, is great, and we did get better quality candidates because again, in our business, it’s definitely about the quality, but at the same time… Now we’re back to square one. How do we fill that in?

0:18:36.6 KS: And this is where having our events, our outreach to military bases, the things that we’ve always been known for are still gonna fill the gap, they’re not gonna fill them as great as they were for the three or four months that big, large Professional Network decided to work well, because they first didn’t work well and they were messing things up, and then all of a sudden they worked well, and then management made a decision, that’s what makes this business exciting. [chuckle]

0:19:04.9 JD: You never know. Do you? You never know.

0:19:07.8 KS: You never know. You never know. I mean, I can tell you, I look at it as being exciting because I’ve worked in the non-profit world specifically in disaster fundraising, and you always have to be thinking the next… It is very frustrating from a management standpoint, when you make plans, you make investments and then they change. I think that I understand that people really like playing with technology over the last eight years, I’ve been very involved in the cyber security community and with hackers, and I can tell you the most technical people in the world still wanna have a face-to-face one on one personal relationship when they’re looking for a job.

0:19:48.0 KS: So the more that you can do to support that connection than mixing things up and matching, because I… The same thing that happens with just regular old bully and search, garbage in garbage out. If you don’t teach the candidate how well to write their resume, you could do all the parsing and matching in the world, and you’re still not gonna get the right candidate. When I was… I spend a lot of time on Slack and Discord and at the hacker conferences doing resume review, because if I don’t see what’s being put into the system, there’s no way that I can craft my marketing strategy nor my technology. And the crap…

0:20:29.2 KS: Sorry, I promised not to swear, the crap that is being shared by the cyber security community as to what constitutes a really good resume would scare most people in the job board world. I mean, it is just god awful and we wonder why there’s a cyber security jobs gap, it’s because no one knows how to write a document to go into the first part of a job board or an ATS, so I love that there are so many people who are really curious about programmatic this and price for application, we look at it, it’s not something that drives our business, we drive where we’re going to get the machinists that have the highest level of security clearance, we know that the technical people are on our board anyway, we’re known for having the higher quality and higher level of security clearances. And again, that’s because of the high touch efforts.

0:21:24.7 JD: Right. Well, that makes total sense. And as always, I think it’s fascinating to talk to you because I do think that you have sort of a different attitude about this business than perhaps some of the other people that have succeeded in the business, and that’s what makes the industry interesting, is all these different attitudes and different ways of going about business. So Kathleen, if any of our listeners wanna get in touch with you, how do they do that?

0:21:52.5 KS: So I’m very active on LinkedIn, be very happy to connect with you on LinkedIn, that’s usually my first step, if you happen to be on Twitter, I have my Twitter handle, @YesItsKathleen. Or just reach out through the website. Happy to talk with you there.

0:22:09.1 JD: Great… Well, listen, Kathleen, thanks so much for coming on Job Board Geek. I really appreciate it. There is a co-host here, Steven, I appreciate you jumping in and talking today, I’m not gonna call you Mr. Steven again, oops, I did. Okay, anyway… So Steven, if any of our listeners wanna get in touch with you, how would they do that?

0:22:28.0 SR: Well, I don’t have as good a Twitter handle as Kathleen does, but at, Steven with a V, or else my mother will hunt you down and kill you. Or email me Kathleen, this has been great, thank you.

0:22:47.5 KS: Thank you. If I can just add the reason why I have the Twitter handle that I do, when I started all the social media back in 2007, and I was communicating…

0:22:58.5 SR: When you were in grade school.

0:23:00.5 KS: Thank you.

0:23:01.7 SR: When you were in grade school. There you go.


0:23:03.4 KS: Thank you, you make up for that earlier comment, right? I would be communicating and engaging with people on our main Twitter page, because Twitter is so big and still so big within the technical community, and people were like, “Is this or is it Kathleen?” And I would say, “Yes, it’s Kathleen.” So that’s how I got my title. That’s how I got my Twitter handle.

0:23:28.7 JD: That’s brilliant, that’s brilliant. Well, well, thanks again, Kathleen. And I just wanna remind everyone that we’re a relatively young podcast at this point, if you want to subscribe to the Job Board Geek, our RSS feed that’s fine. We’re also on Spotify, Google, Stitcher, Deezer and a number of other options. We’re trying to get on Apple, I haven’t done it yet, but they say they will get back to me, and this is Jeff Dickey-Chasins. You’ve been listening to Job Board Geek, we are the podcast about the business of connecting candidates and employers. That’s all for this week, and I’ll see you again soon. Thanks.

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