In this episode of JobBoardGeek, we talk to Ian Partington of HST Hiring Group about what’s changed – and hasn’t – in the last 20 years of job boards and recruiting. Ian, who previously founded and ran the SimplyJobs group of job boards in the U.K., has seen a lot of changes in the industry, but he also notes niche job sites continue to be relevant to employers. He also gets into how his latest venture offers recruiting services the way the customer wants. Jeff Dickey-Chasins of JobBoardDoctor and Steven Rothberg of College Recruiter ask him about the effects of Brexit and the pandemic. Jeff chats with Steven about ZipRecruiter’s 94% increase in Q4 revenue – good or bad? Shockingly, Steven thinks it’s not a bad thing.
0:00:01.5 Jeff Dickey-Chasins: Hello everyone and welcome to JobBoardGeek, the podcast about the business of connecting candidates and employers. I’m Jeff Dickey-Chasins, the JobBoardDoctor. I am your host, and I’m here today with the arbitrage-inclined Steven Rothberg of College Recruiter. He is the co-host. Hey, Steven, how’s it going?
0:00:20.9 Steven Rothberg: It’s going great, although I think you meant albatross, not arbitrage.[laughter]
0:00:26.4 JD: No, I don’t think so. So, today we actually have a really interesting guest. A fellow I’ve known for a long time, Ian Partington, originally of SimplyJobs, the founder. He’s out of the UK. He’s now on a new venture called HST Hiring Group, and he’s doing another job board as well, and I’m sure he has his fingers into four or five different pots. We’ll find out about that, but first, Steven, I wanted to talk to you a little bit about financials I saw come up this week. ZipRecruiter was reporting their Q4, and the revenue for them is up 94% even though the net income fell. I thought it was interesting because 94%, that seems like a pretty big number to me. But it’s interesting how they’ve been able to sustain this in light of the fact that there don’t seem to be enough candidates to be filling jobs. And I’m just guessing that they’re making a persuasive case to employers that, “You need to stay out there and try to reach the candidates that are out there.” Now, Zip is forecasting a year revenue of about 878-892 million, which is getting up towards that $1 billion mark. So, Steven, I’m kinda curious, what do you think? Do you think they did a good job? Or do you think they should have done better?
0:01:41.4 SR: Okay, well, I hadn’t thought about it in that terms either. I was thinking, “Good job.” I wasn’t even thinking, “Could it be better?” So, Zip has done a really fantastic job of executing. One of the reasons I really like to look at Zip’s earnings, its stock price is, it’s really one of the only pure played job boards that are publicly traded. Dice is another one. If you look at Indeed owned by Recruit and some of the other ones like Monster with Randstad, there’s so much of the staffing business that gets into the stock price. You can’t really look at that and say, “How are job boards performing? What does the market look at job boards for valuation purposes?” But Zip is a good indicator for that. They’ve got a really fantastic management team, leadership team. The founders came from outside the industry with a white board and just basically re-imagined what it should look like from an employer and from a candidate standpoint. They’ve executed really wonderfully.
0:02:43.8 SR: I would have to say that the reason that their revenues are up so much is that they’re riding the wave. The small businesses, especially in their core market in the US, are hiring way more now than they were a year ago. Zip is one of the best places for those employers to advertise those jobs. If their earnings were up a paltry 20%, I think we would be throwing arrows and darts at them and wondering what the heck they’re doing over there. 94% to me really indicates that they’re executing well, and that the underlying economy is working in their favor at this point.
0:03:21.9 JD: Yeah, I think that’s true. And I was thinking about some of the other boards. You’re right, everyone’s up and everyone that is publicly traded pretty much is up. Job Boards from SEEK to Jobindex in Denmark to Dice that you mentioned. But most of them are not up 94%. A lot of people are up 20%, 30%, something like that. So it’s an impressive number. So we’ll see how long they can keep it up. I think that’s the challenge that indeed historically had run into until the pandemic boom, is that the bigger you get, the harder it is to make those big percentage jumps. So we’ll see what happens.
0:03:57.7 SR: I think that Zip also announced at the same time that they’re doing a stock buy-back. If I’m not mistaken, it was like $100 million or something. I think they went public at $21, maybe $22, their stock was at, I think, $19, so down a bit. A stock buy-back means basically that the people in control think that the stock is undervalued. It’s a good time for them to be pulling some of the stock, even if you spend cash on buy-back shares. When the stock price goes up to $22 or $25 or $30 or whatever, then they can always turn around and sell that to the public and get more equity that way. I think the insiders at Zip are feeling as good about their financial performances as you and I seem to be.
0:04:45.9 JD: We recently talked to Arran Stewart of Job.com. He’s on a buying spree. We’ll see if Zip is his next buying target, right?[laughter]
0:04:54.4 SR: Yes.
0:04:54.9 JD: Okay, well, moving on. I delighted that we are able to have with us today one of the pioneers in the job board Industry in the UK, Ian Partington. He was the fellow that, if I remember this correctly, founded SimplyJobs and ran it for a number of years, and is now running HST Hiring Group and running a legal aid job board as well. And Ian, welcome to JobBoardGeek.
0:05:22.7 Ian Partington: Good afternoon. Good morning.
0:05:24.2 JD: Yeah, it’s one of those, depending on where you are, right? [laughter]
0:05:27.3 IP: Absolutely.
0:05:29.0 JD: Hey, Ian, I was wondering if you could give us a run down of how you managed to get into this interesting industry and how you came to start SimplyJobs and where you are right now.
0:05:41.8 IP: Sure. Well, my first job board business was set up in 1999, a website called JustEngineers, that was set up off the back of, it was around the time of various Job Boards starting to launch. Monster was big in the UK, Jobsite was big in the UK. And I was actually working for an engineering recruitment consultancy. We just did… Staffing firm, but we were using these sites, Jobsite and Monster. I think step store in the UK for a small amount of time then, and I was just one of those entrepreneurial, I guess. “This seems really easy to do. Why don’t we build a job board and just specialize in engineering? It’s really easy.” This was from the guy who only three or four months earlier has started using email in the business, [laughter] But long story short, I knew a couple of guys who run web development agencies, and I just said, “There’s Jobsite, we work that, but for engineering.” And it went from there. It was obviously a time where you could get away with that type of attitude and no knowledge and what have you. And that took off really well. And I was actively within that business for about three years. Moved away, a few boardroom decisions that I couldn’t agree with so I moved away from that, and then I set up on my own as Simply.
0:07:03.1 IP: And I knew that I wanted to stay in the job board business, I didn’t wanna move back into recruitment or anything like that. But I also knew that essentially niche was the way to go in my view. There was a lot of generic job boards out there, I saw you speaking to Lee Biggins about this the other week. And I felt that niche was the way to go. So I quite simply looked at what niche areas were underserved in terms of job boards and set up some new job boards. So we had Simply Sales Jobs, then there was Simply Marketing Jobs, then there was Simply HR Jobs and they were going along quite nicely. And that business grew in the UK over a… Well, I was with it for 16 years and I moved out of the business in July, end of July 2020, since then, I was really pleased really when I left the business and made it known on LinkedIn that I was leaving the business, the response to that was quite humbling actually, you know? The nice comments that people were making and what have you, it really was unexpected and quite humbling. But also off the back of that I got approached by a number of different job board operators, to say, “Would you like to come and do some work with us? Would you like to advise us, would you like to do some consultancy work for us?” And I had a great time doing that.
0:08:15.8 IP: It was excellent, you know 18 months of sitting in other people’s businesses, finding out what they’re doing, and then advising them what I felt they were doing well, and what they could improve on and what have you. I found that absolutely excellent ’cause I had no real desire to, at the time, set anything else up. I didn’t leave Simply with a, “Right, I’m gonna go away now and set something else up.” It was just the time to leave. But as that consultancy time came on, there was more and more… I started to get that urge again to work for myself and set something else up. Now, we’ve got HST Hiring which is basically a hiring business across various different elements. So we’ve got a candidate management system, we do traditional fee-based recruitment, so going right back 20 years to what I was doing before I set up the job boards. We do more recruitment as a service, where companies are outsourcing, they’re hiring to us, but we’re using the technology to help facilitate that whether it be multi-posting or the candidate management system. And I got dragged back into job boards as well really, as part of the overall business. One of the markets that we deal in quite a lot is the legal market in the UK. So there are a number of legal law-based job boards, but we wanted to be a niche within a niche.
0:09:37.7 IP: So we deal in legal support jobs, so that will be paralegals, legal assistants, legal secretaries, legal receptionists. So it’s a niche within a niche essentially, because those are the levels of people who use job boards to apply for jobs. You tend not to find experienced solicitors or what have you, using job boards. They’ll use word of mouth, or headhunting, or LinkedIn or something similar to that really. So yeah, HST is as I say, I don’t wanna use 360, it’s a bit of a corporate buzzword, isn’t it? But we look to hire for companies however they want to hire basically, rather than pigeonhole just digital or traditional.
0:10:18.6 JD: And not going to them saying, “This is the only way you can do it.”
0:10:21.2 IP: Exactly.
0:10:21.4 JD: You know, we’re gonna give you a bunch of different options.
0:10:23.4 IP: 100% yeah.
0:10:24.8 SR: You know the UK job board market better than I think Jeff and I could ever hope to. What would you say is the best thing that job boards that focus on the UK are doing and what would you say is their biggest area for growth? The biggest weakness, the biggest problem?
0:10:44.2 IP: I can really compare this to the US, I think, and maybe some European. I do think that the UK market, both job board vendor and direct employers, really embrace the niche area, there’s a lot of niche job boards in the UK, which I don’t really see, as I can really only talk about the US and some of Europe given my experience. I think there are more niche sites in the UK and so there’s a focus on being really good at one area. As opposed to trying to be, you know, obviously people like Total Jobs and CV-Library, people like Reed do generic very, very well. But I do think from a very early time, the UK, there was a lot of niche and a lot of focused job boards and I do think that they do that well. We know that they know their markets very well. In terms of what they don’t do well, I can really only speak for ourselves, but I do think we were symptomatic of it, is the reliance on recruitment agencies, staffing firms for business. Now, it’s not to say that you don’t want staffing firms as a client, as a job board operator, but I think, and again, I can only really speak for Simply on this, the strive for money maybe diluted the quality of the product that you were given. So you had recruitment agencies who had multiple vacancies, which meant that there was multiple spam jobs, or there was jobs that were there just to capture job seekers or what have you.
0:12:11.9 IP: And most job boards were guilty of this, so I think maybe that the job seeker experience wasn’t high on the understanding of job board operators. It was about driving revenue. Not all, as I said, there was some really good ones out there in really niche areas who didn’t follow that route. But that’s just my view. But I think the pandemic, my time at the job board was basically just after the pandemic had started, but you saw a lot of these job recruitment agencies either go completely, What is it? When the tides out you can see who’s wearing swim shorts? There was a lot of that going on. [laughter] And also I think even the recruitment agencies, even then they reconciled how many job boards that were using, I mean, we built Simply on a subscription-based and monthly recurring revenue basis and we lost it, obviously a decent amount of that in the March, April, May of when it first happened and it was a bad time. But yeah, I think that would probably be the good and the bad in my view.
0:13:12.1 JD: Well, Ian, I’m kinda of curious, and this is a little related to what Steven was asking, we’ve talked with some of the guests that we’ve had on the podcast about the shocks that have hit the industry over the last few years, so there was the big recession of 2008-2009, and that was definitely something that shook out a lot of players, and then job boards came back pretty strong after that. And the two shocks I see that I’ve heard people that I work with in the UK talk about the most are the pandemic of course, which was across every place, but at the UK just like all the rest of them, and then Brexit, and those two things seem to have really had an effect on the UK job board market. Looking at those two, do you have any feel for which one you think is gonna have the longest-term effect on the industry?
0:14:01.6 IP: Yeah, it’s interesting, I think the pandemic… And I say I came out of the job board industry end of July, so I could only talk about the four or five months, but obviously I’d like to keep abreast of what’s been going on, I think the job board industry, it seemed to be that there was obviously a mass panic when it first happened, nobody’s recruiting, what the hell’s all this working from home situation? But in all truth, I think it lasted maybe three or four months, and I think after that time, and the way they’ve got a bit better, and the lockdowns in the UK became a little bit more lenient, so I think companies became more understanding that this is the new normal if you will, so this is the way that we’re gonna have to work moving forward. And when you get to September, October time, people started to recruit again, and so I think the dip in terms of the pandemic, was probably only a short period of time. It was a shock and awe situation really where it was like, “What the hell do we do here? We’ve never seen this before, what do we do? How is this gonna affect our business?”
0:14:58.4 IP: You saw on LinkedIn for example, loads and loads of people open to work, open to work, and then all of it, it just seemed to be fairly overnight, all those open to work disappeared, people have found jobs again, which was great. So I think it was only maybe a five or six month period, and as you’ve said previously about ZipRecruiter and all of these other job board showing massive growth, you would expect massive growth on really poor years previously, but I think they have recovered and I think they’ve recovered really well. I know that the generics in the UK are doing good business, so I don’t think the pandemic was a long-term problem. In terms of Brexit, I think the pandemic masked a lot of the problems that were potentially gonna happen with Brexit. I don’t get overly… I’ve never been involved in the hospitality industry or whatever it may be. There are certain industries that are gonna be impacted by Brexit much more than others. The markets I’ve always been involved in have been bit more professional services and engineering and aviation and things like that, obviously aviation has been, I wouldn’t say decimated, but obviously it’s at a pandemic, that the fuel rates have gone ridiculous and that’s gonna be a troubled sector for a while I think. I’m not probably the best to talk about Brexit in all truth, other than an overall view, but I do think the pandemic in terms of Brexit, maybe came a good time.
0:16:13.5 JD: I think one of the things that I noticed, and maybe this is different in the UK, but one of the key effects of the pandemic in North America for sure has been that companies that were not using remote workers suddenly had to use remote workers. And so now we’re seeing a little bit of bounce back where it’s kinda like a rubber band coming back where a percentage of those companies are saying, “Okay, now you gotta be back in the office, now you’re gonna be back doing whatever you were doing,” but a percentage of them are saying, “Hey, you know what, why? This is an expense.
0:16:44.2 IP: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
0:16:45.5 JD: Let ’em keep working at home if that’s what they want.” And I think that’s affected some of the job boards in terms of how they’ve approached candidates, and in some ways it’s given them a bigger audience to put up in front of employers, at least those employers.
0:17:00.8 IP: I think that’s actually been probably one of the impacts of the pandemic that I didn’t mention, is that there’s a bit of power shift a little bit, where the job seeker now has, I think, a lot more power. There are more jobs than there are job seekers, so you see it all the time, it’s a difficult market to be working and what have you. One of the biggest questions that get assessed by job seekers now, 100% is, what’s the working arrangement? Is it work from home? Is it hybrid working? I think most sensible businesses have gone with a hybrid working model whereby they’re doing three days in the office, two days at home. That brings its own problems because their terms of contracts of employments are five days a week in the office, so it’s more of a discretionary, the decision, but I do think the contracts of employment are gonna have to be re-written as time goes on to deal with it.
0:17:52.0 JD: Well, listen Ian, I gotta wrap this up, but I have one last question for you. I’m just curious to hear because you’ve been in the market for a long time through a lot of different business conditions, you went out of the market, now you’re kinda back in the market, but you’re doing a bunch of different things, and I haven’t asked this question of any other guest so far. Do you think job boards are on their way out? The whole time I’ve been working in the industry, I started in ’97, they’ve been saying, “Oh yeah, job boards are dying, they’re gonna go away, they’re gonna go away.” Do you think now we’re actually at a point where over the next decade, next four or five years, job boards are gonna disappear?
0:18:23.5 IP: No. No, I really don’t. I do think that job boards, more so than ever, are gonna have to really adapt to the new market, the way the market… ‘Cause I think employers are far more savvy now about recruiting, I think, so they are gonna have to do things like programmatic… I wrote an article and I put it on LinkedIn, I found it the other day actually, in 2016 about PPA and PPC, and there’s not many companies who were doing that, obviously Indeed are doing it really well, as ZipRecruiter do it, and what have you, but I do feel that that’s gonna come into it more because the buyer, the employer, is far more savvy than they were even five years ago, and I think they’ve started to move more now towards more digital marketing rather than using recruitment agencies, but I think there’s still a space for both, but I do think job boards are gonna have to adapt their offering far more, and far quicker than they probably had to do over the last two or three years.
0:19:25.5 JD: Yeah, I think that’s an insightful comment, and when I think about the industry, ’cause I kinda look at it the same way that you do, but I think about what happened to Monster, and I feel like Monster, they were initially innovative, they went through a period of acquisitions and they sort of sat fat and happy for a long time and they lost their attention to the market. And so I’ll be curious to see if that happens with Indeed or it happens with any of these, Total jobs or any of these large companies, I guess we’ll just have to see.
0:19:57.2 IP: No, absolutely.
0:19:58.5 JD: Yeah Ian, I’m so glad that you were able to come on. It’s good to see you, good to talk with you. And if any of our listeners wanna get in touch with you, how do they do that?
0:20:08.3 IP: Well, obviously on LinkedIn, they can connect and message me on LinkedIn or if they want to message, it’s email@example.com.
0:20:16.5 JD: Great, well thanks Ian, appreciate you coming on JobBoardGeek.
0:20:20.5 IP: I’ve enjoyed it. Thanks very much, guys.
0:20:22.2 JD: Yup, and Steven, if anyone wants to get in touch with you, how do they get a hold of you?
0:20:25.5 SR: Easiest way is shoot me an email, Steven, S-T-E-V-E-N@collegerecruiter.com. Ian, I hope the next time we meet is in the same place as the last time we met, which is a conference in Barcelona.
0:20:39.4 IP: That would be great.
0:20:40.1 SR: I would not have any objections to seeing you there.
0:20:43.1 IP: Not at all, not at all.
0:20:44.2 JD: I’d be okay with meeting you in a pub in London too. [chuckle] So we’ll see what happens. [chuckle]
0:20:49.5 IP: Okay, great, though. Thanks very much.
0:20:51.3 JD: Well, thanks. And that’s it for today’s episode of JobBoardGeek. Be sure to subscribe to our RSS feed or on Apple, Spotify, whatever you wanna use, we’re there. Feel free to review us, thumbs up or thumbs down. I’m Jeff Dickey-Chasins, I’m the JobBoardDoctor, you’ve been listening to the only podcast that focuses on the business of connecting candidates and employers. That’s it for this episode and we will see you again next time.[music]