There's been a lot of buzz recently about Google for Jobs, a tool launching in a couple of weeks that will allow people to explore jobs from sites like LinkedIn, Monster, and CareerBuilder within a single Google search. The feature will be a great benefit for job seekers, but companies in the jobs business should beware. While this may seem like another logical and incremental upgrade to Google Search, it's actually a power play of epic proportions that could fundamentally change the job search business over time.

How Google for Jobs works

Google is going to start directly indexing jobs from third party sites, and will give consumers much more control over finding those listings directly from Google Search. Jessica Guynn at USA Today provided a comprehensive overview, explaining how users will be able to use various search filters including recent jobs, entry level versus management, full time vs part time, and industry specific searching directly in Google. When users find what they're looking for, they're then directed to the job listing on a third-party site to apply directly there.

According to Google, almost half of U.S. employers say they still have issues filling open positions. Meanwhile, job seekers often don't know there's a job opening just around the corner from them because search engines have trouble classifying job postings. Google has said they want to surface jobs that have been harder to find and better classify retail versus service jobs.

Why job sites are eager to be included

In the short term, Google for Jobs will be a massive benefit for companies like CareerBuilder and ZipRecruiter because Google is going to become a major source of additional traffic for these sites. Top job sites like Indeed.com already get a huge portion of their traffic from organic search. That means they do a great job of indexing their job listings with Google and, as people search for terms like "Project Manager jobs in Los Angeles," these sites are the primary beneficiaries of the top results on search engine results pages and the free traffic Google drives to their properties. Over time, many of those users then start going directly to those job sites to run their searches there. This is the behavior Google is trying to displace; they want to own the job seeker customer.

The Trojan horse job strategy

Google is certainly not the first company to build a job feature to secretly own a larger job market. In fact, they've seen other companies do this off of their own traffic. When Indeed originally started 13 years ago, it was an aggregator of job posts. They scraped the job listings of multiple job boards and let consumers search listings in one single location. At first, companies like Monster were happy to have the extra distribution that Indeed provided their job listings. But soon after, Indeed got too good at sourcing job postings: They were showing up at the top of Google searches above the original job boards that procured the job listing from the employer. In fact, they built up so much free traffic on the back of Google that Indeed soon became the largest direct job board and beat out all the original job players, such as Monster.

This same strategy was used years later by ZipRecruiter, which launched its business in an office space I gave them at my last company. ZipRecruiter built a great early feature to let small businesses syndicate their jobs postings to multiple job boards all at once, including sites like Indeed. But instead of just directing traffic to third-party sites, they built a light applicant tracking system that collected the résumé and information of the job seeker. What this meant is that they ended up using the traffic of Indeed and Google to build their own huge database of job seekers, and went from being a product that originally just helped businesses syndicate their job listings to become one of the fastest growing direct job boards themselves, competing directly with Indeed.

It's no surprise that Indeed is the lone company not choosing to participate in Google for Jobs. They know how important it is to own the relationship directly with the job seeker. In fact, a quote from their president is quite telling: "We are happy to see that 13 years after Indeed launched, Google has woken up to the fact that searching for jobs is one of the most important searches in anyone's life." Businesses that pay for job listings don't care where their candidates get sourced from, and will change their spending habits in a heartbeat to wherever or whoever will find them the best candidates. Whoever owns the relationship with the job seeker owns this multi-billion-dollar market, and Google knows that better than anyone.

Why job searching is broken

I started Comparably because the way we think about and manage our careers is broken. It's typically only when we quit or get fired that we spend effort thinking about what we should do next. And companies looking to hire are always struggling to find qualified candidates, in part because they only have access to the pool of people currently looking for a job, which is a fraction of the potential talent pool.

LinkedIn has done the best job to date in building a product for passive job seekers. While the core features of their platform are built around growing professional connections, the core of their business is placing candidates for companies and recruiters. They're able to charge such a premium for their job listings and recruiter tools because they've built the only product that can tap into both active and passive job candidates. But their product experience for helping consumers actually get ahead in their career, or see while it's like to work at different companies is still sorely lacking. And they primarily have access to the inventory of jobs that get directly posted to LinkedIn, which are typically service jobs for higher qualified professionals. The most spending in the job space actually comes from trying to source candidates like nurses and truck drivers. This is in part why Facebook has now entered the job space and is encouraging businesses to post their jobs on their company pages.

In order to fix the broken process of job searching and placement a couple things need to happen. First, there needs to be platform that has access to the widest set of candidates, both active and passive. Then it requires a product experience that regularly engages those candidates, and not just when they're looking to switch jobs. For example, show people what different office cultures are like, how much they should get paid, and which companies are the best fit for them. And companies hiring need a better way to find and notify qualified prospective candidates. There are still way too many times great potential candidates never know about companies and jobs that would be an ideal fit. Employers are spending way too much money inefficiently to promote their jobs. They should have much better tools and access to find the candidates they need to hire. And here where is Google comes in.

The real Google intent

Google is happy to have other companies like ZipRecruiter, Monster, and LinkedIn go to the trouble of getting job postings, and they're also happy to send them traffic and revenue. Google knows that if they ultimately own the relationship with job candidates and seekers then they're really the ones that own the market. They money they share with others in the process in inconsequential to them. Whoever owns the original job search owns the market, and Google for Jobs is a concerted effort to get consumers to spend more time directly with Google for all their job needs.

Google will probably start indexing more open jobs directly from employers' sites. It has already started selling artificial intelligence and search technology to companies to make it easier for them to find qualified recruits on their websites and job boards.

This is all part of a Google playbook, which is to own all consumer searches. Any company that can directly drive consumers to their site to search for goods and services is a direct competitor to Google. That's why Google completely displaced the price comparison business, why they're disrupting travel, and why Amazon and Facebook are their true largest competitors.

Indeed.com was right: Google has woken up to the importance of the job market and, secretly or not, they're going to make sure that no other jobs site is more important than Google to the consumer in their job search.

Published on: May 22, 2017