Asian job portals find niche on Net

Posted on December 29, 2000 
Filed Under Julian, ZDNet

By Julian Matthews
Published in ZDNet, Dec 29 2000

Dotcom demises and corporate belt-tightening has refocused interest on one bright spot on the cloudy Internet horizon — online recruitment services. More job-seekers are posting resumes on the Web, while more employers are turning online to save on hiring costs.

KUALA LUMPUR - Staff cuts and the looming specter of an economic slowdown in 2001 are likely to see increased traffic in job portals. In the last year, most online recruitment services claim usage has been on the rise, and are busy regionalizing their operations in anticipation of growth.

“The number of registered employers on RecruitAsia.com has been on the up and up ever since we launched in May 1999. The figure now stands close to 4,500, more than double the 2,000 employers half a year ago. The same goes for job-seekers who are pouring in with their resumes,” said Darren How, editor of Singapore-based RecruitAsia.com Pte Ltd, which is part of Petrosin group.

Rival Jobstreet.com Sdn Bhd claims more than 4,000 “blue-chip and New Economy companies” have signed on as paying subscribers, and there has been a spike in registered job-seekers in recent months bringing the total to over 500,000.

JobStreet.com’s vice president of marketing Malek Ali said the company opened its eighth office in India this year, adding to offices in Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines and is eyeing the China, South Korea and Japan markets.

At any one time both RecruitAsia.com and JobStreet.com have about 10,000 vacancies listed across the region.

One of the key drivers for the sites’ popularity is cost. “Online recruitment has dramatically lowered the cost of filling a position. We have customer testimonials from companies such as Dell Asia Pacific in Penang of having reduced cost by 93% compared to newspaper advertising,” said Malek. ”More importantly, we’ve reduced the time to recruit employees to 3.5 days from posting to offer. This speaks volumes in terms of productivity gains.”

How added that job sites free up considerable time on the part of the recruiter and the work is “immensely simplified”.

On the flipside, some critics say that the technology encourages job-hopping, especially by gainfully employed people who may not have considered the switch at all. “There may be some value in the statement but the benefits far outweigh the costs. The tradeoff comes with any new technology developed,” said How.

He added that Old Economy companies should not feel as threatened as before about losing their talent. “More and more employees have taken the view that it is too big a risk to jump ship when the fate of New Economy companies is becoming more uncertain.”

Malek chips in that new, compelling opportunities presented through the Internet is actually a healthy trend. “Employers can no longer rely on the opaqueness of the human capital market as a factor in retaining staff. The onus is now on employers to put in place concrete staff retention policies, which is a good overall outcome for all of us. In the long run, talent gets priced competitively, and at market rates,” he said.

On complaints from some employers that the technology does little to prescreen candidates, How countered that receiving unsuitable applications is a “universal headache” for human resource personnel, online or otherwise. “Some sites offer quick-sign-me-up procedures for job seekers that do not benefit employers much. But we have advance search-and-match facilities that eliminates such irrelevant applications,” he said.

JobStreet.com’s Malek said the company has already begun offering more value-added services to weed out the unqualified and inappropriate applicants.

“Our SiVA recruitment management system is an effective tool for prescreening candidates and allows companies to customize their own online tests for applicants. For example, out of over 100 candidates who applied to a recent position for a retail company, less than 10 bothered to reply to the prospective employer’s detailed test and questions. But those that did, we found, were serious enough to spend the time and were of very high quality,” said Malek.

Both companies note that with the Internet the market has become more transparent and cross-border movement has been on the rise, especially among highly skilled professionals and IT staff, otherwise known as knowledge workers.

“Differential in salaries has been the main driving force for IT workers from countries such as India, Pakistan and China to migrate to greener pastures,” said How.

Malek adds the cultural and safety dimensions may also weigh-in as factors. “Increasingly in Asia, we are seeing countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong attracting Indian talent from the US. These are talent who have kids, and are planning to go back to India eventually. Singapore is still perceived to be a good, safe place to raise a family, and much closer to home,” he said.

At the executive level, the Internet and technology are also viewed as key drivers in finding the right candidates for the job. Executive search company Korn/Ferry International indicates in its latest hiring trends survey of 4,900 companies that demand in Q3 2000 in the Asia/Pacific region was up more than 20 percent, compared to a year ago, with technology sector continuing to drive demand with a 32 percent share.

“It is no surprise that many of the executives Korn/Ferry are placing are in technology, telecommunications and Internet-related companies,” said Charles Tseng, president of Korn/Ferry International Asia/Pacific in a statement.

But Tseng pointed out that much of the demand was also in e-commerce-related positions spread across a broad cross-section of industries in industrial, financial services, consumer, fashion, retail, wholesale, distribution and entertainment companies.

He added that despite an inevitable slowdown in the global economy, Korn/Ferry expects demand to continue to be high in the region, especially for CEOs and other top executive positions because of the short supply of such talent.

Korn/Ferry International itself has begun to aggressively explore the online recruitment services market, launching Futurestep.com for middle managers in the region early this year with offices in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Sydney, Melbourne and Tokyo. In July, the company also acquired online college recruitment site JobDirect.com.

In recent months, the online recruitment niche has seen increased rivalry with various players competing in an increasingly crowded space in Asia. Among them are Hong Kong-based JobsDB.com, major US portal Monster.com, with sites in Singapore and Hong Kong, and German-based Jobpilot AG. Various newspapers and traditional job agencies have also begun to ply their recruitment services via their sites.

Analysts suggest that some consolidation is expected in the coming years with next-generation recruitment sites needing to go beyond being just online job boards and evolve into one-stop career management services offering training, assessment and placement.

Research company Forrester Research predicts that such one-stop career sites may capture 55 percent of the projected US$7.1 billion online recruitment market worldwide by 2005.

JobStreet.com’s Malek said the “jury was still out” on what business model will work in online recruitment in the future. “But we think the essential components are a popular site, recruitment management and screening technology, assessment tests, and placement services. Ultimately, employers just want to see the three candidates to interview without lifting a finger.”

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