Like many of my search marketing brethren, I've been somewhat insulated from the hefty budget and job cuts as the U.S. economy tanked faster than the Chicago Cubs' World Series hopes.
That is, until my wife, Lisa, was one of the 173,955 victims of mass layoffs in the U.S. in August -- the highest total of any single month since 2003. An occupational therapist at a local hospital, Lisa's was one of 300 jobs eliminated as part of a $30 million cutback. It's truly a sad state of affairs when search marketing jobs are more secure than those of health care professionals.
When in Doubt, Google it
So how did Lisa start out her search for a new job? The same way most people start out any search. She Googled it. And, wouldn't you know it, there were 53,400 results for "part-time occupational therapist job geriatric psychiatry setting chicago, illinois."
It seems search is playing a heightened role for job-seekers across the board. Per Google Insights, worldwide searches for "jobs" are at a 4-year high -- yes, I used negative filters for "blow" and "steve." The story is even more dramatic in the U.S,. with searches for "jobs" really spiking this year.
Parsing through the results on Google for this 10-word query, I was intrigued by the mix of results from niche sites like NursingJobs.com to broad job sites like Career Builder. Of course, none of the listings had the exact job we were looking for -- some were part-time, some were OT, some were in geriatric psych settings, and some were in Chicago, but none of them were all of the above.
Was it unreasonable to expect that Google would be able to match this query perfectly? Perhaps, but surely the job search engines could, right?
Let's Get Vertical
I turned to Monster and Career Builder to see if the search experience was any better there.
This time around, I was a little more forgiving and limited my keywords to "occupational therapist" and selected Chicago, IL for location. Sure enough, Career Builder returned 174 results and Monster 15. Career Builder had some nifty refinement tools to easily slice the results by category and company. Monster did not but, hey, there were only 15 listings for me to scan. Neither had any way for me to drill down by full/part time or by setting -- but I suppose beggars can't be choosers.
One thing that caught my eye on both sets of SERPs was that all the job listing titles began with the keywords "Occupation Therapist." I wondered if that's the only criteria by which these algorithms work and, if so, could companies leap to the top of the rankings with some old-fashioned keyword stuffing?
I tested the boundaries of these engines' semantic mapping abilities by entering keywords like "occupational therapy" and "OTRL" (Occupational Therapist, Registered and Licensed -- a common phrase used by those in the space). The former brought up a few new listings -- again with that exact phrase matched in the title -- but the latter came up empty altogether.
Have you SEO'd Your Resume?
If the job search engine algos are that picky about position titles, there's not a lot of wiggle room for candidates trying to get noticed when employers are querying their databases for resumes.
As I helped Lisa update her resume, I began to think about it like any other digital asset I might create and submit on behalf of a client. Rather than use Occupational Therapy or OTRL, I had her use Occupational Therapist. But I stopped short of recommending an optimal keyword density or link-building strategy. In the 15 minutes I spent trying to reverse-engineer the Monster and Career Builder algorithms, I couldn't discern any ranking criteria used, beyond keywords in titles.
There Are No Facts, Only Interpretations
Niche search engines would do well to take a page from Mr. Nietzsche himself. Presumably, vertical properties should be able to decipher ambiguous queries related to their category. We can't expect Google to be perfect at returning relevant job search results, but we have every right to demand Monster and Career Builder to be darn near close.
Yet it seems as if Monster can't even get the basics right. My query for "Occupational Therapist" via Monster's resume search returned a client services rep, medical sales pro, executive assistant, and building surveyor -- all in the top 15 listings. Although, I'm not sure what I expected from a search algorithm created by a property that only has 51 pages indexed by Google and boasts the following description on its page 1 listing for the query "job website" -- "Employer Site. Keywords Search job title only. Occupations. Locations ... Get your job hunt rolling. Apply to jobs online, post your resume, ...."
Job Search, Indeed
Before writing off vertical job search engines altogether, I thought I'd take a quick look at Indeed.com. In defense of Monster and Career Builder, those companies don't brand themselves as job search engines. Career Builder is focused on "online recruitment advertising" and Monster is an "online careers property." However, I view them as job search engines the same way I view YouTube as a video search engine. In this analogy, Indeed is similar to Blinkx or ClipBlast -- both of which provide better search functionality than YouTube.
Sure enough, Indeed.com positions itself as a "search engine for jobs." It has a clean interface and comprehensive index that seems to crawl Career Builder better than Google. All of the advertising is relevant and there are many intuitive query refinement tools. In fact, in just five minutes on Indeed, I found a potential match for Lisa at, of all places, the same hospital that laid her off -- it's a big hospital.
Maybe there's hope for vertical engines after all. And maybe Lisa's job search will turn into a job find, indeed.