Why Social Networks Still Haven’t Cracked the Job Search Puzzle

Why Social Networks Still Haven’t Cracked the Job Search Puzzle

Harvard Business Review

designed, it’s suggested, to compete directly with LinkedIn. This is puzzling at first glance, since Facebook at Work seems geared toward letting people connect and collaborate with colleagues and peers at their current jobs, while LinkedIn is focused more on building professional connections with people outside the firm.

On the face of it, that seems to be two entirely different markets, with Facebook at Work playing in the workplace productivity market (competing with the likes of Microsoft Office, Webex, and project management software) while LinkedIn is part of the headhunting industry.

But look at the move in terms of the jobs customers are trying to get done (rather than the markets that these companies address) and the possible connections become much easier to see.

Every working professional knows that at least 50% of all available job openings are never advertised. Hence, all of them have a job to do – something along the lines of, “Do I have the right network so, in case something happens, I would know about these hidden offers?” LinkedIn addresses this job directly, by allowing you to create and build an exclusively professional network among its 300 million+ members.

In this regard, Facebook looks a lot like LinkedIn, but bigger – with 864 million active users, almost three times bigger. So one way to view this is as a battle between two powerful networking companies with similar digital business models that are both able to keep getting bigger and bigger by linking people to more people in relentless geometric progression.

Looked at that way, Facebook’s size doesn’t look like much of an advantage, since job seekers can already list their professional credentials on its site. And when Facebook at Work is launched, job hunters can simply tap into both Facebook’s and LinkedIn’s networks, for free.

But here’s the important point – neither Facebook nor LinkedIn are doing the “let me know about hidden employment opportunities” job well enough yet. Facebook introduces too much variability, with all the information in your profile that’s not related to your professional experience and aspirations. And LinkedIn is more oriented toward the job of “advertise the candidate” than “advertise the opportunity.” That is, it works best for companies checking out people’s credentials than for people trying to check out potential employers.

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While an internal work productivity site doesn’t seem to address that job any better (and even does it arguably worse), it is a job that many people need done, and one that isn’t yet being done very well. That’s the definition of a potent business opportunity, and a powerful incentive for both parties to direct resources to fulfill that need before some clever third party, say an aggregator or data crawler, steps in.

That essentially makes it a resource arms race, and in a resource arms race, Facebook has the clear advantage. After all, Facebook’s $7.87 billion in 2013 revenues is more than five times larger than LinkedIn’s $1.52 billion. That not only gives it more resources but more urgency to apply them, since Facebook needs to find much bigger markets to sustain its growth. What’s more, professional networking is a natural extension of Facebook’s original operating model, sussing out and serving the needs of the relatively homogeneous community of college students. Working professionals are another such market of fairly homogeneous users, and the market is remarkably big – by some accounts more than three times as big as the student population.

So maybe the right question to ask here isn’t which titan will win but, rather, with these two companies converging on fulfilling the same job-to-be-done in a market of enormous size, and given Facebook’s greater need to sustain its growth in 2015, will it compete – or simply acquire?

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