History of Job Advertising: From Window Signs to Programmatic Recruitment

History of Job Advertising: From Window Signs to Programmatic Recruitment

Job ads have come a long way

All industries change and so does job advertising.

This post will look at how job ads have evolved over time, from the simple storefront sign to the latest programmatic recruitment technology. By the end we hope that you will gain a better understanding of:

  • the beginnings of job advertising
  • the current state of the industry
  • the drivers and trends for the coming years

“Help Wanted” Signs: Write It and Hope They Will Come

In the early days, if you needed help you would put a sign in your store window.

Traditional way of sourcing applicants amongst passers-by [source: https://flic.kr/p/9AND4Q]
Traditional way of sourcing applicants amongst passers-by [source: https://flic.kr/p/9AND4Q]
Those were the days when information was more static. It didn’t travel long distances quickly, or at all, and wasn’t reproducible with ease. Thus, it came with huge disadvantages, compared to information today.

This meant employers relied on potential applicants to pass by the storefront and look at the ad, which limited the number of candidates. But these ads were free and, considering the population and market sizes of past centuries, were likely enough for the needs of the time.


Newspaper Classifieds: Browsing the Job Section

Newspapers have been around since the seventeenth century. But it wasn’t until the arrival of the rotary printing press that their circulation experienced a dramatic increase. By the nineteenth century, newspapers started reaching a much wider audience. They became the favorite medium for advertisers, including employers.

Job ads with a wider reach than storefront signs [source: https://flic.kr/p/azRhag]
Job ads with a wider reach than storefront signs [source: https://flic.kr/p/azRhag]
The “Help Wanted” section became a staple of the modern newspaper. It eventually grew into one of the main revenue drivers of the industry. And job seekers flocked to the newspapers looking for employment.

Prices for job postings increased as newspaper readership grew larger. Newspaper job ads were usually charged per word or line of text. Another disadvantage was that, for all its massive reach, the classified ad was still a one-way affair. You published it, hoped suitable candidates would read it and wait for the incoming calls or resume submissions.

This paved the way for the next step in the history of job postings.


Online Job Boards: The Internet Arrives

By the mid-’90s, new web technologies caused serious worries in the newspaper job ad business. Attention moved from printed to digital media and the HR industry took note of a new invention called the online job board.

Newspaper job ads experienced a strong loss in revenue [source: naa.org]
Newspaper job ads experienced a strong loss in revenue [source: naa.org]
Pioneered by the likes of Monster and CareerBuilder, online job boards were cheaper than print ads on newspapers. This was due to their “pay-per-post” model. They also reached an even wider audience. And on top of this, job boards allowed posting jobs instantly to a more relevant audience.

The first iteration of online job boards didn’t offer much in the way of functionality. Yet, constant development in web technologies made the boards evolve, becoming a major source of potential candidates for recruiters.

In 1997 it did not take a lot to provide a relatively improved experience over newspaper job ads [source: waybackmachine]
In 1997 it did not take a lot to provide an improved experience over newspaper job ads [source: waybackmachine]
Such was the success of this model that, during the peak of its popularity, Monster listed more than a million jobs on its platform.

But nothing remains the same on the Internet for long and, as more online job boards mushroomed, a new solution appeared.


The Job Ad Aggregator: Online Advertising Evolves

Things would tidy up for both job hunters and recruiters with the coming of the job aggregator.

A job ad aggregator scrapes online boards all over the web, indexing available postings and listing them on a single site. This simplifies the job hunting process as it removes the need to visit multiple destinations. This change was primarily driven by Indeed.com.

Online job aggregators work on a cost-per-click (CPC) model. This means the employer pays whenever someone clicks on its job posting to view it.  

Job aggregators syndicated job related web traffic [source: comScore 2015]
Job aggregators syndicated job-related web traffic [source: comScore 2015]
Job aggregators are able to reach an even wider, more relevant audience than boards. And they have improved the job hunting experience. Yet, by using aggregators, the employer still cannot guarantee the applicant’s quality.

This opens the way for a new solution. One that is already shaping the landscape of the job advertising industry.


Programmatic Recruitment Advertising: The Future Is Here

By now, you could have noticed two common disadvantages of job ads: reach and applicant quality.

Programmatic advertising is a new approach to address these issues. Software automates the job ad placement and optimization in real-time to reach the most relevant job seeker audience. This improves the quality of applicants for employers.

The programmatic ecosystem [source: IAB]
The programmatic ecosystem [source: iab]
With programmatic recruitment, employers specify the volume of applicants needed for a job opening. Then the software automatically sources the right amount of candidates who are likely to be a good fit for the available position.

There’s a lot going on behind the scenes of programmatic ads. Programmatic recruitment algorithms go beyond reaching active job seekers on standard job boards to actually reach the right audience where they spend their time across various media channels (desktop; mobile; video; etc.).

Another major benefit of programmatic recruitment is the focus on the actual performance of applicants throughout the application funnel. Programmatic campaigns are usually billed on a cost-per-applicant (CPA) basis, which can be applied to any of the various funnel steps (submission of contact information; submission of background check information; passing the background check; etc.) depending on the specifics of each employer. Clients who use programmatic recruitment to the full capacity can even go so far as to optimize towards cost-per-hire (CPH) and eventually hires who provide the highest lifetime value (LTV).

This makes it cost-effective by design and hiring budgets don’t go to waste by drawing unqualified candidates.

Besides, programmatic advertising offers data analytics capabilities. These are used to continuously optimize recruitment of suitable applicants.

From the point of view of job seekers, they get highly relevant opportunities. People looking for jobs online can apply to jobs tailored to their experience, particular talents, and professional aspirations.

All this makes programmatic recruitment a solution with a huge potential to benefit both employers and job hunters.


Programmatic Is Here to Stay

The highly targeted approach in programmatic recruitment helps solve the biggest hurdles of traditional job ads:

  • Ineffective reach
  • Unqualified candidates
  • Inefficient budget investment
  • Operational overhead due to manual campaign management

The advantages of programmatic recruitment:

  • Reach of active and passive job seekers across the entire web
  • Targeting capabilities to find and address the most relevant audience
  • Investment optimization due to improved recruitment budget deployment
  • Automation of recruitment campaigns

In a nutshell, programmatic recruitment lets recruiters place the right ads in the right place and at the right time to reach the right candidates.


If you have insights and opinions on this topic please share your thoughts.

Thanks, Team Perengo


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Perengo is a programmatic recruitment platform.

High-growth businesses and Fortune 500 companies use Perengo to solve their recruitment challenges at scale. The platform provides tools for operational recruitment automation and strategic business intelligence.