I’ve once again been exploring employment web sites and it’s stunning how little they’ve changed since I put together Free Agent for the Mercury News back in 1996. Looking for jobs on the Web is a miserable experience. And it doesn’t have to be.

  • Some sites still don’t work with all browsers.
  • There an astonishing amount of sheer garbage in these sites, such as Work at Home “opportunities”, mainly because the sites are unwilling to police their advertisers. The newspaper-owned CareerBuilder is the worst offender here.
  • It’s too difficult to sort through large volumes of results.
  • The search tools are inconsistent and underpowered. For example, not all sites allow you to use boolean operators. There are severe limits on the number of criteria that you can set. It’s difficult to edit predefined searches.
  • Some sites make it impossible to launch listings in tabs.
  • All sites are job-centric and don’t allow ongoing meaningful searches based on, for example, companies.
  • Most sites do not have meaningful metadata about jobs in their databases.
  • Everyone does everything differently, and because all listings are paid, you have to search every site.
  • Employers’ web sites are even worse. Ebay’s site is browser-dependent and you can’t capture a unique URL for any listing. Most sites unbelievably difficult structured resume builders that simply do not work.

I think it is easier just to read the print classifieds. The tragedy is that this is a solvable problem, or there is a solution that would work for a large number of users.

Why not encourage employers to post their ads in XML format with clearly defined declarations of things like company, location, salary, title, responsibilities, qualifications, posting date, requisition number, and so on? All employers need is the knowledge that someone would read their listings and a few modest tools to create the pages.

If these pages were created, they could be crawled and indexed by anyone who chose to do so. Search tools could be provided by portals and search engines, who would compete on the quality of their search and management tools and not on the size of their listings databases. Listings could be delivered by RSS to interested applicants.

Meanwhile, applicants would start getting tools that would let them look for a particular, well-defined job in a large, but strictly-defined set of companies. Over time, they could refine their searches with tools like Bayesian filters, looking for more jobs like the ones they want and eliminating whole classes of listings.

Finally, anyone who could establish this kind of standard could create a standard XML format for resumes that would allow job seekers to enter their resume into a single form (or have it parsed) and output it in a format that any employer would be able to read.

The incentive for most large employers to do this is huge. They only need someone to set and promote the standard. There would be a market for providing tools for this to employers large and small.

Who can do this? Yahoo can, but their fortunes are tied to HotJobs. Similarly Monster and CareerBuilder have no reason to mess up their revenues stream or those of their corporate parents. The remaining obvious candidates are Microsoft and Google. It seems like a perfect fit with Google’s current strategy.