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Colin Kingsbury

Colin is the President and Co-Founder of ClearCompany. In addition to leading the innovation of the award-winning ClearCompany Talent Management platform, he is also an Alaska-trained seaplane pilot, and writes for several Boston-area publications.
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Recent Posts

Classifieds: Not Free, but Cheap

Posted by Colin Kingsbury

Oct 10, 2007 12:32:00 PM

Dave Manaster at ERE blogged yesterday that the tide seems to be turning back from free to paid classifieds:
TheLadders.com is moving from free job postings to subscription fees. HotOrNot just reversed a highly public experiment in which they switched from paid personals to free. Even hippy-dippy Craig's List is steadily abandoning free classifieds in their largest markets, and recently started charging a modest fee in even more cities.
While Dave's examples are interesting, I'm unconvinced that they have any bearing on the larger situation. Even if we do see a large-scale return to a paid model, a situation where "modest fees are a form of quality control" as Dave puts it is very different from one in which high prices (relative to cost) were a primary source of margin for otherwise sketchy businesses.

Publishing classifieds in newspapers never cost much money, but given their relative monopoly position, they were able to get away with charging premium prices. Today, the cost of publishing is close to zero, and getting easier every day, ensuring that competition from free providers will be a permanent feature.

As to quality control, all of the larger job boards have long gotten away with charging newspaper-sized prices while delivering content to users that is only slightly less relevant than an Oscar Mayer bacon billboard next to an orthodox synagogue. Bob Wilson continues to document this failure with mind-numbing consistency. Preventing blatant spam and scams is well and good, but it's hardly a major achievement in terms of the user experience, and price is simply the easiest way to do this. 

But price is also an obstacle to adoption, one TheLadders used very effectively to build the very brand and audience that allows them to start charging meaningful prices. Prices are sort of like taxes--they always go up, while the value you get out of them seems to go down. Once you get used to charging $25, it's very easy to get used to charging $50, and before you know it, your customers have a good reason to spend the time looking at free solutions again. 
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Must Be a Loner

Posted by Colin Kingsbury

Sep 19, 2007 12:29:00 PM

Job descriptions have come in for a lot more criticism lately, and deservedly so. While I'm sympathetic about the legal gobbledygook they contain, what I find amusing are the meaningless ritual incantations that frequently clog up descriptions that are otherwise well-written. 

Job descriptions posted externally should exist to serve two functions: to arouse excitement among appropriate candidates, and to strike fear and doubt into the hearts of the unqualified. The ratio between the two should be about 90-10, with the essential function of the latter being to establish a few reasonable criteria of eligibility for compliance purposes.

Here are a few of my favorites that serve neither purpose:

Great communication skills required: If you know of any companies looking for someone who prefers grunting unintelligibly and scowling when asked a question, I know of several excellent candidates who can be had for a great price.

Good multi-tasking ability is essential: Because there are so many jobs out there (outside of an assembly line) that don't require the ability to balance priorities.

Must be a team player: Wait- let me get this straight: all I need to do is put these five words in my job description, and all those whiny, childish, responsibility-evading people will stop applying? Now you tell me!

What I've learned through hiring in a number of different environments is that defensive job descriptions do little to discourage the hopeless. The number one problem that afflicts these applicants is a lack of self-awareness, so nothing you say is likely to discourage them. Defensive job descriptions do, however, serve as excellent sales preventers with exceptional candidates, who can scent mediocrity from a mile away.
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How Social Networking Will End

Posted by Colin Kingsbury

Aug 3, 2007 1:27:00 PM

Facebook's decision to ban  Harry the Marketing Headhunter Joiner will not, in and of itself, have any noticeable effect on the social media darling's continued rise. It does, however, go a long way to explaining why social networking will--and must--cease to be owned by anyone other than the people who make up the network.

Just to recap, Harry joined Facebook, and attempted to invite his entire list of contacts (all 4600 of them) to join him there. You'd think Facebook would appreciate Harry's enthusiasm for promoting Facebook, but their response was to disable and ban his account for violating ambiguous terms of service related to alleged spamming and use of his account for "advertising purposes."

While many of Facebook's members will applaud the decision to chase this particular money-changer out of the temple (there being no shortage of nuisance recruiters whose spamming is of the egregious kind), it highlights the fact that Facebook can and will ban anyone it chooses for any reason that suits its purposes, and without any practical recourse for the convict.

By contrast, no one can be banned from the web, or email*. If Hotmail doesn't like you they can ban you, but you can just scoot over to Yahoo and resume emailing people. There's a little overhead to moving address books around, but otherwise it's not something you really need to worry about unless you're selling c1allis or the daughter of a deposed Nigerian general. 

The reason you can't be banned from email the way you can be banned from Facebook or MySpace is that email is a protocol, not a product. No one "owns email" the way Mark Zuckerburg & co. own Facebook. A published, standardized protocol means anyone can operate an email system that can inter-operate with any other email system.

A social networking system is very different from something like, say, an applicant tracking system , because it has no value on its own. If yours were the only company in the world to have an ATS, it would be just as valuable to you (and perhaps even more so) than if every company in the world had one. Social networking and email, however, are utterly pointless if you're the only one to have an email address or Facebook account. The point is not the product, but the people it facilitates interaction with. Most social networking products are worth nothing despite having a product similar or functionally superior to Facebook's because they have an insufficient number of members.

My fundamental belief is that the features you see in virtually every social networking product constitute a set of fundamental protocols. Friending someone, for instance, is really just like hyperlinking across sites, except that both ends of the "link" agree to it. There is really no grand engineering challenge here. At most, Facebook in the past provided some value by regulating membership, but with them opening the doors to the general public last year, even that part is in fast decline, and as Harry's case shows, may be on its way to becoming anti-value.

The ultimate precedent for this vision is the Internet itself, which despite being referred to and understood as a single entity by laypeople, is in fact just a giant hodgepodge of individual networks which have agreed to carry each others' data through a vast series of  peering agreements . As a result, the Internet has given us countless new and novel tools, while the phone system has given us the fax, early versions of which predate the voice telephone itself. Social networking is not a product, it's a protocol, and I fully expect the market ten years from now to be vastly more fragmented than it is today.

* Obviously this excludes state censorship a la China or Iran, which is a whole 'nother category.
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The Capriciousness of Crowds

Posted by Colin Kingsbury

Jul 20, 2007 2:24:00 AM

Every so often I hear a song on the radio that catches my ear and off I go to iTunes to look it up. This is dangerous because once there, odds are good I'll spend the next hour clicking related links until I find myself staring with glazed eyes at God only knows what twenty times removed from where I started. What Paulina Rubio has to do with delta blues I'm not quite sure, but that's how it goes.

There's a lot of ongoing talk about the power of social media, but in the case of iTunes, it also reveals some interesting limitations. While Amazon's book and product reviews have generally struck me as very well balanced, even when the subject is controversial, reviews of music on iTunes suffer from more grade inflation than a college quarterback majoring in Phys Ed.

To be fair, it's not exclusive to iTunes--CD reviews on Amazon seem to give the same scores as the albums get on iTunes. Compared to a DVD, hardcover book, or most consumer products sold on Amazon, a CD is less expensive, and books would seem to have many of the same creative and emotional attachment qualities as an album. Maybe I'm the guy in the asylum who just knows he's the only sane one, but the only thing I've found true about iTunes' ratings is that 4/5 stars *might* indicate the album is average. Or it might indicate that the group has a large base of fans who wished they turned out a 4-star effort. 

All of this raises interesting questions for those who think social media will somehow improve the job-hunting/recruiting process. Are current employees of a comapny going to give jobseekers objective opinions about what working there is like, or are they going to overlook facts to present views which reinforce their own (positive or negative) biases? Some years ago, I asked my then-boss who we could use for a reference for a particular specialized prospect, and he suggested a client who was on the verge of firing the company. I asked him what he was smoking to make such a suggestion, and he chuckled and said, "never underestimate the unwillingness of a person to admit they made the wrong decision."

Needless to say, it is not clear to me that social media must do anything except amplify the volume of whatever process it is injected into. At the end, the process is still driven by people, and we haven't changed much.
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Entrepreneurial vs. Creative

Posted by Colin Kingsbury

Jul 3, 2007 12:26:00 PM

Often I hear recruiters and managers talk about wanting to hire more "entrepreneurial and creative talent," or perhaps how to attract more "creative and entrepreneurial" people. These terms are used together so frequently that they've become somewhat synonymous, but the qualities, and the people that embody them, can actually be quite different.

I was thinking about this while reading Jason Corsello's recent post on the new challenges Google is facing in attracting and retaining top talent. Jason ends his post saying, "Every company these days seems to want to be like Google. They can start by acting like them..." For many people, "acting like Google" means providing benefits like free meals and laundry service.

While creative people might take a passing interest in a variety of things, my experience is that what they want more than anything is to be left alone to create. While they have the same human appreciation for praise and seeing their work used to successful ends, simply being able to do what they love is enough for them to keep going. While better health insurance might mean something to one creative person, a free onsite laundry service could mean a lot more because it eliminates a constant distraction. 

Give the artist a stack of forms to fill out and he might gripe about how these take time away from painting, but so long as the budget requests get approved eventually, it probably won't be a major problem. But give an entrepreneur the same stack of forms, and she'll just as likely carry them to the CEO's office and raise a ruckus about the process itself. The artist is content in his studio, while the entrepreneur sees the whole company as her oyster. Entrepreneurial people often end up working for themselves because they simply can't tolerate the blinding and obstinate stupidity that every established business seems to accumulate.

Do entrepreneurs care about fringe benefits? Yes and no. Given equal opportunities they will have an effect, but the more entrepreneurial a person is, the more focused they will be on the core opportunity. At the margin, people who join very early-stage startups often do so for nothing but equity, and founders will often sink money in for years before seeing a penny, and some lose their shirts in the process.

One of the more interesting examples of the differences between these two types is something I see whenever I talk to old friends from my brief stint as a newspaper reporter. The business is dying and they know it, but at the same time they talk about it as though it were happening to someone else. Their job, as they see it, is to write good news stories, and "the business side of news" is something they see as someone else's problem.

Ultimately I think large companies can process creative employees somewhat more effectively if only because they can be more easily tagged and shelved. The challenge is keeping them fed a steady diet of the work they like. Entrepreneurial employees, on the other hand, are more inclined to challenge things outside their portfolio, and become unhappy when forced to work around what they see as self-inflicted failures. 
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