If you manage a business, you’ll know that the quality of your people plays a big role in the success of your business. That’s why many leaders recognise the need to be able to recruit good talent. In order to balance the cost of recruitment while attempting to hire quality talent, employers spend a lot of time having to filter spam on job portals.

While I am commenting on the many flaws of job portals (specifically spam), this is largely due to job searching behaviour rather than any issue with any job platform itself, because these problems are shared by many job portals. But to understand how you can improve this as an employer, it’s important to first understand why this happens.

If you prefer to listen to an interview I had on BFM about spam on job portals, you can play the interview here:


Before the Internet

Before the internet boom in the 1990s, you discovered jobs through mainly through personal networks and newspaper classifieds. If you found something you liked, you would have to print a physical copy of your CV, write a cover letter, and then mail or fax this to your potential employer. This is an incredibly slow and expensive process, and requires a larger investment on the part of the jobseeker when they are looking for a new job.

From the employers’ perspective, the fact that the jobseeker took these efforts to make an application to their vacancies, adds a layer of “filter”, because if you were not that interested as a job seeker, you would not have made the effort.

Before the internet boom, you had to print physical copies of your CVs, and mail or fax them to your potential employer, which was a slow and expensive process


It was much harder to find a job because of these barriers, and therefore there was also less movement in terms of talent. Employers could retain their talent for longer because of this, but it was also difficult for them to hire new talent if they wanted to, and therefore employers did the best they could with the talent already in their companies.

In short, employers don’t get that many irrelevant applications due to the difficulty of applying for jobs, but their access to talent was also limited by these same barriers.


The Internet Boom

The Internet was born in 1969, but it was only in the 1990s, that it started getting more widely accessible by the public. And that spawned the growth of the web-based job portals as we know them today.

Making a job application was now so much easier. Instead of going through page by page on newspaper classifieds, you can now sit down in front of your PC, and do a keyword search, and suddenly all the “Accountant” jobs will appear in front of you. And if you’re interested, just click “Apply”, and they’ve sent your CV to the employer.

Wow! That’s so much faster than having to snail mail a CV to a potential employer, not to mention so much cheaper too because you don’t have to spend money on printing and postage.

For employers, it’s suddenly so much easier for your vacancy to reach a wider audience, because the right people will discover you using a simple search, and making it easy for them to apply to you means that you’re much likelier to receive their CV also.

Job portals made it so much easier for jobseekers to apply to your vacancies, but it that also caused many employers to start getting a lot more spam

But what happens when it becomes so easy to apply to a job? Employers start getting a lot of irrelevant applications (spam)!


Why doesn’t “spam” happen as much on other internet portals?

We hear about employers complaining about receiving many irrelevant job applications (spam). But you don’t hear as much from car sellers or estate agents who use car portals and property portals. Why is this different? It’s simply about the difference in behaviour when someone is looking to buy a property vs searching for job.

When I’m looking to buy an apartment, I go to a property portal and search for properties in the location, size and budget that fits what I’m looking for. I see a list of properties, and then I click in to see photos of what the property looks like. If I don’t like the photos of the property, I move on to other properties. Once I find a property that fits the bill, and I’m comfortable with the environment (based on the photos I see), I click “Contact” to reach out to the seller.

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Now, the seller is almost 100% certain to call me back, because it doesn’t matter exactly who they meet, as long as it is a genuinely interested buyer. Because I’m almost certain to get a call back, I don’t contact every property seller unless I’m genuinely interested also, because I don’t want to waste my time.


The Job Searching Behaviour

Contrast this with how the average jobseeker looks for a job:

When I look for a job on a job portal, I start by doing a search. I filter based on the skills required, level of experience and salary of the role. I am then presented with a list of jobs that suit what I just searched for. When I click into the job, I see a job description, and if I’m lucky, it’s simple and well written. I want to know more about the employer, but there’s mainly information about the job, and very little about what it’s actually like to work there.

I open a separate tab on my browser and start googling the company, I see a website, but still not enough to let me know if it’s the right environment for me. I go back to the job description, and think to myself “well, let’s not overthink this, maybe I won’t even get invited for the interview”, so I click “Apply”. I repeat this several times, but now I’ve stopped trying to google the company, because why waste that time if you don’t know if the employer will want to meet you anyway? I can only know if I like the employer when I get invited for an interview, so let’s just apply to as many as I can first.

Click, click, click, click, click, click, click…..

One hundred job applications later, a small handful of employers come back to me, and the rest completely ignore my job application. Good thing I applied to 100 jobs!

average jobseekers process causes spam on job portals

What if I’m a top quality jobseeker? My chances of getting an interview are very high, so I don’t want to waste my time applying to jobs that I’m not interested in. So the other extreme happens. I search for jobs, and because there’s not enough information about whether I will like the employer, I only apply to jobs where I recognise the brand of the employer. If I don’t recognise your company, you won’t receive my CV.

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What happens on the employers’ side?

Most the time after you advertise a job, you receive tons of irrelevant applications or spam on job portals (see the Average Jobseekers’ process above). After you spend a lot of time screening through these CVs, you end up with a handful of average CVs that you could invite for an interview, but they’re not that fantastic anyway. Why? Because while you were busy being frustrated with all the spam you had to go through, and you never stopped to notice that a lot of quality jobseekers didn’t even apply to your job in the first place.

And it all comes down to one thing.

There is not enough information for jobseekers to decide if they like your company unless they get an interview, and they don’t decide if they get an interview, the employer does. So the average jobseeker is incentivised to apply to as many jobs as they can, and the quality jobseeker is not.

Contrast this with buying a property again. The buyer has an idea if they are going to like the property or not because there’s enough information, and the seller will most definitely invite them to meet. So the buyer decides if they want to meet.


What can we do to reduce spam on job portals?

I offer some ideas to reduce spam on job portals (mainly from what we are doing at WOBB to solve these problems), but I’m sure there are many more out there, and different job portals are probably trying different things. Here’s what I believe will take recruitment and job portals to the next level:

1) Build your employer brand, and have a solid presence online

Employers should invest some time in their employer brand, and potentially be active on social media to attract the right jobseekers to their company. That way, when a quality jobseeker sees your jobs advertised, they are much likelier to apply to you because they recognise your brand. Also read my tips on how to hire superstars for your early stage startup, which is actually relevant regardless of what type of employer you are.

2) Include more information about what it’s like to work in your company, not just job descriptions

Employers should offer more information about what it’s like to work in their companies when they advertise on job portals, and job portals should incentivise employers to make the effort to volunteer this information. Don’t just post up a lazy job description, unless you are so popular that everyone wants to work for you.

3) Job Portals should match

Job portals should try to find a way to match the jobseekers to the right jobs, and not rely on them having to search for jobs themselves, which will increase the accuracy of the job application and reduce irrelevant applications.

4) Job Portals should help you filter

Job portals sit on a lot of useful data which they can use to help employers organise the job applications they receive so that they get to the right application faster. At WOBB, we have an anti-spam filter that saves employers time from having to open an irrelevant application (we’ve estimated at least 100 hours saved for our employers since we started filtering candidates). To find out what we are doing at WOBB, click here.

job portal

So what’s next?

Job portals are here to stay, and for the foreseeable future, is still one of the most cost-efficient ways for companies to hire talent. But to tackle spam on job portals, it’s time for Job Portal 2.0. A platform that does more than just list job descriptions. A platform that helps employers attract and filter talent, and not just push that responsibility back to the employer.

It’s an exciting space, and I look forward to see how technology can help our platforms evolve.




Posted by Derek Toh

Derek is the founder and CEO of WOBB.CO. He was part of the pioneer batch for the Stanford-MaGIC Entrepreneurship Program, and is also a mentor for McKinsey & Company's Youth Leadership Academy. Derek is on a mission to revolutionise work culture in Asia. He cares about initiatives that improve education and the talent market. Derek is also a big fan of superhero movies, and has been told that he drinks too much coffee during the day.