DES MOINES, Iowa - As recruitment activity in the U.S. construction market continues to soar and the market for top-talent tightens, niche job boards such as are increasingly proving to attract more industry specific visitors than the mega-market job sites.

Thanks to a competitive Internet recruitment market, a "David vs. Goliath" battle has emerged: sector-specific niche job sites pitted against the mass-market job boards. While it is true, in most Internet sectors, that major brands have come to dominate, fundamental sales, marketing, and retention issues have prevented mass-market sites from dominating as they do in areas such as online travel and shopping.

In a broad range of professions, niche job boards now attract more relevant candidates - and more client advertisers - than the major branded job sites. The niche job boards' success is due mainly to their ability to provide relevant content to a specific industry niche - and who go on to recommend that colleagues visit the site, too.

We now have over 200,000 people using the Web site each month and the major construction firms have come to regard us as the number one site for attracting construction-related candidates. Readers return to our site because we provide market insights and content which are highly relevant to construction professionals.

Job boards, by definition, mainly attract "active candidates" - candidates that are actively looking at new career opportunities with a view to changing their job. Yet for the "hardest-to-fill" roles, recruiters often need to reach "passive candidates" - candidates who are perfect for the role but who are not actively looking for a new job.

By providing jobs and content that appeal to both candidates, is able to generate successful hires for many of their advertisers. Newly launched expanded resources on the site such as the daily news updates, the relevant articles, and ongoing salary surveys are just some of the anchors that secure large volumes of repeat visits from both active and passive candidates.

Niche job boards have undoubtedly been one of the success stories of the dot-com boom. Those that have weathered the recruitment doldrums of 2002 and 2003 have in many cases emerged with more impressive client lists and stronger price points than their major job board competitors. The size and loyalty of their readerships is a significant asset that many in the industry feel are being under-exploited. With niche job boards now achieving annual revenues of several million dollars, they are a source of competition that mass-market sites cannot ignore.

Major branded job sites are taking an interest in niche sites. It is clear from the expressions of interest we have been receiving that major job boards now see the acquisition of a portfolio of niche sites as critical to their expansion plans. Combining the sales channels of a major site with the readerships of several niche sites is seen as hugely value-adding for both the acquirer and the niche sites being acquired. While there is value in the separate Web identities being maintained, we foresee a considerable amount of consolidation in our sector within the next 12-24 months.

The upshot of all this is that Internet recruitment appears to have thrown up one of the first examples of an Internet industry that is best served by thousands of niche brands rather than a handful of giant mass-market sites. Whether the ownership of these brands will remain so fragmented is a matter for hot debate.

Stephen Spain is COO for Industry People Group, the parent firm of niche job board

Publication date: 02/07/2005