Workpop and the Internet Job Placement Competition of 2016

Michael Bernick
Counsel with the international law firm of Duane Morris LLP, a Milken Institute Fellow and former Director of the California Employment Development Department

Faster, faster; smarter, smarter, smarter, the competition among internet job placement companies intensifies in 2016. Hundreds of companies will be entering and exiting the field this year, as they compete promising greater success for job seekers, and/or a better hiring process for employers.

Workpop (www.workpop.com), based in Santa Monica, is one of the fastest growing internet job placement companies. Its development indicates the intensity of the competition and constant pressure to innovate. This development also indicates the creativity and drive that internet entrepreneurs in the job placement field are bringing to long-standing employment challenges.

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workpop2Workpop was founded in 2014 by Chris Ovitz (right) and Reed Shaffner (left), who currently serve as Co-CEOS. Both came to the company from backgrounds primarily in tech. Immediately prior to Workpop, Shaffner headed product development at mobile game developer Scopely. Before that he was the general Manager of Zynga’s mobile platform, and earlier in his career worked for Microsoft in the Office and Bing groups. He is a graduate of Duke and published research scientist.

Ovitz, a graduate of UCLA, has been a tech entrepreneur. Prior to Workpop he was a co-founder of Viddy, a mobile video application that rocketed to more than 45 million users within the first year of its launch. He ran business development at Scopely, which is where he and Shaffner met.

Though their backgrounds were in tech, Ovitz and Shaffner saw an opportunity to create a better experience for job seekers outside of tech. They decided to focus on a part of the placement market largely ignored by other internet firms, the lower wage, hourly jobs in restaurants and hotels, retail stores and personal services.

In September 2014, Shaffner told the Los Angeles Business Journal, “LinkedIn is great if you’re an investment broker or developer, but not necessarily for a line cook.” Biz Stone, the Twitter co-founder who joined the Workpop board explained to the San Diego Union Tribune, “Workpop is creating a tool that has empathy for people who have traditionally been sidelined and ignored. I was an hourly wage worker…I know what it’s like to submit your resume into a black hole.”

By the time of Workpop’s creation in 2014, the internet job placement field was already crowded and rapidly evolving. The first stage of the “passive” job boards that listed jobs was long gone. Even the early job board entrants who succeeded, such as Monster.com, had evolved to add products of resume writing, interview practice, job leads. Monster.com was joined by thousands of job boards that were already becoming “active” boards in pushing out job leads and advisories, in incorporating video into resumes, and in moving to a mobile platform.

Workpop built on these active tools, and added others, particularly ones aimed at bringing greater transparency to the hiring process for job seekers. “One of our goals was to improve the job search process for job seekers, so that it was not a black hole of resume submission. We wanted job seekers to see how employers were responding to their applications”, Ovitz recounts. The current Workpop job search has several feedback loops for job seekers, including feedback from employers and other job professionals.

Logging into Workpop, the job seeker today finds a range of jobs, many of them hourly, in the service sector. On a recent day, hundreds of job listings appear for the hospitality field (day/night baker, line cook, pastry sous), with other listings for construction and home maintenance, and a range of service industry positions (e-commerce photographer, fashion intern, residential care worker, mobile swim instructor). The job seeker can filter by geographic location (Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego, and specific locations within), full-time/part-time, and sector/occupation.

In submitting job applications, the job seeker can easily create and save a resume, and add a video cover letter. The process can be undertaken on a computer but is increasingly aimed at the mobile platform that Workpop sees its customer base rapidly shifting to.

Workpop has incorporated several feedback loops for job seekers to hear directly from employers, and from others in the Workpop employment community. Shaffner explains, “We believe that not only should every single candidate get a response on every job they apply to, but also they should have some level of quantitative and qualitative feedback on why they didn’t get jobs. By providing this level of transparency, we can deliver a fundamentally different and better experience to both employers and candidates.”

The transparency takes several forms. The job seeker is able to see whether the employer reviewed the application, and even in greater detail how long the employer might have viewed the video or how far down the resume that the employer scrolled. For each employer, Workpop includes a ranking of responsiveness to job seekers, the percentage and speed of response.

Workpop also hosts a “Community” section on the site which seeks to build a community of employers and job seekers in improving job search. “Take a minute to help someone improve their application”: Job seekers are urged to submit questions on resume writing, interviewing and job search techniques, and to comment on inquiries from others. Employers are asked to participate and critique resumes and cover letters. Shaffner adds, “We’ve developed a social platoform for job seekers to easily share their applications and receive feedback digitally. We’ve built a rich community for them to get answers to their employment questions.”

For employers, Workpop provides the job listing function, and the ability to list many jobs for free. It also has developed a sophisticated platform to manage hiring. The platform enables employers to handle all of the on-boarding functions on-line and integrates onboarding with other employee management functions.

Workpop has been live for only 18 months, and has grown steadily. This week it is expanding from its current base in Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange Counties and going live in two additional cities, Houston and Dallas, and has plans to expand to other regions of the country.

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Whether and to what degree Workpop is able to expand remains to be determined in the next few years. It can expect heightened competition from the existing job placement sites and as well from new internet firms. The shaking out of the field will continue, with a good number of the current internet placement sites out of business in the next few years.

But whether Ovitz, Shaffner and their team succeed financially or not, from a public policy perspective what they and the other internet entrepreneurs are doing is important in testing employment approaches. They are trying to produce a better connection of unemployed people to jobs. They are experimenting with internet tools for improved placement of all workers, and particularly lower-wage workers and workers with barriers to employment.

Other peers their ages are working as “policy analysts” at the White House or U.S. Department of Labor, or other federal and state government entities. These peers generally are recycling the same tired job training memes of “employer driven training”, “sector strategy”, “wraparound services”. The Workpop crew and other internet entrepreneurs are trying to do something fresh and actually making specific job placements. You decide who’s doing something socially useful.

“Our mission is to help everyone find a job they love” the site announces. Not a bad mission for any entrepreneurs, internet or not, to set for themselves today.

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