Hundreds of internet firms are now competing to develop the best internet job placement system for job seekers. They are offering technologies that can tailor job leads for the individual job seeker and customize resume writing and interview prep, technologies that can rank and sort workers, technologies that can push out job leads on a regular basis, several times a day.

There is an outpouring of creativity and entrepreneurship to be sure. But which of these technologies really represents advances for individual job seekers or for the broader social goal of fuller employment?

A quick review: Up through the 1980s, job placement was mainly through job listings at unemployment offices and help wanted ads in the daily newspapers, and as a job seeker you often sent or hand-delivered a resume to a potential employer. The photo above is of an unemployment office in California in the late 1940s. When I first visited the California state unemployment offices in the summer of 1970, the technology was little changed: jobs were listed on 3 x 5 cards posted on the walls, with accompanying phone numbers.

The first generation of internet job boards in the 1990s were largely passive listings of jobs. The early internet firms, such as CareerBuilder (founded in 1994 as NetStart) and Monster, enabled job seekers to identify job openings, locally and nationwide, more effectively than in the past and to also submit applications with the click of a mouse. Gradually they added other features, including information on job search techniques and labor market data.

Now we are in a second (or third) generation of internet job placement systems that offer a range of internet approaches and technologies. Numerous job sites now target specific industries, populations, geographies or alternate forms of work. Job sites specialize in healthcare, financial services and hospitality. They specialize in low-wage restaurant jobs or high-end software jobs or tens of other occupational niches. They specialize in mature workers or college students or workers with developmental differences. They specialize in internships, summer work, part-time, contingent work or independent contracting.

The above sites and others utilize a range of technologies. Traditional resumes are being augmented by technologies that enable workers to submit video presentations or complete certain tasks online to demonstrate skills or achieve a score or ranking through problem-solving, puzzles and other challenges. Technologies have emerged establishing “talent communities,” by which job seekers engage with employers to demonstrate their ideas and passion for the product. Tinder-like technologies have emerged, that enable job seekers and employers to swipe through profiles, and when they both say “yes,” to start a text conversation. And added to all of these, is the technology of LinkedIn and the other social network sites that offer a technology for building and utilizing job networks.

How effective are these? Job placement staff at California Workforce Development Boards, community colleges and private staffing firms, have been experimenting with these sites. Discussions with these practitioners yield the following four main points.

1– The internet placement field remains highly volatile, with firms constantly arising and others going out of business: Internet placement firms that were highly touted only a few years ago (LearnUp, StartUp-PairUp, Emjoyment, YesGraph, Readyforce) have ceased business. Most of the internet placement firms monetize their placement services by charging employers for advertising, placements or outplacements. But employers do not have unlimited budgets. It’s likely that a good number of the current firms will no longer be around in a few years.

2– The effectiveness of sites will differ among job seekers, depending on skills and familiarity with technology — though job counselors agree that the placement sites, even the most technologically sophisticated ones, are only a starting point: A recent survey of 20 San Francisco Bay Area job placement professionals found a wide range of responses to the question, “What internet job placement site do you utilize to assist job seekers?” The best-known job boards topped the responses, including the leading job board aggregator, Indeed, along with LinkedIn and the regionally-based Craigslist. But there were a range of other sites, depending on industry (Dice for IT jobs, Absolutely Health Care) or type of employment (, InternBound) or independent contracting (TaskRabbit, Fiverr).

The respondents noted that their job seekers differed so widely that none was the “right” internet placement site. What is consistent across job seekers is that the job placement sites will in almost all cases be a starting point for utilizing job networks or low-tech follow-up. No sophistication of technology can replace the low-tech follow-up, especially the most valuable low-tech referral from someone within the company.

3– The jury is still out on the use of data analytics to help job seekers: One current trend in the internet job placement ecosystem is the use of data analytics to make recommendations for occupations or job leads for job seekers (as well as to assist employers in hiring decisions). Job placement counselors are yet to be convinced that big data is adding value and not over-complicating the placement process. More and more complex algorithms may not add predictive or placement value. As seen by the counselors, most of their job seekers need help not in a sophisticated placement plan, but in executing the placement process, which leads to the next point.

4– We all need a job coach: “We all need a job coach, someone who cares and is in our corner,” is the mantra of Mentored president Mark Yosowitz. Mentored is one of several internet placement firms (Career Arc, HireMojo, Next Job) that is trying to link the most current technology with the low-tech individual job coach.

Mentored started with a focus on one-to-one mentoring in education through internet/mobile connections. In Yosowitz’s words, “one-to-one mentoring is the gold standard in learning, the ability to deliver personalized, high-frequency interaction with a coach or mentor over a period of time. With technology we can finally make one-to-one learning and coaching both cost-effective and scalable.”

Mentored’s first projects included an internet mentoring platform enabling Columbia undergrads to tutor New York City high school students and a platform for students in the “I Have a Dream” Foundation affiliates in Newark, Portland and Los Angeles for state test prep and tutoring. Mentored soon expanded to job placement, with a similar approach of mixing internet and mobile technology with individual job coaches. As Yosowitz recounts, “Similar to education, we saw a large pool of talent and experience in job counselors, some retired some still in practice, who could work with job seekers through the internet and mobile phones.”

Mentored is currently in a pilot project with the Fresno Workforce Development Board to test a “high-touch/high-frequency service” connecting job coaches on a 24/7 basis through a combination of text, chat and live audio and video with two populations with high unemployment rates in the area — CalWORKS recipients and out-of-school youth. The pilot is still in its first six months, but one unexpected result is that of the seven participants who have found employment, five have asked to stay in contact with their coaches. They valued the individual connection with a job coach.

Technology, both internet and mobile, has improved the job search process in identifying job openings, pushing out job leads and submitting applications, and the next wave of technologies should continue to bring advances. But we are likely to find that technology can only do so much. For a good segment of job seekers, the connection to an individual job coach cannot be replaced. “The job coach provides job advice and leads,” Yosowitz explains, “but she or he also does much more: someone who is there to give the job seeker encouragement, accountability, sometimes even just someone to talk to and commiserate with, in a mysterious, complex process that is almost always filled with rejection.”