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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Brian McCullough on the Mechanics of His Social Job Search Engine WhoToTalkTo

Brian McCullough, founded social job search engine WhoToTalkTo to "create an alternative job search that is qualitatively different from help wanted." He holds that the only innovation to the job search process thus far has been bringing help wanted onto the internet.

The brilliant peer to peer job network model was not his first attempt at revolutionizing job search though. In 2003 McCullough saw friendster.

"When I saw friendster all I thought about was job networking. Our first version tried to be the friendster of jobs, but I discovered that the social networking model doesn't work because not everyone's looking for a job at the same time. We had 15k signups but not everyone was incentivized to add jobs to the pot."

Incentivizing Job Lead Submissions
So how do you get people to add job leads to the pot when they may not be in immediate need of a job themselves? McCullough's major break through came when he asserted a basic hypothesis on his system - a job lead, to the people who need or want the job, is of equal value to any other job lead no matter how much it pays.

In other words a CEO position is an equal value exchange to a blog writing job so long as both seekers have need. This fundamental premise enabled the shift from a job social network to a job referral exchange.

Creating A Job Lead Community Economy
The mechanics of WhoToTalkTo were what first drew me to writing about it.

A first time user, in order to even "get in the door," has to submit a job lead to the index. This lead includes two parts - the description of the job and then the name of the person to contact, which remains hidden.

Once in, the user has earned one point, which he can use to request and, he hopes, purchase a job lead from someone in the network. The purchase is not automatic, and the person who submitted the job lead has the ultimate say in who he does or does not permit to see the lead.

Users earn points each time they "sell" their lead to another member, and they can use these points for future job lead purchases.

McCullough informed me that they're still testing models for maintaining the quality of the job leads in order to prevent crap leads from getting into the pool.

I asked him what about when WhoToTalkTo users start to sell the points they've earned and he told me they'd cross that bridge when they came to it.

The Business Model
So the content model attracted me first, but it was my questions about the seemingly non-existant business model that prompted me to shoot off my email to McCullough last night (he was quick to write me back and got on the phone right away).

McCullough's convinced that if they can create a tool that works for job seekers, "there are a million ways to monetize - we have 16000 categories - we can put up sponsorships for companies plus we can work with recruiters."

Three Weeks In
I get a little aggressive in interviews sometimes and McCullough had to remind me that they're only three weeks in.

"We built the model well enough so that we can grow to scale before we need more capital - our goal is to get the system working so that it's efficient for job seekers. And hey, we're three weeks in..."

In regards to growth plans he says, "we're going to work out of the midwest first. Since users are generating our content it's easier to go from regional to nationwide than to do it in reverse."

The results have been very exciting so far he told me, especially at the point where the value of the system gets tested - the sending of the job lead itself.

He told me that about 1/3 of job senders remain anonymous and pass along the name and address of the key contact person. Another third give their name - somewhat as a reference - along with the name of the main hiring contact. And the most surprising is that 1/3 of users have (indicated that they) hand delivered the name of the person directly to the person in charge of hiring.

Follow up Questions for McCullough
1) How do you ensure that job leads are actually passed on?
2) What do you think of LinkedIn? Clearly they've built a business around a job social network. What did they do right? Are they a competitor?
3) What if a given company's hiring manager joins WhoToTalkTo and my job lead is no longer valuable or necessary in your system?

Also see McCullough roll up his sleeves and converse with commenters in lifehacker.

By Garrett at 08:56 AM | Comments (1)

(1) Thoughts on Brian McCullough on the Mechanics of His Social Job Search Engine WhoToTalkTo

1) Users have 48 hours to deliver on requested referrals. If no delivery is made, the points are returned to the requesting user.
2) I'm not sure LinkedIn is doing what we're doing. They're one kind of job search tool and we're another. We're not doing strict social networking; a better analogy would be to think of us as peer to peer job searching. Users exchange information like people trade songs on P2P sites. LinkedIn will help you if you want to work at Company X and you have a friend of a friend that works there. WhoToTalkTo can help you if you want to work at Company X but don't know anyone connected to that company. SOMEWHERE out there, there's somebody that works there and can give you the inside scoop and we help you find them. We're more about making connections that wouldn't be possible otherwise.
3) In that case a user can always modify their referral or post a new one. Right now you can post up to 5 referrals and earn points on each one. But I'm not sure in the example you describe that the lead would no longer be valuable. After all, if my manager posts his contact info on WhoToTalkTo, I still might have some valuable insight on how to impress him... like, for instance, what sort of qualifications he values most, or that he's a huge Dallas Cowboys fan and an easy way to butter him up is to talk football.

Comments by Brian McCullough : Tuesday, December 12, 2006 at 01:28 PM

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