Recruiters: the Next Travel Agents?

It’s no secret that the travel business is in decline. People are not traveling much less, but when they travel now they do not want to make a big deal out of it. The ideal trip involves going someplace and doing something, and this streamlined approach to travel has left travel agents in particular out in the cold. Why would you pay for the “services” of a travel agent when you can make your plans and buy your tickets faster and cheaper on your own?

What has happened to travel agents is part of a larger pattern in the information economy. The old-style middlemen who used their specialized knowledge of a field to gain a competitive advantage find their business evaporating when technology makes the same information widely available. Electronic commerce made travel agents mostly obsolete. A decade earlier, information systems did the same thing to middle managers. A whole generation of pencil-pushers lost their jobs when companies found they could extract more accurate information from the computer systems that by then were effectively running the company anyway.

The job market might be the next segment of the economy to get hit. Recruiters in various disguises try to use their inside knowledge of the job market to connect job-seekers with employers’ job openings. A company that wants to hire a worker might spend several dollars to list the job opening in classified advertising, hundreds of dollars to subscribe to a job-listing site, or tens of thousands of dollars to obtain a specific worker from a temporary agency or recruiter.

None of this, however, benefits the job-seeker. Poring over classifieds, searching job sites, and talking to recruiters on the telephone can be a frustrating and discouraging process. A more powerful approach is to make a list of potential employers and go directly to each employer’s web site. For most job openings, that’s where you get the best information about the job — and it’s also the quickest way to apply.

As more employers put their job listings on their own web sites and more job-seekers look for them there, the middlemen in the job market will find themselves out of the loop. That doesn’t mean that all the recruiters and job sites will go away, but those that remain will have to take a less intrusive approach to stay relevant.

The recent history of search engines shows how easily a market can change. Do you remember when AltaVista was the dominant search engine? Then Google came along with a simpler interface using a fast-loading, mostly white home page, and now it boasts close to 90 percent of web searches. But we can look at Google now and say we know it could be simplified further, so it is just a matter of time before a search engine that is easier to use comes along and replaces the ones we know now. You can see a similar effect in Web browsers. Microsoft made Internet Explorer too intrusive, and that is part of the reason it is rapidly losing its share of the browser market to simpler alternatives.

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