Tuesday, June 12

Saving Jobster: Joel Cheesman


In December 2006, Jason Goldberg, CEO of Jobster (one of the first employee recruitment search engines and “somewhat, sometimes” transparent CEO blogs), embarked on a perilous crisis communication adventure when he asked his employees to ignore rumors of a mass layoffs. "Put down your pencils .... calm it down, relax a bit, and have a nice holiday,” he said. “We’ve got big news to give ya before the new year."

Although Goldberg dismissed outsider speculation, despite leaving hints on his own blog over the holidays, 60 of the company’s 148 employees were laid off, which was much worse than any one had guessed.

For my part, the entire story presented itself as a living case study in crisis communication (what not to do) with one question that remained unanswered for the better part of six months: could Jobster erase the reputation damage it endured externally and the employee morale flogging it weathered internally?

While I appreciate there are still plenty of people who say Jobster’s business model (or lack thereof, some claim) will one day be its undoing, I submit that the company has moved beyond the employee post-holiday massacre. Yet, perhaps even more ironic, some of the credit to ending the great Jobster layoff debate doesn’t even belong to Goldberg. It belongs to Cheezhead’s Joel Cheesman in April.

How did Cheesman help save Jobster from existing in a Groundhog Day-like movie, reliving the layoffs over and over again? Simple. After promising a public smack down between himself and Goldberg at a recruiting conference, Cheesman, in his own words, left people with “less rumble, more mumble and fumble.”

True. The worst of the four non-smack down questions was when Cheesman asked Goldberg “what does Jobster want to be when it grows up?” And then, after Goldberg appropriately addressed his understanding of the modern career market (you cannot intern with a master-class spokesperson like President Bill Clinton and not learn a few presentation skills), the Cheezhead summed up an even better answer for his so-called adversary, saying Jobster wants to be “a career center for the digital age.” Yep. That will work.

The better questions, perhaps the only questions that really needed to be asked, have never been answered: why did Goldberg hint, then deny, then confirm layoffs at Jobster? And, how can Goldberg think he was being transparent when all of his actions represented the exact opposite of transparency? But alas, asking those questions and two or three follow-ups is what makes for a great aggressive media session. (I’ve had clients reach over the table as if to hit me during mock media sessions before they are reminded that it’s only practice and my questions are nothing but “acting” the part.)

I don’t think Cheesman has had such training so it’s no surprise that he killed the great Jobster layoff debate by jumping the shark in a face-to-face venue that is remarkably well suited for Goldberg (as if we didn’t know that; he founded a company with about $40 million in venture capital). Of course, I am not saying that Cheesman “saved” Jobster single-handedly. Goldberg has done a fine job at improving Jobster’s communication, including the Jobster blog.

While you won’t often find the kind of entertaining hot talk and foodie reviews that used to drive traffic there, the blog does read better and includes a few more voices than it once used to. So while the traffic numbers are much lower than before, the blog seems to be better targeted in attracting the attention of people who might be interested in Jobster as a customer or investor.

Although Goldberg still likes to hint on occasion, and sometimes without a payoff on those promises, he still tosses out ideas that seem interesting to me. Can anyone really become a sourcer with some simple online technology? Will the pay-for-applicant model really revolutionize recruiting? Can Jobster really keep its communication tight, focusing more on its message than everyone else’s? Will the now Goldberg-employed John Sumser save Jobster-owned Recruiting.com or let it fade away into the abyss of forgotten blogs?

I don’t know. It is certainly something worth watching even though the living case study on Jobster’s layoff debacle has come to a close (I meant to wrap it weeks ago until Jericho fans pushed back the post for days and then weeks). That said, you’ll have to wait for a book that recaps the Jobster case study with some additional insights. Yep. For better or worse, Jobster earned its chapter.

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1 comments:

Rich on 6/12/07, 3:39 PM said...

Famous Last Words:

"In the meantime, we've lost a someone who was fun to play with." — Recruiting Animal on the absence of Jason Goldberg engaging in blog discussions beyond Jobster.

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