The secret to Seek's success

An in-house hackathon and persistent 'paranoia' about its competitors underline the homegrown jobs site's mission to maintain its crown as a digital disruptor.

Online employment classifieds business Seek inhabits a peculiar space in the annals of Australian business. Seek, along with REA Group and Carsales, forms the trinity of disruptive companies that backed the virtual instead of the physical world -- and boy has it paid off for them.

Seek’s jobs listing platform dominates the local market. Revenue and earnings growth have held for the last four years and in February the company posted a record result for the half year.

Along the way, Seek has enshrined itself in the lexicon of disruption in Australia. Together with REA and Carsales, its name is still uttered in reverential tones as the company that broke the back of incumbent media operators, particularly Fairfax Media.

But disruption is not a static process. Technology, consumer behaviour and engagement channels change with time and the disruptor crown perhaps rests a bit wearily on the head of the $4.3 billion listed giant.

Competition paranoia

Competition is something the technology team at Seek is acutely aware off.

“We are always paranoid about it,” says  Mithran Naiker, IT Director, Operations and Applications at Seek. “We are always looking to do more and to do better.”

It’s the sort of awareness that will hold Seek in good stead, given that the competitive pressures are rising and the online job bulletin board model, as it stands, just doesn’t cut it anymore.

The popularity of social networks, particularly LinkedIn, has raised the stakes for Seek and the influx of job advertisement aggregators like Indeed pose further problems. Aggregation outfits like Indeed, Gumtree and Adzuna aren’t a new phenomenon but their appeal has expanded rapidly in recent times.

Metasearch sites trawl job boards, corporate websites and social media communities on behalf of jobseekers, who are far more comfortable with search engines than relying solely on bespoke bulletin boards.

Seek’s response to the competition has been to sharpen its focus on experience, striving to create a screening platform that allows for better shortlisting and helping recruiters match the right candidate with the right job.

“The premise of job ad platforms is changing and it all comes down to experience,” Naiker says. “Shortlisting is a time-consuming process so if we can help recruiters there, we want to do that.”

Living in a mobile world

Experience is an important factor in a world where one in every two job searches is now carried out on a mobile device.

Recent data released by Seek’s competitor Indeed highlights that Australia is slightly ahead of the curve when it comes to mobile job searches.

According to Indeed, 52 per cent of job searches on its search platform in Australia are on mobile devices. That’s slightly above the global rate of 50 per cent.

Indeed’s senior vice president, product and international, Chris Hyams says that mobile job search is the new reality for jobseekers and while a majority of them are striving to find jobs on a mobile device, only a fraction of employers has the channels capable of utilising the trend.

Indeed recently picked up MoBolt, which provides provides jobseekers with a seamless apply process from any smartphone, tablet, or desktop browser, to help bridge that gap, and it’s trend that’s got Seek paying close attention as well.

“In the old world it was all about the number of jobs on your platform but today it’s all about placements, and helping candidates and recruiters have a seamless mobile experience,” Naiker says.

Seamlessness is a big part of Seek’s pitch, because there’s been a discernible shift in the mobile play. Jobseekers aren’t just looking for jobs on mobile devices but actively looking to complete the entire application process.

Mining data

With over two million jobseeker profiles and the greatest number of job ads at its disposal, the secret for Seek to maintain its primacy in the market boils down to fine-tuning its analytics efforts to mine its treasure trove of data.

Small wonder then that Seek has a veritable legion of marketplace analysts working to feed its jobs recommendation engine, which aims to pump out targeted, high-value information to jobseekers.

The company recently launched a new recommendation product, leveraging big data to increase application volumes. The "Weekly Round-Up" email uses the power of Seek's big data to present candidates with highly targeted job recommendations based on their latest job-seeking behaviour.

According to Seek, since its launch in February this year the "Weekly Round-Up" has been sent to over 850,000 candidates and has recommended more than 25 million relevant jobs.

Naiker says that products like this are part of an aggressive strategy and products roadmap that Seek has implemented. And this engine of development is to a great extent fuelled by Seek’s commitment to getting out of its comfort zone.

In June, Seek conducted its second company-wide hackathon, with the express purpose of getting some new ideas on the table. With 250 employees from disparate verticals coming together, Naiker says the collaborative energy was harnessed to generate new product ideas.

With strategy guys having a go at coding and the developers working on marketing strategy, the majority of product ideas emerged from the hackathon very close to production -- a handy thing when you are trying to stay ahead of the competition.

But Naiker says that it’s not just about building customer-facing products.

“We are just as focused on improving our internal processes as building new products,” he says. “The trick to staying ahead really is to disrupt yourself.”