By Vickie Elmer, contributor
FORTUNE -- Businesses often use a whole battery of tools to "know the competition." Market research and intelligence is an industry in and of itself. So why shouldn't job seekers expect a report on the competition as well?
CareerBuilder has just launched a job search site that attempts to do just that, allowing users to find out how their credentials stack up to other candidates for a job.
The site, Headhunter.com, will offer a "job competition report" as a means to differentiate itself from the three dozen or so U.S. senior manager and executive job boards -- and just as important, help lure quality candidates who may be used to seeing market research as part of their day-to-day jobs.
"If we don't deliver quality management candidates, companies won't use the site," says Ben Jablow, vice president of CareerBuilder's niche sites, who added that the response so far has been positive from both job seekers and employers. Headhunter.com was officially unveiled on Wednesday along with a survey of just under 2,700 hiring managers showing that 23% expect to hire senior level workers in the next six months.
CareerBuilder's market research showed the senior management job space offered "a lot of growth and future potential," Jablow says. Headhunter aims to offer around 10,000 managerial jobs, more than three times its current level, in the span of a year.
The competitive report is not unique in the online job board world, but it is unusual, says Peter Weddle, chief executive of a workforce information and publishing company called Weddle's LLC that tracks job boards. "Without a clear market leader, this is a smart move," he says.
CareerBuilder first launched a slimmer version of the competition report in June 2010 on its main site, saying it provided "an inside peek into the qualifications of other candidates."
The new one works like this: After a candidate signs in and applies for a job on Headhunter.com, she can click on a link that brings up a four-page job competition report, complete with bar and pie charts showing candidates' years of experience, recent salaries, and a list of the top companies where they have worked. (The most recent employer will not be listed.) The report also shows educational level, alma mater and the number of direct reports -- but only if at least five candidates have applied and their data is available to be pooled.
Headhunter gathers information from candidate profiles and job applications and aggregates it in a report that takes about 30 seconds to generate online. After more people apply, candidates may view updated reports. An employer can also view the information and use it to guide the rest of their search. It is not available to individuals who browse the site, but only job applicants, CareerBuilder says.
For one director of marketing posting in Chicago yesterday, a job competition report showed a wide range of desired salaries -- from $78,000 to $93,000. More applicants had over 20 years of experience and most had a bachelor's degree, though a quarter said they had earned a master's as well. The top alma maters were DePaul, Purdue and Northern Michigan and the most common companies that applicants had experience working at included 3Com Corp., Statement Marketing, and Windy City Inc.
It's equally valuable to job-seekers and employers to compile such reports, says Christian Forman, chief executive of StartWire, which offers job-seekers online tools to track and organize their applications. Eventually, such information could evolve and become a "game-changing" tool to gauge where talented workers are located and where they are needed.
Right away, the reports may help job candidates determine whether their salary expectations are outdated -- and that they may be over or undervaluing themselves. "It's beneficial for job-seekers to get a clear-eyed view of what the market is," Forman says.
Yet the report may not give a full or fair picture of the market, or even the candidates' true experience levels or pay. "What 'the competition' states as their salary level may not be accurate and probably isn't particularly relevant," says Susan Joyce, publisher of career information site Job-Hunt.org. Joyce also argues that there may be legitimate privacy concerns about making this sort of data public. "What else will they do with that information?"
Headhunter.com's Jablow says that the site takes user privacy seriously and that he expects the site and the report to grow and change partly based on users' feedback in the next few months.
Others argue that the site is late to the game or trying to quantify leadership skills with a few data points. "Leadership qualities … are impossible to benchmark in such a mass market approach. I consider this new feature to be more of a bell and whistle, and not something of real value to the executive candidate," says Eryn Feinsod, a spokeswoman for the Association of Executive Search Consultants, which runs a competing site BlueSteps.com. Feinsod also argues that the data in the competition reports will be skewed because it comes through one source only and may include some people who are less qualified for the job.
However, Headhunter is free of charge to job-seekers while competing executive job sites like TheLadders charges users $15 to $25 a month. Except for the job listings, Headhunter will be free of advertising, including pop-up ads, says Jablow.
Headhunter launched with about 2,800 job listings, many of them from CareerBuilder or its seven other niche sites. The site's "sweet spot" will be manager, senior manager and vice president-level positions, and in two or three months, most of the jobs will be unique to the site, Jablow says. By comparison, TheLadders currently has 120,000 job listings, according to Marc Cenedella, the site's CEO and founder.
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