PeopleAhead Has Forward-Looking Take on the Online Job Board

6/11/08Follow @wroush

The Web has been around for long enough that many online businesses that once seemed revolutionary have begun to look routine, tired, even fundamentally flawed. In many industries, there is an emerging second generation of Web businesses that hope to supplant their pioneering predecessors. Look at online comparison shopping in the financial industry, for example. It’s a sector that has long been dominated by advertising- and commission-driven banking sites like LendingTree. But as we reported on Monday, there’s a new site called MoneyAisle that’s completely ad-free; its founders are out to replace the old regime with a reverse auction system where banks actively bid against one another for customers’ business.

Rather than “Web 2.0″—a term that has acquired a specific meaning having to do with hosted services, browser-based interaction, user-generated content, and social networking—you could call this phenomenon “the Web, Take Two.” And now it’s spreading to job boards. Waltham, MA-based PeopleAhead, which launched to the public yesterday, is taking on Monster.com (NASDAQ: MNST), Yahoo’s HotJobs, Dice, and the other traditional employment websites with a new mix of features that emphasize job seekers’ talents and aspirations over their raw résumé data.

There’s a big whiff of Web 2.0 to the PeopleAhead website, where the main activities involve creating personal profiles, soliciting endorsements, and networking with other job seekers. But more than anything, the site amounts to a repudiation of the Monster.com model, where job seekers toss their résumés in with millions of others, and where employers wind up sifting through hundreds of potential employees who may be technically qualified but aren’t good matches, for a host of reasons that aren’t captured by traditional database searches.

“First and foremost, it’s a career advancement website, not a job board like what you might have come to expect, although we do match people to the right career opportunities,” says PeopleAhead co-founder Tom Chevalier, a recent Babson College MBA graduate. As Chevalier and fellow co-founder and Babson graduate Carlos Laracilla explain it, PeopleAhead’s system is built around the concept of competencies. Members start off by picking the areas where they believe their own skills are most evident: problem-solving, for example, or persistence, enthusiasm, or team-building. Each member can then invite peers, supervisors, teachers, or other mentors to visit their profiles and leave their own input about the areas where they excel (a feature that will be familiar to users of the professional networking site LinkedIn). Potential employers can screen job seekers based on these competencies, and see the external evaluations alongside traditional résumé information such as a person’s educational and work background.

“Without knowing that sort of information, you may find somebody who has the requisite number of years of experience, but maybe they wouldn’t fit what your team requires personality-wise,” says Chevalier. “That’s one aspect of how our matching goes beyond what you’d find in a résumé. It goes into who a professional really is rather than what they’ve written down on paper.” To find out who a person really is, of course, an employer will probably want to meet them in person. But PeopleAhead’s process may at least help companies be more efficient about deciding whom to bring in for interviews.

Laracilla and Chevalier founded PeopleAhead in 2006, raised funding from Boston-area angel investors, and spent the last year and a half designing the website, writing and testing the site’s proprietary matching algorithms, and forming partnerships with New England-area MBA programs. Students from these programs have been helping to beta-test the site, and Laracilla and Chevalier expect they’ll now be one of the main sources feeding new members into the system. With today’s public launch, however, anybody can join the network, and employers can set up their own profiles and start screening job candidates.

It’s the PeopleAhead matching process, called “TrueMatch,” that Laracilla and Chevalier say they’re proudest of. It doesn’t work like the typical searches that employers can run against the databases at Monster.com and other job sites; it’s more reminiscent of what mathematicians call fuzzy logic. “Companies define the profile of an ideal candidate for a certain position—for example, the industries they would like that person to have experience with, the type of education they’ve had, the types of activities they’re involved with, the competencies relevant to the company and the position,” Laracilla explains. “Then we give them the opportunity to define what things are ‘must-haves’ and which things can be fine-tuned until they uncover the best candidates.”

In theory, the process helps companies zero in on candidates who are qualified along all of the critical dimensions for a given position—their ability to work as part of a team, for example. According to Chevalier, a large consulting company that used PeopleAhead’s system to screen new Babson MBAs found several job candidates who hadn’t turned up in a search of the college’s traditional online job board.

The process saves time for job seekers, too. As Laracilla puts it, “It doesn’t do anyone any good if you’re seeing a vice president of marketing position if you’re an entry-level professional.”

Laracilla and Chevalier emphasize that while PeopleAhead has social-networking features, they aren’t out to compete with LinkedIn or other professional networking sites. “We’re trying to learn how members can take advantage of the networks that they’ve already built,” says Chevalier. People who already have profiles at LinkedIn, in fact, can import their profile information into PeopleAhead and be matched with hiring companies instantly.

PeopleAhead is so new and so small—right now, it’s just Laracilla, Chevalier, and one full-time marketing and Web design person—that nobody at Monster.com or HotJobs is likely to feel threatened by the startup. But if anyone should be concerned about PeopleAhead’s alternative job-search model, it’s them.

In the company blog, Chevalier and Laracilla argue that looking for a job on a giant, anonymous site like Monster, is like trusting a complete stranger to send you on a blind date. Successful blind dates work, they point out, “because your friends recommend dates they believe are a good match. They’re recommending your blind date not just because they know you’ll like the way your date looks, but also because they believe that your personality, style and demeanor are a good fit.”

If all that an employer knows about you is what’s on your résumé, they argue, “it’s very difficult to make an informed decision….[which] is why your online career presence must be multidimensional.” Like a number of the local tech startups we cover—MoneyAisle is an example, but so are Everyscape, Geezeo, Matchmine, TrustPlus, and Vlingo—-Chevalier and Laracilla’s venture is ultimately geared toward overcoming the artificial, somewhat mechanical nature of many first-generation Web applications—and helping people interact online in the same ways they do in the rest of their lives.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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