Last night, for the fourth year running, rivals Monster.com and HotJobs.com squared off during the Super Bowl broadcast.
The electronic job-posting firms have come a long way since 1999, when they started buying pricey Super Bowl ads in a high-stakes bid to sprint ahead of their dot-com competitors.
Monster chief executive Jeff Taylor spent half the company's marketing budget to pay for the early commercials. Even more extreme, HotJobs' founder and then-chief executive Richard Johnson took out a loan, using his house as collateral, to pay for his company's ads.
A few years later, the online job industry has emerged as a far more mature market, with the two early mass advertisers leading the pack. Standouts such as Career Mosaic are long gone, and many others have been absorbed, as when Reston-based CareerBuilder took over Headhunter.net last year.
"The smaller players have to decide: Are they going to go it alone or combine forces with a larger company?" said Andy Chan, former chief executive of the Web site eProNet, which matched graduates from the nation's top colleges with employers. Chan, who is in the final stages of selling his firm to an undisclosed buyer, predicts more consolidation in the year to come.
"There's so much in this particular market which is about presence and market share," said Chan, now director of the Career Management Center at Stanford University's graduate school of business.
Meantime, the biggest Web sites are skating close to the mainstream, with millions of résumés from available workers collected in their databases and a stable of businesses that have grown comfortable advertising their job openings electronically.
"Online recruiting is not a novelty anymore," said Mark Karasu, vice president of advertising at HotJobs.
But that doesn't mean there aren't significant challenges for even industry leaders to overcome.
Monster, which is owned by New York advertising giant TMP Worldwide Inc., has become profitable and gobbled up several smaller rivals. Along the way it also attracted the attention of antitrust watchdogs at the Federal Trade Commission. HotJobs, a New York firm that trades on the Nasdaq Stock Market, is not yet profitable but recently agreed to be purchased by Yahoo Inc. for $436 million in stock and cash.