What do an Elvis impersonator, a chief executive, a janitor, a tuba player and a hotel chef have in common?
They've all put themselves up for sale at Monster.com, the most heavily trafficked job-recruitment site on the Internet.
Okay, these people are not really for sale. But they are human guinea pigs in an intriguing online experiment that debuted this week, one that is testing the limits of the Internet's ability to empower consumers. The experiment is an auction-like hiring format that attempts to shift power from employers to job seekers by letting people advertise their skills and inviting employers to bid.
Not surprisingly, employers are resisting--or at least not flocking to the site that Monster.com is calling the "world's first online talent market." But don't be fooled by their low numbers. There is an intriguing Internet force at work here, one that bears watching.
"Employers are still trying to figure out what . . . this is going to mean," said Jeffrey Taylor, chief executive and founder of Monster.com. "My philosophy is that where the job seekers go, the employers will follow."
The format is still evolving and has changed several times since it began Sunday. The "bidding" appears to be a gimmick, because money is not the key point of this job service. The point is to give people, mainly freelance workers, a new format to market themselves more broadly, much as employers have long had through newspaper job postings.
Employers are not bound by their "bids," and job seekers don't have to select the highest bidder. It is a time-limited employment matching service, with final negotiations taking place offline.
Monster.com's gambit is aimed at the growing market for free agents--consultants, contractors and other freelancers--and it appears to have caught the fancy of this growing segment of the labor market. More than 18,000 workers had filled out profiles by Tuesday, with more than 9,000 launching "auctions," each lasting five days.
Monster.com hopes to make money by being the middle man, charging employers who make a hire a fee based on the value of the contract. Fees range from $250 to $1,000. Job seekers pay nothing to stage an "auction" but must pay a few dollars a month to keep their resumes active between contracts.
You get the flavor of how different this market is from a traditional online resume system by reading the rhetorical flourishes people use to describe themselves. The forms ask people to title their "talent," specify a salary and contract length and describe their target project and company. A sampling:
* "The Change Facilitator for the 21st Century." This Albuquerque management consultant is requesting $75 to $125 an hour from the "start-up" company that he hopes will hire him.
* "Internet Tech Geek--Will work for free books." This young computer programmer in Fayetteville, N.C., really wants $40 to $60 an hour for a job in the Washington area at a "small, young upstart company with talented folks, relaxed atmosphere."
* "The Hottest Dance Couple for DJ & Dance Lessons." This Massachusetts couple has 25 years' experience teaching swing and Latin dance and wants $100 an hour for their lessons.
Then there's a 40-year-old Elvis impersonator in Grand Rapids, Mich., who wants to quit his night job as a customer service representative and spend more time belting out Presley tunes at parties. On the phone, Fred Impens said, "I would love to make this a full-time job, but I have been limited by the number of events people hire me for."
While he is an Internet neophyte, his wife is a veteran surfer who put him up for bid on Monster.com. She titled his auction "Elvis Grams."
And there is Frank Gorton, a 28-year-old Web developer in Alexandria who titled his auction: "Experienced Web Professional Ready to DAZZLE you!" After finding four jobs since college on the Internet, Gorton was intrigued when an Internet mailing list notified him about the talent market. He decided to enter his profile even though he was not looking to make another move yet.
"I want to see if employers will even be interested enough in this kind of recruiting," Gorton said. "It's new and different. It's like you give them an open diary about your life and let them judge whether you are good enough for them."
Monster.com's competitors are skeptical that employers will cotton to a recruiting market where employees have the first and last say. With the labor market growing ever tighter, the last thing companies want is a hiring system that gives employees even more power.
"I don't think the employer wants to hire mercenaries who are holding themselves out for the highest bid," said Rob McGovern, chief executive of CareerBuilder Inc. of Reston. "What employers are trying to do is find people who are trying to contribute to the growth of their business. Finding the right contributor is a lot more difficult than going out and being the highest bidder."
McGovern's site, CareerBuilder.com, is one of many Web job services that is more on the employers' side. It solicits job listings from them, scans its resume database and e-mails job seekers who appear to match the job. McGovern said one reason for not having employers directly search the resume database is that resumes grow stale as people land jobs and fail to notify the Web site.
But Monster.com is all about resumes and catering to job seekers. Taylor's goal for five years has been to build a new kind of job service that he hopes will reach such scale and targeting ability that employers will find it irresistible.
Monster.com has 1.5 million resumes in its active database. Employers pay to list jobs and search that database. The percentage of Monster.com's revenue from employer searches--a gauge of corporate America's willingness to change its recruiting habits--is on the rise, from 8 percent last year to a projected 25 percent this year, Taylor said. Analysts are forecasting 1999 revenue of $92 million for Monster.com.
If it takes off, the "auction" format is likely to have a big impact on people's careers, giving them more say in how their work life evolves. It is all part of how the Internet is rewriting the most fundamental power structures of our society.
Leslie Walker's e-mail address is email@example.com.