As a partner of Pagewood English school, one of my responsibilities is finding top-notch EFL teachers. We’ve hired two this year, and it wasn’t nearly as easy as I had expected.

In years past, the standard methods of finding English teachers were primitive at best. In bigger cities, a lot of companies sent people to the youth hostels to put advertisements on their bulletin boards. In Jiayi, where I lived when I first moved to Taiwan at the end of 2002, strangers on the street occasionally tried to recruit me! Some larger schools advertised in news papers. Now, the most popular option is online classified boards.

The advantages of classifieds boards

I like that classified boards range from free to cheap. I also like their reach. Thousands of people can see a single posting. Best of all, online classifieds are easily searchable.

With these thoughts in mind, I wrote up an advertisement for teachers, posted it to a popular site, sat back and waited for the resumes to come pouring in. And come the did. Within a week, I must have read nearly a hundred resumes and/or emails in regards to the job posting.

The problem

Unfortunately, out of all of those resumes, only a handful were worth responding to, and not a single lead coming solely from the classifieds lead to an interview. Some of the applicants were living in other countries and hadn’t even started learning Chinese. Some had never taught before. Others were backpackers looking for a temporary job to refuel their bank accounts before continuing on a tour of Asia. In short, nearly the entire endeavor was a waste of time.

This lead me to reflect further upon the nature of classifieds in general. Back when I was a college student in the US, I had used a classified board to find high school students to paint houses and it was reasonably effective. Why was it that the classifieds were such a failure this time? Was it just an anomaly, just poor luck?

Classifieds are fundamentally flawed

The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to think that very design of classifieds bring the most exposure to the least desirable people, jobs, or apartments. The best bargains are snapped up quickly, leaving the boards full of average to poor offers. The poorer listings remain available for much longer since nobody wants them and tend to dominate search results. Furthermore, poor employees are more likely to be fired and end up right back at the classified board, as will over-priced apartments or poor job offers.

Classifieds, by their very design, tend to concentrate the worst of what the market has to offer.

The reason my search for painters went well is that I was looking for unskilled employees with little experience to differentiate themselves from each other. The distribution of potential employees was relatively flat. Now, on the other hand, I’m looking for exceptional people whose skills aren’t very easily quantified. For this, online classifieds are worthwhile only if they’re free, and even then they’re a long-shot.