Communities created around a product or service are marketing tools. A community could also help a business offer better customer service.
However, I am noticing that more communities are highlighting access to “exclusive jobs.”
Personally, I laud the work being done by community-led businesses like leap.club (for women), Ripen (for transitioning into adulthood), and Network Capital.
It requires a lot more trust-building and education among consumers to onboard paying members for a community-led business. It is not an easy feat by any metric.
But I fear what job boards end up turning communities into.
I have come to realise that some of the pressure for community managers to highlight job boards within communities comes from a condition I like to call
Placementitis could happen to any individual around you. It is a condition with the following symptoms:
- Recurrent discomfort with their current job or anxiety about not getting a placement from college (commonly visible in young adults)
- Looking at every public community as a platform to look for the next high-paying job
- An unhealthy focus on placements as the outcome of any learning opportunity
- A healthy disregard for putting in the work, in favour of getting placed via “the network”
This condition is endemic to the Indian adult.
If you look at the top headlines of newspapers, Instagram Ads, and Twitter debates on higher education in India, you will notice how we are all about placements.
“What is the highest package?” and “Where is the placement report?” are questions we ask every year, even as the numbers of those placements have stopped making any sense.
The placement figures are like those popular Instagram reel earworms. Catchy and irresistible. Subsequently, every adult in any community is looking at placements as the end goal or the outcome. It is the only value they are keen on deriving. Jobs or nothing.
And so, communities invariably offer a job board as a feature to incentivize membership.
Contrast this overselling of access to jobs through a community with institutes abroad. Institutes abroad only guarantee education. Placements are not a feature they publicize. The student is supposed to figure out internships as well as employment on their own.
So, Indian students who choose to get an education abroad are forced out of their placementitis. This adaptability to snap out of default expectations signals that if push comes to shove, it is possible to fend for oneself and find work to suit one’s skill and education.
Moreover, jobs in the formal economy are limited. Every job board has similar jobs sourced from the same companies, so the exclusivity isn’t real. Because, think about it from the point of view of the recruiter. Why would they want to limit the distribution of an open position to any particular community? After all, they are looking for the best hire, regardless of where the hire was sourced from.
With job boards, what ends up happening is it promptly becomes the only metric by which your community is judged.
Maybe at first, community members join you because they find value in the kind of interactions they are having with people. Maybe the events you organize are unique, and that lures some people to join your community. As more people join, you, as a community manager, are noticing community members helping each other out with job transitions. You think of capitalising on this interaction and facilitating access to jobs shared by your community members.
But soon enough, community members associate your community with the jobs it gives access to. In a way, the real purpose around which the community was formed takes a back seat, as Sriram explains here:
Now, one may argue that this is what the Indian consumer wants.However, the job board doesn’t add value to your community in any significant way. It only gives the illusion of value. Because in the end, people get hired for the quality of their work, not the community they found the job from.
At best, community folks can vouch for you, but it sounds similar to your friends writing recommendations for you on LinkedIn. It fails to be a measure of your credibility. In fact, it leads to a flawed public perception that is difficult to get rid of. Once placements become the metric of how useful your community is, you risk having to keep up with institutes whose primary job may be to ensure the placements of members.
More importantly, it attracts all the wrong kinds of members.
In this case, it means that you will end up attracting people who are unable to find a job by themselves. And these people, by default, are not the right kind of people to attract to build a positive sum community.
I have noticed this play out in Stoa’s case too.
While we don’t publicize jobs community members get from within the community, a lot of our prospects ask us if we will help them get placed at a consulting firm. In this case, we are fighting the perception majority of business schools in the country have created — study for two years, get hired at the Big 4 as a consultant.
Most members within upskilling programmes have now come to think of placements as the primary outcome because that is how educational communities in our country operate. It is the imposed frame. Learning for the sake of learning is a concept we only approve of when studying outside the country.
If you are someone prospecting a community or an upskilling programme, here is something you should think deeply about:
If you’re paying to be part of a community and your only incentive is an exclusive job board, you might be blindsiding yourself. If every community is sharing the same exclusive jobs, then you’re virtually still competing in the crowded market as you would be without the community.
Job boards can’t be your end goal when you look at investing in a community. If you are a community manager reading this, here is something for you to think about too:
Job boards cannot be the highlight of your community.
Ideally, communities should enable an environment that impacts the individual in meaningful ways so that the person feels confident enough to navigate something as daunting as a career switch. And practically, jobs within communities should happen without the community manager’s explicit involvement.
Such instances of serendipity are better signals of how valuable your community really is and, by extension, of your efforts in nurturing the community.
Communities become transactional when job boards are the highlight of what they enable.
Soon, the original ethos of the community gets lost, and along with it you end up losing all your quality members. The community gets flooded by placementitis-afflicted members, who are unable to contribute to the community in any way and are only acting as leeches, wishing to suck opportunities out of the community.
No fruitful discourse or discussion happens. No relationships are being formed. The communication channels are full of requests and adverts. The original signal that the community was known to cherish and boost is now lost amidst the noise.
So, if you are building your business around the community as a moat, be careful of the associations you are enabling within the community and the new members getting added.
You might be better off turning down members who want to join your community if they are promised a better job. It will require exceptional courage when turning down members because it will mean lost business, but in the long run, I can assure you that the payoff of not having lurkers and leeches will be immense.
It will keep the ethos of your community intact.
All the value now lies in doing the hard thing.