Where Job Seekers Pay to Play
At TheLadders.com, execs shell out to find the high-salaried gigs.
By Katherine Heires

(Business 2.0) – Steve Jones used to fill high-level job openings through Monster.com and Yahoo HotJobs. A recruiter for World Access, a travel insurer in Richmond, Va., he says he would pay as much as $1,500 to list positions such as national sales director and chief information officer.

But this year Jones tried something new. He began posting his highest-paying positions at TheLadders.com, a two-year-old job search website. Total cost to him: zero. "That's $15,000 I've saved through the first three quarters of this year," he says, adding that with TheLadders it took only 93 days to hire an executive for a notoriously hard-to-fill spot.

Unlike most help-wanted sites, TheLadders, based in New York City, focuses exclusively on high-paying jobs--those promising annual salaries of $100,000 or more. It also turns the traditional business model for employment listings on its head: At sites like Monster and Craigslist, recruiters pay to post openings, but at TheLadders, postings are free. Instead, job seekers shell out $25 a month (or $150 for a yearly subscription) to receive screened job listings in 12 sectors, including finance, sales, and marketing. (There's also a free service that caps the number of jobs for which one can apply.) The result: "You get more qualified candidates in a shorter period of time," says Anthony Picano, a Korn/Ferry recruiter who uses TheLadders to find C- and VP-level executives.

The model seems to be catching on. Since its launch, privately held TheLadders has attracted more than 7,000 recruiters--many from big-name companies like American Express, Cisco Systems, and Microsoft--and says it's on track to break $10 million in revenues this year. It has received financing of $7.3 million from investors including former DoubleClick CEO Kevin Ryan and venture capital firm Matrix Partners.

TheLadders was founded by Marc Cenedella, 35, formerly the senior VP for finance and operations at HotJobs. There Cenedella learned that recruiters for high-paying positions have special needs. "They would post their executive jobs [at HotJobs] and get inundated with a thousand resumes that were mostly garbage," he says. "Then they would complain and stop posting."

Cenedella's thinking was that, like users of fee-based dating sites, job seekers will pay for added value. Barry Morris, who landed his current job as a sales executive for Redmond-based Concur Technologies through TheLadders, says he got his money's worth. "They isolate all the jobs in your area of expertise and in your region that pay more than $100,000," Morris says. "And they send you an e-mail every Monday with these listings, so it saves a lot of time."

Still, TheLadders has its shortcomings, according to those familiar with it. Jeremy Langhans, a recruiter in Irvine, Calif., says it helps him fill sales and marketing jobs, but he looks elsewhere for technology execs. (For those, he prefers Dice.com.) Gartner Research analyst Jim Holincheck wonders if the site can sustain its growth--paid subscriptions are up 300 percent this year, according to Cenedella--now that free search engines (like Indeed.com and Simply Hired) can cull high-paying positions from other sites.

Despite such concerns, TheLadders is winning converts. "On traditional job boards, you're hit with a large volume of applicants for six-figure jobs," says World Access's Jones. "TheLadders doesn't bring you the volume--it brings you the qualified candidates."