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Headhunting in the Digital Jungle

Alexandre Douzet, CEO of TheLadders, has updated employee-employer matchmaking for the mobile age.

Douzet in front of his Varick Street office

Using the Internet to climb the corporate ladder has never been easy. That’s the niche TheLadders (theladders.com), a digital service that brings together growing companies and potential employees, has positioned itself to fill. “We are the eHarmony of job matching,” explains Alexandre Douzet, CEO of the Manhattan-based company, whose offices are located on the Soho/Tribeca border. “We’re leveraging big data and analyzing billions of terabytes to better pair candidates to employers, and jobs to job seekers.”

Douzet co-founded the website a decade ago with partners Marc Cenedella and Andrew Koch, his former colleagues at hotjobs.com. The trio aspired to streamline the online job-search experience to keep pace with lightning-speed technological advances. “The standard at the time was Monster, which was just about traffic and not dynamic,” Douzet notes. “What we’d learned from HotJobs was that if a fairly senior job was posted on a public site, you’d get way too many applications from the lower end of the salary-level experience—95 percent from recent graduates. This didn’t help job seekers or employers; no one was doing a great job matching for high-end positions.”

Thus TheLadders was born. The founders worked out of Starbucks and Cenedella’s living room, until they raised approximately $7.25 million from venture-capital concern Matrix Partners in 2004. According to Douzet, the “aha” moment that set TheLadders apart from its competitors was twofold. “Where all other job-pairing sites charged employers and were free for candidates, we decided to put our services behind a monthly $25 subscription. We wanted to make it not too expensive, but high enough to make sure only qualified people with college degrees would have access,” he explains. “We also only posted full-time jobs—no consulting gigs or jobs for cooks at McDonald’s.”

Since becoming CEO this past November, Douzet has expanded TheLadders’ mandate. The company’s services now encompass the entire white-collar job market (required minimum salaries offered now hover around $40,000), with a user-interface experience building on emerging mobile technology trends. “Most companies like LinkedIn request you go to their website,” Douzet says. “That’s fine for the Web, but we’re hearing from our users that it’s a bad experience on mobile devices. Seventy percent of our subscribers use iOS devices like iPads and iPhones—it’s a massive migration, and we’re becoming a leader in job-matching over mobile platforms.” As a result, TheLadders is developing native apps “that snatch algorithms from big data for a one-touch, one-click experience,” says Douzet. “Search engines alone don’t give you what you’re looking for. Typing keywords on a keyboard is a very primitive job-search strategy. Many companies, for example, call software engineers ‘ninjas.’ Our algorithms [which draw on 10 years of data patterns to analyze profiles] instead match data by analyzing content in users’ profiles, so we better understand both the applicants and employer.”

Douzet claims TheLadders currently pairs 6 million users with information from 40,000 companies, with a goal to expand to 30 million users—roughly one-third of the professional U.S. market. To do so, Douzet plans to take TheLadders beyond where online job-search services have gone before. In fact, he finds greater inspiration in the vertically integrated products of companies like Apple and Google, and in the user-friendly, tech-forward experience of startups such as Uber and Halo.

“It’s a new era,” Douzet says. “The job category is currently lagging behind the innovations of, say, music and news in the mobile space, but this is the year it’s coming together. We’re at risk of being disrupted by these changes, unless we adapt, create a new mission and become a leader. If the transition to mobile devices is as big as the transition from newspapers to the Web—well, we see that as an opportunity and a challenge.”