Facebook acquires job-search site Pursuit, sets stage to battle LinkedIn

"The moment Facebook decides to turn on some sort of job seeking function, forget about it. That changes everything," said one recruiter.

A few weeks ago I attended small recruiting summit hosted by TheLadders where some of the leading executive recruiter's and hiring consultants talked about the impact of the Web on their business.

LinkedIn dominated the day. The professional networking site dominates social recruiting. It has more than 80 million users and, when you consider the ranks of professionals, nearly 100 percent coverage. Anyone a recruiter would want to find is on LinkedIn. "It might as well be my home screen, I'm in there all day," one recruiter told me. (The summit was off-the-record, so I can't reveal names.)

At some point during the day, one of the hiring consultants mentioned Facebook and conversation changed: "The moment Facebook decides to turn on some sort of job seeking function, forget about it. That changes everything." A wave went around the room as 16 experts nodded in agreement and brushed the comment aside as a foregone conclusion.

That moment may be near. Facebook has acquired Pursuit, a San Francisco-based startup that allowed users to recommend each other for jobs using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Pursuit itself.

Pursuit's goal was to let trusted references help companies weed through the piles of job applications that arrive for every open positions.

Why do recruiters take it as a given that Facebook would be able to eat LinkedIn's lunch (and the job boards) whenever it decides? It's not just numbers, although Facebook's 500-million member reach certainly trumps LinkedIn's 80 million. It's intent. Facebook has mastered intent and LinkedIn hasn't.

Active or passive?

Active candidates -- those willing to accept a new job -- are currency of the recruiting industry. Recruiters vie for candidates ready to act and they try to model intent the way financial analysts model bond markets and stock exchanges. Because everyone and their mother is on LinkedIn, it is considered a weak barometer of who is an active candidate and who is simply using the network to network (passive candidates).

By charging job seekers to pay $35 a month, TheLadders was seen as a better measure of intent. (Disclosure: I am a former employee of TheLadders.)

Facebook has done a better job at modeling intent by asking users directly -- "Are you single? In a relationship? Married?" And recruiters expect Facebook's proven ability to model intent to purchase for advertisers based on user data, means they can do the same for job search. (Imagine what you could learn about someone's professional intent based on things like a recent breakup, a move to a new city, liking certain pages, and contextual analysis of status updates.)

Facebook made nostatement about how intends to incorporate Pursuit into the product suite, but if I were the management team at LinkedIn, I would be wondering if Facebook just changed everything.