No sooner does a professional worker get laid off or start to think about looking for a new job than can they be expected to utter the phrase, “Time to update my LinkedIn profile.” The professional social network has become the official playing field of job seekers and recruiters alike.

Unfortunately, only a small percentage of the users on LinkedIn are actively job-seeking or even open to inquiries at any given time — despite doomsday labor statistics. The result is an inefficient system in which recruiters regularly contact unwilling recipients, wasting the time of all parties involved.

HireSignals is a new browser plugin built to operate on top of LinkedIn that solves this issue by clearly signifying intent. Specifically, the Web app adds adds a color coded overlay on top of search results indicating which candidates are “actively looking,” “passively looking,” “not looking (but open to seeing the market)” and “not looking (do not contact).”

Additional pop-up windows can be accessed that include more detailed employment interests for each candidate including, among other things salary and title requirements.

Were this where the tool stopped, it would provide a bit of value but at the same time introduce a tremendous amount of signaling issues for those not wanting to tip off their current employers. Fortunately, HireSignals addresses this issue by allowing candidates to block specific domain names, including that of their current employers, from seeing their status or interests.

“The intent with this platform is to create something that is both recruiter and candidate friendly but also highly complementary to LinkedIn and a genuine enhancement to their platform for recruiters,” says founder and CEO Feargall Kenny. Future updates plan to add notifications for recruiters when candidate connections change their status from not looking to any of the more receptive options.

HireSignal, which is still officially in beta, has been live for nearly one month. The service has more than 100 recruiting firms signed up with an average of one to two registered recruiters accounts per firm. In order to signup for the service, recruiters must be employed by an approved firm and signup using an email address from that firm. Only after registering and passing the vetting process can a recruiter download the browser plugin.

Kenny began developing HireSignals to satisfy his own professional need. The founder also runs his own NY-based executive recruiting firm and has done so for three years since selling his previous digital agency. “Recruiting like any sales process is inefficient but the one thing that struck me was the heavy reliance on guesswork on which candidates I would reach out for specific positions,” he says. “Linkedin has many great features but a key thing it lacks is giving you an understanding of candidate intent when it comes to job search.”

HireSignals is currently free for all parties, although there are thoughts about monetizing going forward. This is a tricky proposition given that the tool is built on top of LinkedIn’s API. As has been proven repeatedly in recent months, building on top of another company’s API — specifically a larger one — is a risky proposition which has come back to burn many startups.

LinkedIn’s API Terms of Service prohibit making “ad revenue” or “subscription revenue” off the platform. This would seem to leave the door open for HireSignals to take a cut of the agency commission or corporate referral fees which are standard in the industry — for example, if a recruiter is paid a fee of 20 percent of the candidate’s yearly salary, HireSignals as the referrer may one day receive 10 percent of that commission.

LinkedIn already allows users to set contact settings defining what communications they wish to receive, including “Career opportunities,” “Consulting offers,” and “Job inquiries.” The problem is that these settings are buried at the bottom of each user’s profile, not incorporated into search, and largely ignored.

HireSignals has created a much more deliberate and explicit intent signal that could work to the advantage of both recruiters and potential candidates. The challenge for HireSignals, as with any new service, is growing the user network to a sufficient size as to realize the value proposition. Kenny has set goals of 1,000 recruiting firms and 100,000 candidates.

To paraphrase a commenter on the company’s blog, LinkedIn professionals may one day soon be “changing their career status like a teenager changing their relationship status on Facebook.”

[Image courtesy of bredgur]