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SourceCon Spotlight, The Sourcing Function

There’s No One “Right” Way to Source, and Learning is the Key to Finding Yours


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I started my career in the world of recruiting as an Internet Researcher over ten years ago, and while my work has evolved over the years to include a lot of different things, it has almost always involved candidate generation, which is something I absolutely love to do. While being the Editor of SourceCon from 2010-2012 was an amazing experience and afforded me the opportunity to have intimate conversations with some of the best sourcers and sourcing leaders in the world, it was the first time in my career where I was not sourcing for candidates. I felt like I was losing my ‘street cred’ and I craved getting my hands dirty again.

That’s why when an opportunity to work with the Windows Phone team at Microsoft presented itself to me earlier this spring, I took it. Oh how I missed sourcing! Having been back “in the trenches” of sourcing now for about six months, I feel like I’ve had the chance to really digest the culture here at Microsoft – the processes; the teams; the ‘way we do things.’ And I’ve come to the realization that there is absolutely no one way to source.

A big “DUH!” moment for most, right?

Yet consider all of your own employers… In reflection of the various places I have worked – in the agency world, in the corporate world, from companies of twelve individuals to companies with 300,000 employees globally – you cannot approach your job as a sourcer in the same way at each place. You will inevitably fail.

Think about it: when we teach sourcing, and especially when we learn sourcing from others around us – not just in our teams but also from our colleagues at different companies – we are learning the way they source. And this is not always applicable to the way things are done at our respective companies. A perfect example of this is the local S7+ group, which is a branch of the Northwest Recruiters Association that caters specifically to sharing sourcing knowledge in the Seattle metro area. We host roundtable discussions a few times a year, and every fall our discussion consists of 5-6 short presentations from members of the local community who share back a sourcing tip or technique they learned at one of the many fall recruiting conferences that are offered. Each presentation has a different spin – even if the information shared came from the same conference, and even the same speaker.

So what’s the takeaway message here? I believe there are multiple things to understand about the idea that there is no one “right” way to source:

  1. Learning is essential if you want to continue to excel as a sourcer – but it’s important to understand that not every technique will apply to your individual or business situation.
  2. There are certain universal characteristics which predispose an individual to excel in sourcing that extend beyond the boundaries of industry experience and/or learned techniques – and one of these is recognizing where you are weak and working to improve upon yourself.
  3. Teaching is a great way to keep your own sourcing skills sharp – but nothing tops getting your own hands dirty from time to time.

Learning Is Essential (but learn the basics first!)

I wrote an article a while ago on my (sorely neglected) blog called ‘Grocery Store Sourcing’ that talks about the comparison of shopping for groceries and learning new information. The basic idea is that there is a ton of information available, just like a grocery store has shelves full of all kinds of products and brands. And while there is a lot available to us, we don’t need it all right now. But it’s good to have it at our fingertips if/when the time comes when we’ll need it. Going deeper into this concept is understanding when the time is right for certain purchases – would you buy automatic dishwasher detergent if you are still washing your dirty dishes by hand? Of course not; you need to have an automatic dishwasher first in order to use the detergent.

As sourcers, we are typically hungry for information. It’s an insatiable hunger for most of us – we want to know everything about everything. However, I think in our quest for knowledge we often forget that understanding some basics first will set us up for success in the long run. In order to run fast, you must first learn to crawl, then to stand up, and then to walk before you can even think about running.

While Boolean logic can be, and is in many cases automated today, having a basic understanding of how to create a search query will never stop being important. Think of it in terms of math – calculators help us solve complex problems, but not being able to manually perform simple arithmetic will set you up for failure in life. Prime example: trying to get correct change from a cashier when the register isn’t working properly – how many of you have had to assist your cashier in calculating what you should receive?

If you’re interested in quickly evaluating your Boolean competency, check out Johnny Campbell’s Boolean sourcing test, or check out Irina Shamaeva’s People Sourcing Certification or Shally Steckerl’s Sourcing Institute  for comprehensive training.

Strong Sourcers with Weak Areas

Again I’ll refer to an article I wrote here on SourceCon – Breaking Down the Sourcing Function: What Makes a Good Sourcer. There are a few ideas listed here on what a good sourcer looks like, as well as in an article by Sarang Brahme, a LinkedIn question asked by Maureen Sharib,  and especially this article from Glen Cathey. In Cathey’s article, he mentions that “…you will need to specifically practice what you are not currently good at…”, which I believe is a characteristic that makes a good sourcer – understanding one’s weaknesses and seeking to improve upon them. If all you ever practice are the things at which you currently excel, you will remain weak in other areas that will eventually handicap the rest of your efforts.

When I joined Microsoft this spring, I learned that one of the job duties of a Talent Sourcer was to conduct phone screens with candidates. Those of you who’ve known me for the last ten years know that I shy away from phone work, so I knew this would be my biggest challenge in this new role. I was soon put in charge of the sourcing efforts for our Windows Phone recruiting events, and between a Women in Engineering event we held this summer and an event to take place in Toronto the week after SourceCon, I was immersed into phone screening in a baptism-by-fire setting. I’ve probably conducted over 200 phone screens in the last eight weeks alone. My first phone screens were not good, but as I practiced and learned what questions to ask and which directions to take based on what answers I received, they improved significantly. My quality ratios are high now because I basically forced myself to improve in an area of weakness for me so that I could meet my goals at work.

Do I like phone screening? That’s yet to be determined… ask me that question again after our Toronto event J

Don’t Lose Your Street Cred

In my personal email signature, there is a quote from a man I highly respect that says, “Remember where you came from… and always reach back.” While this quote primarily refers to paying it forward to others by helping them achieve their own dreams and goals, I believe it can also apply to keeping your own skills sharp by never forgetting your own humble beginnings and remembering to return to them from time to time.

One of the things I hear the most from sourcing managers and leaders is that there is simply no time for sourcing anymore because their days are filled with people-management activities, budgeting, and meetings with business partners. While I understand it is hard to squeeze more into a busy day, I personally believe it is important to never lose sight of your sourcing. Once that is gone, managing your team of sourcers, or even being able to relate to them, becomes increasingly difficult. I am fortunate to have a manager who still sources, so she is able to understand the day-to-day struggles of our team and can relate personally to them while offering up solutions and advice to continue excelling in our sourcing efforts.

The same can be said for consultants and trainers. The old saying goes, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” While I don’t truly believe that, I do feel that trainers and consultants who don’t also work on in-the-trenches sourcing projects from time to time end up becoming rusty and thus their information can tend to get outdated. Paul Hawkinson, the former Editor for The Fordyce Letter and highly respected agency recruiting professional, used to take about a month off from editing and publishing The Fordyce Letter every year to work a desk and remember where he started. That way he would still be able to relate to the people who subscribed to and read his monthly publication. He kept his street cred by remaining relatable to the people who learned from him.

To wrap things up, you may have noticed a common trend here that started with the notion that there is no one “right” way to source – and my belief is that really understanding what your “right” way is means you must be constantly learning, practicing, and relating to those around you. I have the honor of emceeing SourceCon in Dallas this fall, and I can’t think of a better place for anyone to start the process of achieving all of these things. Not only will you get to learn from some incredibly smart individuals who are still practicing what they preach, but you will also have the opportunity to practice new skills and meet other sourcers and discover how things work in their organizations.

I plan on returning to my roots to get things kicked off in a fun way – I was a speaker at the very first SourceCon back in 2007 and my topic was on what makes a good researcher. If anyone remembers my presentation, you’ll know where I plan to go with this.

Keep your skills sharp, never stop learning, and hope to see you in Dallas!

Amybeth currently works as a Talent Acquisition Consultant with Hewlett-Packard. Prior to this, she worked as a recruiter for the Platform Services team at Concur Technologies, and as a talent sourcer with the Windows Phone team at Microsoft finding software development engineers. She also previously served as the original Editor of SourceCon. All-in-all, Amybeth has been working as a recruitment sourcing professional for over a decade and enjoys finding interesting people for great opportunities.

In related activities outside of work, Amybeth is deeply involved with local recruiting organizations – she previously served on the Board of the Northwest Recruiters Association (NWRA) and is currently actively involved with the Sourcing 7 group in Seattle as a founding member and the current President.

Amybeth is a University of Florida graduate (go Gators!) and currently lives just north of Seattle, WA. You can connect with her on Twitter at @researchgoddess.
  • Hakon Verespej

    Great article Amybeth! As someone who’s ramping up in this space, I feel very inspired.

    As an engineer, I’ve seen managers who shift completely over to management and lose the ability to write code. They usually continue helping to guide design, but as they distance themselves, they lose much of the ability to relate to what their team works on and deals with day to day. Many times when these managers want to change jobs, it becomes a challenge, because the hiring teams want to know that they are in touch and if need-be can jump in and directly contribute themselves – skills they are now lacking. In sum, the principles you mention are applicable across disciplines.

    Very good lessons all around.

  • Sarang Brahme

    Awesome though Amybeth – you always manages to get sourcers think right to the basics. You are dead right about there is no same way for sourcing – it differs from company, geography, levels, industry. In fact, the similar requirements in different companies may come with different ways of sourcing depending on company culture, values, future strategies, USPs etc. While it’s important for us to learn new upcoming methods of sourcing, one should never loose its basic ground. Just like – Social Networking is a craze in sourcing but it may work in different ways for different requirements. It also doesn’t necessarily mean all sourcers to shift their sourcing base to social media – plain stupid!

    I can definitely relate to your feeling of not being hands on – I am going through the same phase for now; though enjoying my learning on social recruitment / employer branding bit. But I got to head home sometime / someday. You got to get your hands dirty in order to learn new things – there is no simple way.

    Keep writing! Will miss the Dallas SourceCon though couple of my colleagues will join. Definitely – next year :)

    All the best!

  • Jeri Risin

    I totally agree there are many different ways to source. And one size does NOT fit all! For example, just because you “can” phone source well, does not mean you should always phone source on every single assignment. Sometimes it is necessary to do so, and other times it simply may not be the best way to go. To assume that its okay to always do things the same way will eventually create problems with your sourcing strategy. Each new project calls for careful examination of the best approaches. Kuddos Amybeth!