5 Things I Learned While Building a Sourcing Center in Europe by @TheBalazs

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Jul 7, 2015
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Two-and-a-half years ago I joined Randstad Sourceright to build a world-class sourcing center to cover the Europe, Middle East, and Africa region. That time, early 2013, we had nothing yet in place but a strong ambition to build a brand new, unique and highly value-add service line, the so-called Center of EMEA Sourcing Expertise (aka #rsrsrc), and to bring in and spread the love of all things of sourcing within Randstad and its clientele.

As per these days, I am joining a new role within my company and leaving the center with a well-established, high-size and super professional sourcing regiment that is ready to rule the world – or least the region.

Building a regional sourcing center from scratch is quite an exciting journey (and notably a rather hard job) and below, I am listing the 5 biggest lessons learned that we had to understand to get to the level of sourcing delivery excellence where the center is at today.

This post may also serve as a ‘public tribute’ to everyone who contributed to our success, who believed in and supported us. There are many of these folks not only within the #rsrsrc but all around the Randstad universe. Thanks million, all of you!

#1 It’s all about technology. …oh wait, it’s not!

Due to digital technology revolution, searching for good candidates is basically not a challenge anymore. You can find tens of thousands of candidates in hundreds of different databases (or networks) or you can partner with heavily competing people aggregator providers – from the opposite perspective – to map the entire web presence of one certain individual.

There are search plugins but also productivity, document and data-grabbing, email verification, image search and face recognition, click-rate or any-other-type analytics tools (trillions of them!), and it looks like the core competitive advantage of a top sourcer is ultimately on his toolkit. On the things he uses, all the wow-factor-ways how he can identify a new candidate. Play this mysterious geeky card on any recruiting event and your audience will fearfully fall in love with the top sourcer in you…

This is however a trap, I believe, and we definitely tried to avoid to put a way too big emphasis on technology when we had launched the center.

Not only because (1) it costs a fortune (and brings then little value) and (2) can soon-or-later be available for every sourcing provider (so that ‘the’ competitive advantage is suddenly gone), but also because (3) the more tools you have in place the higher fake comfort you create for your sourcer. By buying many of the cool tools you keep your sourcers in the belief that searching is easy and they will easily find every candidate. Ha! Well… guess what, they won’t! Hence this profession is on high demand nowadays.

Sourcing technology – in my rigid opinion – should always remain a secondary element of a sourcing delivery engine, albeit a seriously important one.

  • Spend ten times more efforts and money on maximizing the power of your ATS (or CRM) than on any of these brilliant providers. Period.
  • Teach your sourcers the very bottom but the most profound basics of searching and they will become highly productive even with free tools, too.
  • Educate your sourcers that boring and old-school technology and search methods can simply be amazing and it is the quickest who wins the searching game and not necessarily the special one that goes far and grabs some portion of human capital data from the very end of ‘hidden deep web’.
  • Prove your sourcers that tools are basically nothing but the maximized usage of a tool is everything. And there can be a secret mastery in how one searches, for instance, on LinkedIn and beats the competition in speed of search and finding the highest quality results.

However, and this was one of the most important lessons for us, if you provide a wide-ranged toolkit to your sourcers make sure they first get the right mindset and fully understand only when and for what purpose to use the tool. As the very old Hungarian piece of wisdom states: you do not shoot with cannon to catch a single sparrow.

Your brain will catch the sparrow – I add to that.

#2 Sourcing is a standardized procedure…

You might have recently heard me (or Johnny Campbell) speaking about measuring sourcing productivity. We both share the excitement of sourcing conversion rate management and the magic one can achieve in increasing sourcing productivity via rigorous process control and measurement.

Yes, there is something purely transactional in this sexy sourcing world – be frank, this is also a number game! And where numbers are playing a leading role, process becomes the consigliere.

In our #rsrsrc world process gives the basis for everything. This is the so-called VICES (Vacancy intake –Identification – candidate Connection – candidate Engagement – Submission) cycle that we introduced as our standard sourcing delivery model.

Although various positions, candidate markets, countries or multi-countries, sourcing channels in use can create a rather different look of delivery the bottom-line of sourcing just remains the same. That is the above five principles (process cycle) that a sourcer always repeats – regardless how exotic or regular an assignment is. This is the very same in everything a sourcer does so that is why we have moved all the components and systems around the VICES: technology, measurement, management and control.

Due to the VICES not only did we learn how to easily standardize and teach the sourcing procedure but how to increase productivity (and basically do a better job day-by-day) and how to achieve and retain high quality in scaling in a business that was doubling its size on a regular basis. That was fun, folks!

#3 …but only the very best can run that well!

So this is what you can standardize… and there is the other side: all the things that you cannot standardize or at least, I believe, you should not.

The beauty of a professional and highly efficient sourcing center comes from the fact that you need a standard procedure with transactional and repeatable process elements that is, however, run by extremely smart unique individuals. That is the paradox: you build standardization but you do not let your people become standardized.

You rather encourage them to keep their individualism, to keep their thoughts and extend their thinking horizon and feel free to challenge you back. Sourcing is not a status quo business as you never know what will happen when you pick up the phone or send an email.

You constantly remind them to talk to every candidate on a human-to-human level and having high numbers in the candidate funnel is only the sourcer’s problem – no any candidate cares about that.

You need to reconsider all you have learnt about selection and job requirements when you start building a sourcing operation. Who is a good fit for the job? Is it the experienced recruiter, or the entry-level researcher, maybe even a graduate that you can shape and form as much as needed? Is it someone ‘outsider’ coming already with work experience but from a different industry? These are the open questions you will face.

Based on the lessons we learnt we believe the below profile will make the ideal sourcer.

  • The ideal sourcer has high learning capabilities combined with rather sharp verbal and numerical (analytical) reasoning skills.
  • You need hungriness for new learning, otherwise, your sourcer will not (or will not be able to) quickly adjust to technology and methodology changes in the industry. They will live and work by tradition and experience, however, recruitment is probably one the fastest-paced sectors these days so you do not really want to miss the opportunity.
  • You also need skills that let your sourcers easily multi-task, you need sourcers with high energy levelwho are little fearless and ready to quickly jump into something new. Or sometimes scary. Or even uncomfortable.
  • Interestingly, we learnt that objective decisiveness is one of the greatest stamina of a superb sourcer. You lose time and quality either when a sourcer cannot make a quick decision (for instance, on a profile that is containing very little amount of available information) or they make subjective judgment.
  • Personal (subjective) interest or preference is often serious blockers in sourcing and good sourcers learn how to start every new assignment with a totally blank mind. There must be no too-early predictions, there must be no rigid assumptions but what the market currently shows and tells about difficulty and potential success.
  • Entrepreneurship, creativity are all good drivers. Basically anyone who is strongly driven can well contribute to the game. I have seen many brilliant sourcers growing up at #rsrsrc who were initially not looking for a job in HR/recruiting but by joining us they did find the profession where their inner drive could be finally fulfilled.

Beyond these skills, nothing else really matters… Neither previous experience, nor background, education, nor whatsoever traditional requirement will make any real difference in sourcing performance. It may sound a little strange but hey! this is a brand new profession being just born at the beginning of the 21st century so challenge the regular way of thinking. That may not be applicable anymore.

#4 It’s still a hiring business

What is the level of contribution a sourcer brings in to the business? Is it the slate of qualified, interested and available candidates or the number of hires the recruiter makes at the end? Or the number of hires the recruiter makes only from the directly sourced candidates? Or the hit ratio between these two channels? Or all of it? Maybe, something totally different?

Everyone, who has ever run a direct sourcing operation, will immediately understand the dilemma.

  • First, sourcers per definition do not do end-to-end recruitment, therefore, technically cannot be accountable to making hires (as that is out of their daily work scope).
  • Second, as long as sourcers mainly cover ‘non-applicant’ sourcing, they do not own and manage the entire candidate funnel and hence their actual end-contribution compared to all hires is usually low(er).

If sourcers, however, do not really (or only little) contribute to the hiring business… well, this is where you start having difficult conversations.

The only way how we can avoid and eliminate these painful discussions is to empower sourcers and give them the entire candidate funnel to own and manage.  Let sourcers become fully responsible to select, build and leverage the holistic sourcing channel mix (including recruitment marketing, in-coming applications, ATS-based candidates or even referrals as well) and let them make the pre-selection from all candidates to the best shortlisted ones.

This is the only workaround to build accountability and to see the real contribution to the hiring business.

Making the maximum number of hires with the best candidate quality and delivery speed is everyone’s ultimate interest in our business, although, I am afraid, recruiting politics, power-games and (outdated) traditions will unfortunately block this necessary evolution still for a longer time.  Therefore…

#5 Managing a sourcing center is a true Business Partner role

Sourcing is still a very new function for most of the companies. Sourcing leadership is the role that usually has no previous track record within a recruiting organization. This role is full of questions, doubts, arguments and unclarity.  It is difficult to succeed due to the high amount of different stakeholders: recruiters, candidates, hiring managers, bosses (and their bosses) and not less importantly: the team itself, the sourcers.

If you do it very well the trap is that you set expectations too early and too high and everyone looks at you as the miraculous guy that will solve every single recruiting problem. If you struggle your stakeholders will immediately start wondering why you are out there – do not underestimate the radical change that a sourcing function is bringing into everyone’s life.

  • Avoid unclarity, avoid confusion! Try and explain everything what you do as simply and down-to-earth as possible. No, you are not a wizard. You are not even a ninja – they live far-far away from your business. Explain every step in details and then repeat and repeat again, and ask confirming questions as long as you are most certain there is full clarity and alignment.
  • Set realistic expectations! You may have a standard procedure on how you do things, maybe even SLAs in place – insist to them. You need time to deliver but also feedback once done. You are imperfect but will improve. And you and your client are both out there to make things happen – together.
  • Communicate, communicate, and communicate! Sourcers tend to disappear. They often more enjoy their core job than the client-facing elements in that. Many of them think the core is more important. But it is not – or at least not this way! Be proactive in client communication, and just like a pilot on the airplane, always inform your stakeholders in advance, regularly, on where you are heading now and what you will do.
  • Do not just source! While sourcing you bump into new knowledge every second. You are the one who gathers more intelligence about current markets, dynamics, candidate behaviors, interest or no-interest reasons and so forth. Share it back. Share the intelligence, present and share data, trends whatever you see on the road that may impact the hiring decisions.
  • And finally: never get fulfilled! Accept the fact that sourcing is in constant change. It is ‘the’ change, itself. It is a super-fast-paced environment; it is like surfing in a storm on the highest waves of the ocean. You cannot plan with long-term, well-established and robust wins but you can win every single day. A long chain of everyday small victories gives a happy life to a sourcer. So stimulate this environment and celebrate. Celebrate every little win. The first submission. A happy candidate reply. A quick hire. Everything! Look for moments that can boost your team’s energy so that they become determined and resilient. You need them to always want to get more. Make more. Achieve and win more. It is an always hungry business, always on the move so do not stop it. Do not slow it down but live and balance the speed, live and share the excitement and this can become your most remarkable leadership assignment. What a wild ride!…

Growing into a solid and strategic Sourcing Business Partner role is the next thing, I think, we will see appearing in the industry in the next few months and years. This will obviously become a critical advisory role for organizations that want to succeed and win on the talent acquisition domain. Regular recruiting managers will probably not make the game as long as they do not combine all the above (and even more) and bring in the change and the new skill- and mindset to the business.

This post originally appeared on

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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