An Evolution of Sourcing? Why Sourcing is Only Going To Grow

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Feb 20, 2013
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

It’s always tough to know what to react to as part of being an editor. People say all kinds of things on the internet about talent acquisition. My job isn’t to react to all of it but to figure out what important conversations are taking place that make sense to bring to your attention.

I received a lot of feedback about Dr. John Sullivan’s piece on right before SourceCon (ERE Media owns both and SourceCon). The timing was fortunate and it sparked a lot of good discussion. Not everyone took too kindly to the suggestion that sourcing might be riding off into the sunset. While certain aspects of Dr. Sullivan’s arguments hit home for me, others rang false.

Before I get to my take, I wanted to point out a couple of other really interesting posts on the subject.

The first is by Glen Cathey of Boolean Black Belt. As expected, Cathey goes into great depth, adding both context and additional points of discussion. Hard to pull just one excerpt from his piece but this part rang true for me:

While we are finally beginning to see the emergence of advanced sourcing technologies, including what I classify as “big data” sourcing tools (TalentBin, Entelo, Dice Open Web, Gild, etc.), they still require people to use them, make sense of the information they produce, and take action (effectively message, engage, sell, and recruit).

However, while advances are being made with sourcing technologies, the fact that many companies openly admit that they do not effectively leverage the human capital data in their own ATS indicates we have a long way to go with regard to recognizing and making use of the strategic value of human capital data.

Set aside a few minutes and read the thing.

The second is by Irina Shamaeva on the Boolean Strings blog. A good read as well, Shamaeva asks the question that was on my mind: why was this piece so widely shared in the talent acquisition community? Do recruiters really believe this?

The why question is a tough one. As always, controversy sells and smart controversy sells even harder. Dr. Sullivan is a provoker, but it isn’t mindless and easily dismissed. He does make a lot of good points. It is easy to agree with parts while dismissing the overall conclusion, even Cathey admits as much.

But this is more than controversy with a grain of truth. There is an absolute truth contained within that is almost a taboo in the sourcing community: the technical knowledge necessary to be an effective sourcer is quickly shrinking. You don’t have to know the complexities of how to construct strings in a search engine to do most sourcing jobs. You certainly don’t have to have the knowledge at your fingertips at least. For many companies, they spend money on tools (like some of the ones Shamaeva talked about in her session at SourceCon) and resources (like LinkedIn Recruiter and other resume databases) because it makes sourcing that much more efficient.

Is it technically easier to find talent in the broadest sense of the word? Yes. Period. And hopefully, it continues to get much, much easier.

To folks like Dr. Sullivan, that spells a certain doom for sourcing. But if the recession didn’t spell the end for recruiting (when candidates would accept nearly any offer), why would technological advances spell the end for sourcing (when candidates are much easier to find)?

Let’s first consider the whole idea of specialization. In larger organizations, you don’t see many directors or VP’s calculating payroll, paying invoices, cleaning bathrooms, or taking customer service calls. All of those things are technically easy. It probably doesn’t make sense to have an army of generalists who can do everything in your organization, either. We gain advantages from specialization, even if the task itself is easy.

But talent acquisition isn’t easy. Even if the technical parts behind it are simple, the process is fraught with complications (not the least of which is that we are dealing with humans).

Consider the idea that people are easily found for recruiting purposes. In a perfect world, that’s absolutely right. There’s no reason that anyone shouldn’t be able to found. As long as everyone:

  • Are on the sites we search
  • Are in the resume databases we have access to
  • Describe themselves in the manner we would describe them
  • Translate skills from similar positions when a hard match doesn’t exist
  • Have everything in their profile up to date

Has a search ever looked like that? No. At some point, a person (whether they are described as a sourcer, recruiter, hiring manager or someone else) stepped in and made some human determinations. Do we have enough candidates? Are they strong enough? Are they in the right location and have the right skills? Would this person be more appropriate for a junior or senior level position? Have we searched enough locations? Do we have a diverse and robust pool?

What happens if a company can’t afford a LinkedIn Recruiter seat or resume database access? Maybe they can’t post every job to a job board. Or maybe, a company just wants some insurance if those sources go up in price or become unavailable.

In that case, they’ll want someone who thinks about how to really find who you want for your organization. Not just the technical knowledge (because that is becoming more and more ubiquitous) but someone who has an innate understanding of the intricacies of all of the data that drives talent acquisition for your organization.

I can only tell you what else I know: SourceCon is growing and it is being driven by new readers and new attendees to our two annual conferences. I have seen more and more interest in what we are doing as a community here. I can’t imagine a SourceCon that doesn’t have some hands-on, bleeding edge technology component to it but it is much more than that. It is a thoughtful look and discussion on what is evolving and what is working (Adam Lawrence’s first day keynote being a great example of that).

I know. That’s one data point. But it is a data point that is wrapped in the dozens of conversations about adding more and more sourcers to their team (or wishing they could).

When it comes down to it, the ubiquitousness of tools for finding candidates doesn’t make sourcing less valuable (or close to the chopping block). It makes good sourcers more important for cutting through the noise of all of those great resources, understanding the internal and external talent situation and strategize and execute a plan that can get the right people into your organization.

Like Cathey, I’m not sure about sourcing 1.0 or 2.0 designations. But sourcing is growing and changing in good ways.

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