Breaking Down the Sourcing Function, Part 2: What Makes a Good Sourcer?

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Dec 14, 2011

One of the most common questions I get asked by recruiting firm owners and recruiting managers is, “What should I look for when I want to hire a sourcer?” As I outlined in Part 1 of this short series, I would like to go through some details of what I believe to be good qualities an excellent sourcer might have. This will not be a complete list, however I think that as you conduct your search, you will find that your most qualified candidates will possess several of these particular skills. Before I get into this, I would like to first give you a couple of examples of the kind of value that can be derived from hiring a sourcer into your office, specifically in agency numbers:

  • Many recruiting offices have accounted for between $200,000 – $800,000 in placements in a given year from candidates found through sourcers
  • Sourcers I have spoken with have told me that their total billing dollars made up between 20% – 60% of their total office billings.

In my third year of working in an agency setting, I myself was responsible for over $400,000 in billings for my office at the time which was about 33% of our total office billings, so you can see the value that can be brought to your office by having a full time sourcer. Keep in mind these numbers do not even reflect the billings that come about from 2nd and 3rd degree candidates, which could account for millions more. (This is for a discussion of source of hire…) Please keep this in mind as you’re considering bringing on a full time, dedicated researcher.

On to the meat and potatoes: What should you look for when screening potential sourcers? Everyone has their own opinion on what makes a good sourcer; these are some of the best qualifications I’ve personally seen and I’d love to hear from you any additional skills or professional backgrounds.

  1. Paralegal or Library Science background. I have found that some of the best sourcers have these kind of backgrounds – why is that? Well a colleague of mine is a graduate of Dominican University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science. I looked at some of the courses offered in this program, and they include such things as ‘Organization of Knowledge,’ ‘Reference and Online Services,’ ‘Subject Analysis,’ ‘Online Information Systems,’ ‘Searching Electronic Databases,’ ‘Collection Management,’ ‘Research Methods,’ and the list goes on and on. In my opinion anyone who has studied the Organization of Knowledge at the collegiate level would probably make a good recruitment sourcer. From a paralegal perspective, you’ve got to know how to research and be thorough to be a good paralegal; both qualities carry over into becoming a good recruitment sourcer.
  2. Journalism or MarComm background. I have found a lot of excellent sourcers who’ve come from J-schools or marketing and communications degree programs at the collegiate level. A friend of mine teaches a research class at the Grady School of Journalism at the University of Georgia, one of the nation’s top journalism programs. To be a good journalist, one must understand investigative reporting and chasing leads for stories. These are both qualities that translate nicely into a recruitment sourcing career.
  3. Speed reader. I don’t necessarily think that ‘speed reading’ is the important factor here, but someone who can scan and summarize an article quickly would make a great sourcer. What I do all day long is….read. So in order to maximize my efficiency, I must read quickly without missing important information. Bottom line – a good sourcers scans quickly but knows what buzzwords to look for.
  4. Addicted to information. All good sourcers I’ve talked to have RSS feeds or a Flipboard type of service that they read on a regular basis. Someone who loves to learn and loves information will certainly excel as a sourcer. RSS feeds and feed aggregators have made it easy for us addicts to get our daily fix without spending all day looking at blogs, news releases, and article reviews. A person who likes to read books in their spare time would also be included in this category. I’m not talking about Danielle Steele novels here – I’m talking about industry related reading, success principles, history, technology, etc. Constantly in the learning mode. One of my favorite quotes is, “If you’re not green and growing, then you are red and rotting.”
  5. Can “connect the dots.” I also like to call this ‘following the White Rabbit.’ Sometimes as a sourcer you will be given incomplete information. A good sourcer will be able to take the bits and pieces they have been given and create a complete picture from it.
  6. Creative thinker. When you consider that sourcers will have to rely sometimes on crumbs of clues to find the perfect candidate, they must have creative minds in order to find what they need. I have found – through personal experience – that certain outsourced search professionals do not possess this quality and thus results from using cheap sourcing labor never get beyond a designated set of parameters – you end up missing a lot of quality candidates because cheap sourcing resources are incapable of thinking creatively. According to Webster’s New Millennium™ Dictionary of English, the definition of “outside the box” is ‘beyond conventional thought or practice; creative and unorthodox in thought or practice.’ We are an odd bunch, aren’t we? But that’s what makes us excellent at what we do – we can look at a resource and see things that others cannot.
  7. Familiarity with current technology, especially technology pertinent to recruiting and/or sourcing. Good sourcing candidates will not look at you like a cow looking at a new gate if you mention the words BranchOut, Maltego, blekko, Diigo, CSE, and so forth. Let’s face it, everyone is familiar with Google, so if you ask anyone if they know how to ‘Google,’ they will say yes. They will tell you that they typed in a word in Google once and thus know how to ‘conduct research.’ WRONG!! I once made the mistake of asking this in an interview, and after the lady got hired I had to show her how to bring up Google in a web browser. Needless to say, she did not last long.
  8. Well networked. Good sourcers know everybody. They have a friend who mountain bikes with this guy who works at a company that manufactures XYZ and he reports to…you get the picture. Not only do they know everybody, but those they don’t know, they know where to look to find them. Using public records, white pages, ZoomInfo and similar resources, or simply going to a web browser, they can find the unfindable people. These folks will typically have over 300 people in their cell phone as well.
  9. Good data entry skills. I look forward to the day when misinterpretation of sourcing responsibilities is squashed forever. As I mentioned earlier, even though I don’t believe that it is the sole responsibility of a sourcer to do data entry, this is a skill that needs to be present. It would behoove a sourcer to have better keyboarding skills than the classic “hunt and peck” method.
  10. Prior experience in recruiting OR human resources. Not at the top of my list, but I think a potential sourcing candidate should get a couple brownie points for having prior experience. This was not the case for me of course: the job I held right before I began sourcing, believe it or not, was waiting tables. I always considered the ‘must have experience’ clause in a job description to be a bit of a Catch-22 – how am I supposed to gain experience if no one will give me the opportunity to earn it? But if your candidate has been in a recruiting environment or has worked in human resources before, they at least know how the operation works.
  11. Specific certifications and/or training. AIRS has several designations denoting that one understands how to use the Internet to find a variety of potential candidates. Anyone who has taken these certification courses should have a good beginning foundation for becoming a good sourcer (however, experience speaks louder than a certification!). If anyone else knows of other specific research-geared certifications, I’d love to know about them!

I speak from experience here: finding the right candidate to be a sourcer can be a daunting task. I’ve had to interview potential sourcing candidates in the past and there’s no one “cookie cutter” type of candidate you can look for. These listed skills however should help you in looking for the right mix of skill and experience that will work within your office. Just keep in mind that as sourcers, we don’t really carry a ‘book of business’ or have a set educational path or really even a universal job description, so it may be tough to gauge from just one interview if your candidate would work. Regardless, for those of you out there who have been teetering on the fence about whether or not to hire a sourcer, I hope you will consider it more now. A dedicated sourcer can bring a lot of revenue to your office – you just have to know what to look for!

In my next article, we’ll discuss some thoughtful interview questions to ask of a potential sourcing candidate. Screening for an excellent sourcer isn’t an easy task — but we’ll try to help you with some fun and creative ways to find the right fit for your company!

image source: Mike Licht,

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