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Jun 20, 2011

Why Do Some People Think Sourcing is Dead?

Some people believe sourcing is a dying function because it is relatively easy to identify and find information on a large number of people using the Internet and social media.

Here’s what’s really happening…

First it was Internet search engines. Then it was the job board resume databases. Now it’s social media and social networking. What’s really happening here is that more information about more people is becoming available electronically every day – it started slowly at first, and has accelerated over time.

More and More Easily Accessible Data = More Problems

There is no arguing that the Internet, job boards, and now social media applications have given the masses easy access to more human capital data. However, having more access to more data actually exacerbates the sourcing and recruiting function. Essentially, the haystack has gotten larger and continues to grow. Last time I checked, when that happens, it doesn’t make anyone’s job that is looking for a needle any easier.

Finding People = Easy —– Finding the Right People = Hard

There are 6,000,000,000 people on the planet – so why isn’t it easy to find the right girlfriend or boyfriend? Husband or wife? I mean, there are so many people out there – it should be easy, right?

Using the Internet, jobs board resume databases, and social media, it sometimes can seem as if you can find anyone online. However, the challenge has never really been finding people, as phone sourcers can tell you. The challenge has always been, and will continue to be, finding the right people at the right time. Most companies I know aren’t interested in finding and hiring SOME people – instead, they’re interested in finding and hiring the BEST people.

Being able to quickly and precisely sort through millions of records from a number of disparate information systems and retrieve highly matched and qualified candidates accelerates the ability to establish relationships with the right people at the right time. That’s a pretty valuable function, considering that you can’t attempt to build relationships with people you haven’t identified in the first place.

Where Did Sourcing as a Separate Role Come From Anyway?

I think it’s a good exercise to take a step back and wonder about how and why the dedicated sourcing function was even created in the first place. In my opinion, it was in direct response to the massive amounts of human capital available via the Internet, online resume databases, and social media.

The traditional recruiting role includes both talent identification (sourcing), and talent acquisition (recruiting). In many organizations, recruiters have a difficult time keeping up with the hiring needs they are responsible for, because searching and sifting through all of the various sources available to them to find candidates, let alone the RIGHT candidates, can be incredibly time consuming.

In response, some recruiting organizations decided to separate the sourcing function (searching for and finding the right candidates) from the recruiting function (contacting, interviewing, presenting offers, closing candidates). As with many teams, organizations, companies, and industries – specialization of role and function can create significant increases in productivity.

E-Sourcing is Not an Arcane Art

Searching information systems for talent identification is not an arcane art. In fact, it’s actually a science based on a disciplined, repeatable process that anyone can learn. If you hire the right people, place them in the right roles, and train them thoroughly and properly, you can have hundreds of “Boolean Black Belts” running around your organization.

I’ll let you in on a little secret – getting good at leveraging information systems for sourcing talent isn’t that difficult. Just as with anything else in life – it takes training and deliberate, dedicated practice.

No one should really be surprised that there are a lot of recruiters who aren’t very good at e-sourcing. A significant part of the reason why so many recruiters are NOT very proficient at leveraging information systems for sourcing the RIGHT people is that their role makes them responsible for so many things OTHER than using the Internet, resume databases, and social media to find the RIGHT people quickly and easily. If a recruiter is required to contact candidates, interview candidates, establish and maintain relationships with candidates, prep and debrief candidates for interviews, close candidates, and present offers – all the while managing client/hiring manager expectations – who can blame most recruiters for not being Boolean Black Belts? Most simply don’t have the time to practice enough to gain any significant proficiency.

Shallow vs. Deep Human Capital Data

When it comes to human capital data, quantity is great, but quality is what really counts. When you move beyond resumes, which are “deep” sources of human capital data, you get into “shallow” human capital data. With the Internet and social networking applications, finding people has become significantly easier. However, the Internet and most social networking applications are shallow sources of human capital data.

Take Twitter, Facebook, or MySpace for example. Trying to target people with specific skills and experience, in specific amounts (tied to ability and compensation), and in many cases even specific location, is VERY difficult on those systems – they simply aren’t DEEP sources of human capital data. Sure – you can find some VERY interesting information about people on Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, but it’s not often professional/career-related data.

While LinkedIn, with its more professional/career-oriented focus, has some people who fill out their LinkedIn profile very much like a resume, there are many more people who have a “skeletal” profile, including a few employers and titles — and there is no guarantee that career histories are complete.

Any time you target non-resume sources of human capital data, you actually make it more difficult and less likely to find people with specific skills and experience who live in specific locations, which leads to sourcers and/or recruiters spending MORE time contacting and screening more people who actually AREN’T the right match.

Can you find lots of people online? Sure. But sorting through all of the people you can find in order to locate the people you actually NEED is often a long and painful process of elimination.

Here’s another angle on the shallow vs. deep data concept: Try finding your soul mate from newspaper personal ads. I mean, you can tell SO much about someone in four lines of text, right?

Other Data-Intensive Jobs

Let’s take a look at accounting and business intelligence. Every company has easy, unadulterated access to their own data, right? So why do companies need fancy ERP/Accounting and Business Intelligence applications? The ERP and accounting software industry as well as the Business Intelligence software industry are BOTH multi-billion dollar industries – and that’s just from sales of the applications alone – not including training and consulting services.

And wouldn’t you think that when companies spend hundreds of thousands to hundreds of millions of dollars on fancy information systems such as ERP/BI applications that these solutions should automate everything and make it easier? I mean, who needs accountants and financial analysts when you have a super-expensive ERP accounting system, right?

NOT! Although ERP and BI apps do automate some tasks and functions, they certainly don’t run themselves. In fact, these information systems require LOTS of people – both internal and external human resources to implement, train, use, customize, and maintain them – all highly specialized roles.

Advances in ATS/CRM Technology

From my perspective, if the ERP/BI space teaches us anything, lots of easily accessible data does not mean LESS roles are required. In fact, it seems like more data = more software solutions = MORE people in specialized roles are required.

I predict the same will be true in recruiting and staffing. Advances in ATS/CRM solutions won’t eliminate roles through automation – rather, they will either require more people, more specialized roles, or both. While ATS and CRM solutions vendors are happy to sell their applications as able to automate recruiting functions and in some cases employing Artificial Intelligence matching that can duplicate (and/or eliminate) a seasoned sourcer or recruiter – let’s all remember they are selling something (no offense vendors!).

Social Media Reality Check

If you’re impressed with the number of LinkedIn users, which quantcast directly measured at 4.2 million active US users in May 2011, then you should be REALLY impressed with the job board resume databases. Monster and CareerBuilder each claim to have 12-20+ million resumes in their databases. In the US alone. Each.

If you think that there is significant overlap between the big job board resume databases, you will be shocked that Comscore data from way back in 2007 showed that 75% of users of the “big 3” job boards (HotJobs has since been acquired by Monster) use only 1 job board, 19% use 2 of 3, and 6% use all 3. These can’t have changed that much. That means that the number of unique people you can find in the “big 3” job board resume databases easily eclipses the number of US-based LinkedIn users.

Additionally, it does not require a huge mental leap to know that there is overlap between social media users and job board users, so it’s not as if everyone you can find via Twitter or LinkedIn can’t be found buried in a job board resume database – whether it be one of the major job boards or a niche board/database. Or in your own company’s ATS!

The Internal Data Issue

If simply having ACCESS to human capital data is supposed to make sourcing so easy that the sourcing role is not even necessary, why is it that some of the most respectable companies in the world, with HUGE budgets, LOTS of manpower, with BIG NAME Applicant Tracking Systems, and TONS of captured human capital data can’t leverage that which they already have?

Talk to sourcers and recruiters at well respected Fortune 500 companies who have access to millions of candidates buried in their internal databases, and many will not hesitate to tell you that it’s easier to find candidates on Monster than it is to find them in their own system.

If really good companies run by really smart people can’t even effectively leverage the human capital data INSIDE of their firewall – how am I supposed to believe that having “easy” access to human capital data on the Internet and social networks makes sourcing obsolete?


Hearing the theory that the Internet and social media will eliminate the candidate sourcing function brings back memories of the early days of the major job boards. As the job boards grew in size, many predicted they would bring the end of staffing agencies and executive search firms. Really.

It seemed like a logical conclusion. Easy access to more human capital would mean that companies would never have a use for 3rd party recruiting firms, right? Wrong. A little more than a decade later, that doesn’t seem to have happened – it’s nearly a $100 Billion dollar industry.

I don’t think sourcing is dying or becoming an obsolete function. With more human capital data becoming available every day via the Internet, social networks, and other information systems, sourcing actually becomes more challenging as the proverbial haystack increases in size. Sifting through large volumes of human capital data from a variety of data sources to find the right people, with specific skills and experience, is incredibly time consuming, even if you’re very good at it. If you’re not very good at talent mining, it’s even MORE time consuming. Many full life cycle recruiters find themselves with very little time to dedicate solely to the sourcing function, and as a result, they often don’t get the chance to practice sourcing as a function and improve their skills.

With the proper training, technology, and workload, some recruiters are able to perform both the sourcing and the recruiting roles and responsibilities. However, many recruiting organizations simply don’t have the proper training, the right technology solutions, or a workload that will allow them to effectively perform both the sourcing and the recruiting functions.

In high volume hiring scenarios (thousands to tens of thousands of hires annually), even with an ideal technology solution and the best e-sourcing training in the world, I don’t think a specialized role focused solely on e-sourcing can ever be eliminated.

This article is part of the Boolean Black Belt archives here on SourceCon. You can view the original article here.

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