Is Sourcing the Silver Bullet of Recruiting?

Jan 14, 2009

The proliferation and accessibility of sourcing tools and techniques is exciting and fun and exhilarating. Who doesn’t want to have the most followers on Twitter or the biggest network on LinkedIn? But is sourcing the Silver Bullet of Recruiting? Are all these tools really helping us do our jobs or just distracting us? Are there really a lot of candidates out there using these cool new tools, or are we just running into other recruiters? If recruiters are spending the majority of their time on sourcing, who is talking to the candidates?

It wasn’t too long ago that only retained executive recruiters actually did proactive sourcing for candidates. Corporate and contingency recruiters were “inbox recruiters.” They were focused on screening the candidates that came to them in response to ads or employee referrals or those that they met at Career Fairs. That approach worked pretty well for a while. But now that social networking sites are gaining in popularity, classes on Internet search techniques are more affordable and recruiting budgets have been slashed; everyone seems too focused on the hunt for candidates! It’s as if sourcing is a totally new concept – a silver bullet that will solve all recruiting problems!

Recruiters are posting on multiple niche boards, searching Craig’s list and user groups, growing their Linkedin and Facebook networks and Googling for candidates. These are all great techniques, except that this has lead to the belief among sourcers, recruiters and hiring managers that if we just look hard enough we will find that purple squirrel at just the right price with just the right combination of skills at just the right time with no compromise necessary!

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that sourcing skills are important. Someone in your organization should be on top of all the new tools out there. I just don’t believe every recruiter has to be an expert in every new technology. I also believe that sometimes sourcing should be left to the outside experts.

Recruiting has not really changed just because there is more information out on the Web. Technology and searching tools are necessary, but they will never replace the need to TALK to your candidates, find out what they think of the job, the compensation you are offering and who they know. You still have to get hiring managers and clients to compromise occasionally and you can’t do that till you can tell them what potential candidates have told YOU about employment market conditions.

My recruiting career began in Retained Executive Search where the distinction between sourcing and recruiting was very clear. “Recruiting” was the total process; Candidate ID and Candidate Development were separate and distinct parts of that process. Sometimes the recruiter did both parts of the process and sometimes the Candidate ID portion was outsourced.

We didn’t call it “sourcing” though, we called it Candidate ID and it was narrowly defined as searching for names of people doing the job for which we were recruiting – it did not ever involve looking for posted resumes. Let’s face it – why would corporate clients pay huge fees to an executive search firm just to get a candidate that had posted their resume online and could have been found with a few clicks? We did purchase directories, search for attendee lists and look for associations that our candidates would join.

When we needed deep sourcing for hard to find individuals, we contracted that out to someone who specialized in Candidate ID. The recruiters did the upfront research on the companies to be targeted and the desired titles and the outside professionals usually did the phone sourcing. Those professionals utilized phone sourcing techniques to deliver org chart type documents listing the person heading up the department we were interested in along with all of that individual’s direct reports. The recruiters and outside sourcers worked together on developing and fine tuning the sourcing strategy.

The goal in any search is to get on the phone and start Candidate Development as soon as possible. In a retained search firm, this involved contacting the candidates, selling them on the opportunity, assessing fit and negotiating. Because we knew we had a limited number of names from the Candidate ID phase, we had to be sure that we made the most out of each interaction with a potential candidate. We asked for referrals and industry information so that we could go find more candidates if needed. If a potential candidate was not interested, we found out why. If a number of candidates expressed opinions about the pay being too low, or all the skills not typically existing within one person, we reported back to the client with that information. We partnered with the hiring authorities to develop a realistic position description with an attractive compensation package so that we could fill the position to their satisfaction while addressing the needs of potential candidates.

So what can we learn from retained executive search?

  • The best Candidate ID (sourcing) won’t help you fill a position without good recruiting skills as well.
  • If the Candidate ID requires specialized skills (phone sourcing, deep Internet searching), outsource it or develop an internal sourcing group.
  • Successful recruiting and sourcing require good communication between all members of the team – sourcers, recruiters and hiring authorities.

Sourcing, in and of itself, is not the answer. A good sourcing strategy coupled with good strong recruiting skills and good relationships with the hiring authorities – that will seal the deal every time!

Cathy McCullough is an independent contract recruiter residing in the Washington, DC area. She has been in recruiting for nearly two decades, and is a respected professional in improving and establishing effective recruiting and sourcing processes. She is also involved in training and developing recruiters in all aspects of recruiting including sourcing, networking, screening, behavioral interviewing and closing.

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