Properly Equipping a Future Generation of Excellent Sourcers

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Aug 18, 2014

I don’t know a single person whose goal upon graduating either from high school or college was to become a recruiter or a sourcer. To the best of my knowledge, there isn’t a single college that has a degree program dedicated to the art and/or science of recruiting (and no, Human Resources does NOT count, in my opinion). Yet the demand is on the rise to find people who can identify, engage, and bring great talent into an organization. I live in Seattle, and by conducting a very quick search, I can see that there are over 2,000 either sourcing or recruiting-focused roles just in this geographic area right now. Recruiters and sourcers are in high demand, which should be a good thing from a career development perspective…

However, I believe there is a growing issue within the sourcing and recruiting community that could be a major driving factor behind the need to hire more and more recruiting professionals – and if it’s not addressed I believe it could lead to a mass exodus of people from these job functions. At a high level, it’s an increase of unrelated and unproductive peripheral activities that are being tagged to these job functions (more on this later) – but at its core, the issue is a lack of basic understanding of search techniques. More and more, companies are desperate to find and hire effective, excellent sourcing and recruiting talent – I even heard a recruiting executive recently say that the hardest things to recruit for these days are not engineers, but GOOD technical recruiters. One of the biggest problems I think we are experiencing within our talent attraction and acquisition teams is a lack of fundamentals.

Going back to the title, my belief is that in order to assist the next generation of sourcing professionals in being excellent, we must first identify the basics that must be mastered, reveal the time-sucks that bog down these job functions, and provide some recommendations on how to drive your career toward greatness.

The Basics to Master

So what are some basic fundamentals when it comes to sourcing and recruiting?


  • The big “duh” here is search. Breaking this down into smaller sections, sourcing search fundamentals include, but aren’t limited to, Boolean string creation, understanding Internet taxonomy (being able to break down a URL and uncover hidden pages), what I like to call “going down the rabbit hole” to follow a lead, and pulling together multiple information sources (both on- and offline) to create a complete prospect profile
  • Effective communication typically falls second behind search, however I feel it is a core skill that excellent sourcers must master in order to be successful. What good is uncovering the perfect person for a role if you cannot communicate with them effectively to pique their interest?
  • Scientific theory is not something you may associate with sourcing, but at its core, approaching a search using a sort-of scientific method will allow you to go through a trial-and-error process to test different approaches to your search, adjust when you aren’t finding what you need, and properly document your successes for your – and others’ – future benefit.

Recruiting: in addition to the sourcing fundamentals (yes… I’m saying that a good recruiter must first be a good sourcer) a few basic fundamentals for recruiting include:

  • Project management: being able to craft an effective workflow – complete with timelines, responsibilities, and assessments – is key to being an excellent recruiting partner to your clients. Without it, your recruiting process is a crap-shoot and you may as well attempt a career at cat-herding.
  • Sales ability: you may hate to see this, but even if you are working with a good sourcer who has already convinced a prospect that your role is perfect for them, a recruiter is still responsible for the ‘purchase’ – i.e. closing a candidate. At the heart of this is relationship development – becoming a trusted advisor to your candidates as well as your clients; after all, you are brokering that ‘purchase’ on both sides of the table, and the more both candidate and client trust you, the more effective you can be.

Common mastery areas for both sourcing and recruiting depend upon the industry in which you work. If you’re going to focus on specific functions, you’d better learn your business – regardless of whether you are a sourcer or a recruiter.

The Time-Sucks to Minimize

The sad thing, in my mind, is how many other peripheral tasks have crept their way into dominating a sourcer’s and/or recruiter’s time. While they are not unimportant, they are still time-sucks, not at the core of what we should be spending our time on, and most have the ability to be at least partially automated:

  • Metrics and reporting: there are tools that can automate this
  • Compliance: there are tools that can automate adherence to this
  • Powerpoint presentations: a recruiter making $100k+ should not be spending too much of his/her time creating PPT presentations (in my opinion, of course)
  • Other miscellaneous HR stuff: how and when did HR creep up into our functions?

There is a sad practice in many grade schools today that is commonly referred to as “teaching to the test.” Those of you who have kids or know teachers know the frustration of this – the idea behind it is to give students the specific knowledge they will need in order to pass a standardized test, so that the school may continue to receive funding or the student may receive a passing grade to move up to the next level. But by only teaching the material needed for this test, this practice doesn’t encourage creative thinking, trial-and-error approach to problem-solving, or understanding the “why” behind the “how” of the way the world works. Many students move through the grades with poor understanding of basic math, grammar, and critical thinking skills (and usually to the dismay of the teachers who are forced to do this).

The way I see it, lots of talent acquisition organizations today practice the very same methods – pushing talent acquisition along by focusing on making their numbers look good while neglecting spending appropriate amounts of time and energy on the actual practice of sourcing and recruiting or to encourage their teams to dig deeper into more innovative and scientific approaches to finding great talent. Little is done to encourage creative approach; it’s death by template or manual metrics and tracking for reporting up.

The Fix to Move Forward

In my personal opinion, if we want better sourcers and recruiters, better hiring manager partnerships, and thus better REAL metrics, things have got to change, and this can start by minimizing the amount of time spent on the above time-suck activities – and MAXIMIZING sourcing efficiency, which begins with appropriate training.

While each company has unique needs and thus would require a unique approach to overcome some of these challenges, there are a few universal things that companies can do to help properly equip sourcers and recruiters today to hire excellent talent and continue to develop skills that will help them excel in their roles.

Most importantly, however, sourcers and recruiters need to take control of their own training and career development. This means understanding that you must have a firm foundation in sourcing basics and an idea of how you’d like your own career to progress. No one is going to pay more attention to the development of your skills and your career path than you. To get you started, here are a few suggestions, and I would recommend approaching these suggestions in an ordered progression to assist you in mastering sourcing:

  1. Learn Boolean: for heaven’s sake, if you’re going to call yourself a sourcer in today’s world, you must know how to create a Boolean search string. And if you’re going to call yourself a recruiter, you need to understand sourcing. This is like learning addition and subtraction. In fact, it’s how I typically explain Boolean to new sourcers – it’s like creating an algebra problem with words, and you cannot solve an algebra problem without understanding addition and subtraction (as well as multiplication and division). There are lots of ways to learn Boolean, and I don’t endorse any particular trainers or programs, but do your own research, consider the investment (time and/or money), and make that investment into your own future. And if your company provides training, TAKE ADVANTAGE.
  2. Once you learn Boolean, make sure you diversify your tool belt: don’t allow yourself to become a one-trick pony. You will tend to gravitate toward your favorite search and communication tools (including the phone), but make sure you are at the very least aware of what else is available for you to conduct searches and connect with prospects. Explore what’s out there for search, marketing outreach, messaging, and so forth by reading articles and subscribing to newsfeeds. For instance, are you aware that you can use WHOIS to locate a domain owner’s contact information? Did you know that many companies still have dial-by-name directories that can be tapped after-hours for building out org charts? Did you know that there are plugins like Outlook Connector that can help you verify social network connections via an email address, or that you can message Lync users outside of your own organization (if they are federated)? PS: I’m not providing links to resources or instructions on these tools because as a sourcer you need to learn how to find this information yourself.
  3. Observe your particular industry and learn how to best interact with people in the functions that you’re targeting. This will in turn help you craft appropriate messaging. Take a moment to step back, watch, and listen first in user forums, meetup groups, and networks. Read group rules for sharing jobs, or ask a group moderator if it would be appropriate for you to reach out to members – and if not, ask what they would recommend. The important thing here is to be respectful of the industry from which you want to recruit – being careless in your approaches can create unnecessary challenges for you as well as for others representing your company.
  4. Empower your client groups to recruit for you: this is perhaps the most effective and basic sourcing approach to find really amazing people for your teams. Who better to find great talent than the great talent that just started at your company? If you provide your teams with easy-to-share information for their networks, you can set them to work for you and remain virtually invisible, all the while introducing fabulous prospects to your hiring managers. Ask new hires whom they miss working with, give them simple messaging templates with shortened (and trackable) URLS, let them parse their networks for interested people, and have them direct referrals to you for screening.
  5. Listen to and learn from other sourcers and recruiters – even if they have less experience than you. The great thing about the sourcing community is how open we all are to sharing best practices. By humbling ourselves and listening to the experiences others have, we can learn how to approach – and how NOT to approach – similar situations in our own search efforts.

Leaders, please encourage your sourcing and recruiting teams to do the above, and if you have the resources to assist in any of these endeavors (like paying for search training, providing tools and user training of those, or assigning mentors to new team members) please invest in the future (and retention!) of your talented people. Additionally, I would encourage you to dig into your company policies and champion some organizational changes to help mitigate some of the time-sucks that may be taking your sourcing and recruiting folks away from actually sourcing and recruiting:

  • Require participation in company onboarding: if your company doesn’t have a formalized onboarding process for all of its employees that includes topics like company history, business unit breakdown, and understanding of corporate missions, you’re really missing out on opportunities to not only get your recruiters up to speed on things that will be essential for them to communicate to prospects, but also to educate new hires on things they can share with old colleagues that may compel them to consider making a job change themselves. Getting this information up-front will minimize the amount of time sourcers and recruiters may have to spend scouring an intranet trying to piece together information to tell a compelling story about their company.

Side-note: I have found through personal experience that live onboarding works much better than sending new employees links of videos or audio files to listen to on their own. Human interaction with the onboarding coordinators as well as the other new employees helps forge relationships immediately and adds a wonderful human touch to welcome new folks.

  • Provide up-to-date recruiter onboarding: even if you’re hiring seasoned senior recruiters or sourcers, chances are there are internal processes they have no clue about that will be pertinent to them efficiently doing their jobs. To not have a formalized, updated recruiter onboarding program as part of your new hire process is detrimental to the quick ramping of your new sourcers and recruiters. Make sure your policies are up-to-date and your resource links are not broken, too.
  • Automate metrics reporting: in my opinion, there is absolutely no excuse for sourcers and recruiters to have to manually manipulate tracking spreadsheets today with the amount of automated systems available out there. If you’re still requiring your team to manually update spreadsheets, please stop immediately. Take the time to learn how your rather expensive application tracking, HRIS, and CRM systems work (they’ll typically provide you – free of charge – with user training) and then turn around and teach your sourcing and recruiting teams how to start automated the tracking that’s required of them. Think of it this way – would you rather your sourcer or recruiter spending time tracking metrics or actually sourcing for prospects? Chances are, if your tracking is manual they’re spending more time on tracking than they are on sourcing, creating a bit of a catch-22.
  • Employ recruiting coordinators or assistants: these individuals are amazing in the amount of time they can save a sourcer or recruiter by alleviating the burden of scheduling interviews and travel as well as helping to move compliance and other HR-related activities (non-essential to recruiters) along quickly. I can’t tell you how much I have appreciated the help I’ve received over the years from recruiting coordinators – they are an invaluable, dare I say essential, part of a recruiting team.

The Method to Multiply

Finally, the most important thing we all must do to move the needle for excellence in the future is to pay it forward. When you find your stride within your career, or when you figure out a formula within your company to make recruiting more efficient, make an effort to mentor a younger sourcer or recruiter, give back to your professional communities, and pass your knowledge and experience – failures included – to the next group of up-and-coming sourcers and recruiters.

I feel that an area where we’ve fallen short in doing this is sharing failures – failing is the only way for us to discover where improvement is needed, whether it is through first-hand experience or observation of others. As a community, we don’t share nearly enough failures and I’d like to see this change. Part of how we can drive this is by removing the stigma that surrounds admitting failure to each other. And in order to do that, we must allow others the room to grow and the grace to fail without fear of public humiliation.

Listen, you’re not going to master sourcing overnight. There is a lot of trial-and-error involved in becoming an excellent sourcer. I’ve been at this since 2002 and I’ve still got a lot to learn. I started my career as an Internet Researcher and have worked for start-up companies with 10 employees as well as large, established organizations with more than 300,000, and everything in-between. I’ve worked both in contract and FTE capacities as a practitioner for recruitment franchise agencies and franchisors and on the corporate side of things, as well as in recruitment media where I analyzed best practices for sourcing. I’ve served in high-volume and specialized sourcing capacities, searching for every kind of talent from medical to IT to engineering to PR to marketing to construction. I’ve built brand presence for myself, for other recruiters, and for corporate identities. And, for the last couple of years I’ve changed gears and have been working a full recruiting desk, both with and without sourcing partnership.

I’ve seen and tried many things, failed miserably at some ventures, and occasionally succeeded marvelously in my many roles. While I don’t have all the answers, I feel I have a well-rounded perspective on what it takes to master the role of a sourcer, and I’m working on the recruiting bit too. Finding success is hitting the bulls-eye once. But mastery is knowing this means nothing unless you can do it over and over and over again.

Sourcers and recruiters, please take the initiative to invest in a solid career foundation for yourself. Leaders, please play an active role in your team’s career development. Put in the effort up-front rather than trying to apply temporary patchwork fixes so far down the road that it’s nearly impossible to change. In the long run, you will develop loyal, skilled teams who know their industry and love finding people for your company, and you will find happiness and peace in your chosen career path as you pursue mastery of your craft.