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Feb 8, 2017
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Talent sourcing has become strategic. Talent sourcing is no longer a conversation about the latest tool or the best Boolean string that will extract your purple squirrel prospect from some obscure database. Don’t get me wrong, I love tools and have some particular skills when it comes to harvesting data. But if you want to up your game in talent sourcing, understanding what makes your target talent tick is what will make you move valuable to your clients and keep you employed when AI and the bots attempt to take over recruiting.

This post is the first installment of a four-part follow-up to the well-received article Talent Sourcing in the Digital Era: Talent Sourcing Is So Much More Than Boolean. In that post, I offered a model of contemporary talent sourcing.


The first pillar of talent sourcing is the Explore pillar. I labeled it explore because it contains many of the marketing-like components in talent acquisition. Talent sourcing is not marketing, yet we share many characteristics. In my opinion, marketing is exploring what a target audience wants and give it to them. If we accept the premise that contemporary talent sourcing is geared toward meeting the expectations, motivations, interests and values of the target audience, then we have a working definition of marketing. In short, our goal is to find out what our target audience wants and give it to them.


Imagine going to a requisition review or intake meeting and making it a strategic conversation. Not just a thirty-minute call where you are trying to squeeze nuggets of details out of a less-than-forthcoming hiring manager or client, but a conversation where you are treated as a trusted advisor. If you want to move to this level of expertise in talent sourcing, then the activities of the Explore pillar is where it begins.  The four aspects of the explore pillar are:

  • The Talent Request
  • The Talent Persona
  • The Talent Supply
  • Competitive Talent Intelligence

The Talent Request is where the talent sourcing process begins; exploring the real job description, not just the cut and paste models that represented by most job descriptions. In addition to skills, attributes and abilities that would be used in performing the role, providing transparency as to the most significant anticipated accomplishments expected of the incumbent as well as, pointing out how this role might benefit a career. A very tenacious Lou Adler has been advocating a performance objective based method of describing a job for the past 30+ years. Also, best in class talent branding professionals are focusing on branding the work that will be performed rather than just telling all the great things about an organization.

The second aspect of the Explore Pillar is a Talent Persona. It is a term that talent acquisition has borrowed from product marketing. A Talent Persona is defined by the well-known author, Charlene Li;

“Personas are fictional representations of candidate segments, ideally based on real data and research. The goal is to get in the shoes of the person you are trying to serve—to deeply understand what drives the different types of outcomes each persona wants to achieve.

A word about research required to build a Talent Persona; it entails conversations with your internal team, internal stakeholders as well as, identifying the external trends and data from a variety of sources.  To better understand what makes talent tick, I review research from a variety of sources Talent Board, LinkedIn, CareerBuilder, Jobvite, Jibe, Indeed, SilkRoad, Pew Research, and Universum to name a few.

The Importance of creating a talent persona before beginning the talent sourcing process is that the information explored will influence the remaining three pillars how we discover, engage and nurture talent. Some of the benefits of a talent persona, our “fictional representations of candidate segments” are:

  1. Provides audience insights allow a talent sourcer to understand the motives behind the behaviors of target audiences better. By better understanding the target talent audience regarding values, traits and behaviors that relate to aspirations, satisfactions, and characteristics of success.
Audience Insights


GoalsPersonal/professional goals?
Concerns/ChallengesKeeps them up at night?
PsychographicsPersonality, values, attitudes & interests
Income level 
Demographic SegmentationGender, generation or work life stage, location, ethnicity, education & occupation
Leisure TimeWhere are hobbies, interests, spend free time


  1. Provides content insights allow a talent sourcer to communicate with the target audience. The content insights point a talent sourcer direction on where to gather the information; industry publications, industry blogs, LinkedIn Groups, competitors websites, etc. It focuses a talent sourcer on relevant channels for communicating with the target audience. It also informs as to the sources of information that would be valuable to the target audience.
Content Insights


ChannelsPreferred channels of communication
Social MediaHow they participate; who do they follow
FormatsText, audio, or visual
MediaWhere to get information
ContentWhat topics do they read; where do keep on their industry
StylePreferred tone, style & voice


  1. Provides career Insights that allow the talent sourcer to understand the candidate journey. Career insights point to motivations in making a job switch, as well as, diving deeper into the target talent’s career journey. Finally, gaining insights into professional associations and industry events they typically attend is very useful.


Career Insights


BehaviorsHow to find out about  a new job
MotivationWhat prompts them to look
Job ConcernsJob-related concerns or challenges
Common ObjectionsWhy target audience will not interview
Company StoryMap my career journey to your company story
DevelopmentWhat associations do they belong or technical events they attend


The above is my version of a Talent Persona. It is built into my questionnaire that I use for requisition reviews or requisition intake meetings. It is information that I share with the hiring manager or client. There are other fine talent persona templates created by SmashFly, Beamery, Candarine, Geekology, Clinch, Indeed, and Thrive.

The third aspect of The Talent Supply is research that informs where to find the target talent. The Talent Supply can be discovered by research that determines how many of a certain talent type exists, where the talent lives and works as well as a ballpark of their current compensation. It is one of the first things a best in class talent sourcer does before going to a requisition review meeting. Having the information regarding the talent supply allows a talent sourcer to have a deeper conversation regarding many aspects of the search strategy. A variety of tools exists that can provide this information. Note, some of the free tools may need to be used in combination with another to gain the complete picture of the target talent supply. Some of those free tools are LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Hiretual, Payscale,,  Indeed, and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. CEB with its Talent Neuron and Career Builder’s TalentStream are leading paid tools that identify the supply and demand of talent.

The fourth aspect is Competitive Talent Intelligence-what is the value props of direct competitors; how do we compete regarding compensation, benefits, corporate culture, diversity, organizational structure, leadership, as well as what a career might look like at a competitor. A close cousin to the talent supply analysis focuses on a competitive evaluation of the respective employee value propositions and where your strengths and uniqueness might reside.

In a presentation at SourceCon 2015, competitive talent intelligence thought leader Annie Chae, introduced the idea of using competitive battle cards. Battle cards can be an efficient method of comparing strengths and weaknesses of your organization vs. a direct, or market competitor, of similar target talent. One the best method of building a battle card is to collect input from recruiters and sourcers that are conducting interviews with a competitor’s talent. In a way, a battle card is like a persona created for a competitor. It would contain a description of the organization, its culture, its business strategy and other high-level observations. At the same time, a battle card could include accurate information regarding employee benefits, vacations, career paths and other details that might be relevant to prospective talent. Mapping where the talent lives and who they work for can be added from the activities related to the talent supply/demand.

Digital alerts are a great tool to use to collect competitive intelligence. Specific free tools like Owler, Google Alerts, Yahoo! Alerts, Mention, BuzzSumo, MozBar, Social Searcher and, allow talent sourcer to keep track of their competitors. These tools combined with the free tools mentioned above will provide and an excellent source of information regarding the competitive talent landscape.

I am confident that you are saying to yourself, I do not have time to do this; it’s too complicated. I am just too busy to add one more thing to do. I understand; I was in the same situation when I adopted this approach. I began with attempting to change the tenor of the requisition review/intake meeting. That was my test of this new approach. Before going to the requisition review, I looked up all the hiring manager’s team members and looked for commonalities in education, previous experience or skills. I also did some preliminary research on the target audience that we would be targeting for the search. I was able to ask questions about the position in the context of the current team, as well as, where we might find the new employees. Armed with that information, I then set up some digital alerts to begin collective competitive intelligence. Next, I invested time in reading white papers, attending webinars and conferences where thought leaders educated me on the state of recruiting and sourcing. This model evolved into what it is today. I recommend that you explore the suggested materials and build your model that is tailored it to your situation. Happy hunting.


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