Think Like a Librarian and Conduct a Reference Interview to Create Successful Sourcing Strategies

Article main image
Feb 24, 2016
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

My very first graduate school class was Reference/Information Services, which can best be described as Reference Desk 101. Reference librarians are highly trained not only to determine where to retrieve the information for which library patrons are looking, but also to determine what exactly the patron is seeking. The latter half of those responsibilities is called the Reference Interview and is the initial exchange between the librarian and the patron.

Picture it! Someone enters their local library, approaches the reference desk and asks,

“Do you have directories of businesses headquartered in Massachusetts?”

The librarian says, “Sure do!” and shows the patron where to look online and the interaction is finished.

At first glance, there’s nothing wrong with this exchange. A question was asked and answered; however, this Q&A does not constitute an effective reference interview. The American Library Association’s Reference and User Services Association, states that “the reference interview is the heart of the reference transaction and is crucial to the success of the process. The librarian should effectively identify the patron’s information needs…Effective listening and questioning skills are necessary for a positive interaction.”

In the above-mentioned scenario, the librarian should have asked additional open-ended questions that would let him understand what the patron was going to do with the information. If the patron’s ultimate goal was to create a list of engineering firms to apply for jobs with, then the librarian would have recommended different resources entirely.

I often think back to what I learned about Reference Interviews and apply that knowledge to create effective sourcing strategies with my recruiters and hiring managers. It’s very important for sourcers not to accept a recruiter’s stated job requirements at face value.

Once the initial requirements are given, it’s the sourcer’s responsibility to:

  • Repeat back and confirm requirements
  • Clarify any confusion
  • Ask open-ended questions that could lead to useful information, such as: “What skills & experience have previously proven successful in these roles that aren’t stated in the job description?” or “What is the intended career path for this role?” or “Would you consider someone from another domain/industry?” Get the decision makers to think critically about the role and take down notes. Oftentimes valuable information might just be mentioned as an aside.
  • Push back if information needs aren’t being met, with the argument that a successful sourcing strategy begins with constant and open communication.

Sourcer/recruiter relationships can be tetchy, but oftentimes this is due to unmet expectations in terms of sourced candidates. Next time you kick off a new search, approach the initial intake meeting as if you were a reference librarian and interview your recruiter. Bun and sensible shoes are optional.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!