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Sep 17, 2019
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

My roots in talent acquisition are humble, but they run deep and wide. Over the years, I have worked in just about every function you can imagine in talent acquisition, which has allowed me to view each function through multiple lenses. In 2012 I wrote an article about how people in different TA and HR functions likely perceive one another and the important part education plays in overcoming some of the incorrect perceptions. Having gained first-hand experience over the years in several different functions, I can say confidently that the acceptable definition of talent sourcing today is not an entry-level function. Rather, your TA organization’s most effective, efficient, and at times experienced team members should be working as talent sourcers. 

Sourcing Is a Specialization within Talent Acquisition

Think about experience requirements for highly skilled professionals such as a medical doctor: the entry point is understanding general medicine. Students in medical school learn the basics of general medicine and typically have the opportunity over their last two years to rotate through hospital specialty departments and gain experience in patient care under faculty supervision. Once they complete medical school, they must complete a residency program where they may continue to rotate through different specialty areas of medicine and be licensed to practice general medicine. If they choose to specialize, they will typically pursue a fellowship and/or have to pass an additional licensing exam to do so. At the root of all this education remains understanding medical basics, without which specialization would not be possible.

If we take a look at the end-to-end recruitment process, there are a lot of things to consider to make a hire. There is client relationship development, candidate relationship development, sourcing for talent, workforce planning, organization of administrative processes, understanding the details of geo-specific hiring laws, immigration considerations, the list goes on and on. These are all components of general recruitment, and a full cycle recruiter needs a basic understanding of all these areas, with the ultimate goal of ensuring her/his hiring manager chooses the most qualified individual(s) to join their team. 

Today’s full-cycle recruiters generally have a portion of all these responsibilities on their plate, and balancing that plate can be complicated. That’s why, over the years, functional specializations have evolved out of these areas. In a well-structured team, talent sourcing is one of several channels that ensures there is a relatively consistent flow of quality candidates for the business to assess. Other channels may include job postings, hiring events, college/university programs, recruitment marketing campaigns, agency partnerships, and so on. A recruiter needs to have a basic understanding of the benefits each of these channels brings to ensuring their ultimate goal – making hires against their requisitions – is achieved. As a result of this, the function of talent sourcing has evolved into a specialization that frequently includes research, outreach, and qualification responsibilities. 

Logically speaking, to gain full exposure to each of these areas, the entry point to a career in recruitment should be as a recruiter. From there, individuals may find they gravitate toward specific points in the process, and specialization may be identified. If one enjoys the client relationship development aspect or the thrill of closing a candidate, full-cycle recruitment is a great career path to pursue. If understanding target audiences or crafting compelling messages to attract people to a company or specific functions is interesting, a career in recruitment marketing could be a rewarding one. If pivot tables, data visualization, and process efficiency are fun and exciting, developing in the area of TA operations may be of interest. And if one prefers the excitement of information discovery and getting candidates who weren’t already engaged interested in pursuing an opportunity, talent sourcing could be a great specialty.

Why Sourcing is Still Seen as Entry-Level

Conversations around building talent sourcing functions by hiring mainly entry-level individuals continue to happen in small and large organizations alike. There are a few likely reasons for this:

  • Understanding of talent sourcing is outdated and/or non-existent: there are few people in TA leadership roles today who’ve worked as talent sourcing specialists, and even fewer who’ve done so recently – say, within the last 7-8 years as more technologically advanced resources have become more prevalent. Sourcing used to be limited to perusing job boards for resumes, for the most part, with a few very talented and experienced exceptions who also pursued phone sourcing directly into companies or more complex open web search techniques ahead of their time. When a leader’s point of view is talent sourcing from the ‘90s and early ‘00s, entry-level generally seems appropriate for the function as it is viewed to be as simple as learning how to log into and search within a database.
  • Sourcing is viewed as an “easy” job: people who say sourcing is easy are likely thinking about the simplicity of the act of conducting a basic search, and they believe it is easy because it is quite a simple act to type words into a search engine and return some results. And generally speaking, when doing that using a search engine like Google, or even a structured database designed for recruitment like LinkedIn, typically you’ll get results that fairly accurately match what you type in. The challenge – and where most people miss the mark on the complexities of talent sourcing – lies in whether or not you understood what you were looking for in the first place as well as what you do with search results once you have some. Making sure what you seek is actually what you need requires understanding your business’s functional needs. Doing something appropriate with your search results requires understanding useful initial outreach approaches to attract people and possessing enough knowledge of what is needed for your business to evaluate prospects’ qualifications effectively.
  • Focus is on one component of what sourcers do: modern sourcing typically involves information discovery, initial outreach, qualification screening, and submittal either to a recruiting partner or directly to a business. When leadership focuses on one, possibly two, of these activities, it is easy to assess the experience level needed for successful execution to be lower. Pure research can often be automated, bots can be used for initial outreach and even assessment now, and submits can be funneled through tools and resources efficiently. When you combine all of these responsibilities into one function, however, it becomes more complex and will often require some existing experience to be executed successfully and at scale.
  • Sourcers are performing recruiter functions: many times, sourcers are brought into teams to help offload some of the responsibilities currently born by full-cycle recruiters. This can include things like officially posting jobs, screening existing applicants, scheduling hiring manager phone interviews, making applicant workflow changes with the ATS, developing on-site interview panels, and so on. I am sorry to break it to you, but if your sourcer is doing these things, you’ve hired a recruiter, not a sourcer.

What Modern Talent Sourcers Must Know

The activities for which talent sourcers are responsible today vary from organization to organization but certainly involve much more than they used to. With these activities comes the need for knowledge and experience within a variety of areas. Below are areas where at least a basic level of expertise is typically expected of modern talent sourcing, in some variety or combination:

  • Information discovery and retrieval
  • Communication and qualification screening
  • Functional domain understanding
  • Partnership development between Sourcer/Sourcer, Sourcer/Recruiter, and Sourcer/Hiring Manager 
  • Reporting/Tracking systems manipulation
  • Time management/organizational skills
  • Market research and data visualization

If you have designs of hiring an entry-level individual to be responsible for even half of these areas, you will need to set appropriate ramping expectations to allow them time to learn systems, understand their business areas, and know what deliverables are expected of them to achieve success. Otherwise, you will be better served looking to individuals with existing experience, and who have identified a genuine love of search and initial engagement, to add the most value to your organization through talent sourcing. 

Talent Research: A Modern-Day Specialization Within Talent Sourcing

As a parting thought, I want to challenge readers to think differently about talent research, which is also quite often viewed as an entry-point function in talent acquisition. Talent research is a widely variable sub-discipline within talent sourcing and can involve activities such as lead discovery, market intelligence research, talent insights research, and a varying level of data analysis. Where research derives its most significant value is in application to existing workflows, processes, and strategies. Are discovered leads being pursued? Is there action being taken on time-sensitive market intelligence? Are adjustments being made to business strategies based upon talent insights and analyzed data? 

Individuals conducting such research and delivering this data not just to TA partners but also directly to the business should be amongst the most knowledgeable and experienced individuals on your TA teams. Not only do they need to understand what your organization does in its respective market, but how products and services are delivered to customers, what functions exist across the entire organization, how existing internal talent supplies compare to market supply, and where and how to find individuals very quickly and efficiently. Conducting this research is only half of the equation, as curating, analyzing, and delivering information beautifully is essential to ensure it tells a compelling and relevant story and elicits action.


The true entry point for a career in recruiting is as a recruiter because this allows individuals to experience everything involved in the end-to-end process. Talent sourcing is one specialized function within the recruitment process, and today it requires more than merely reviewing resumes. Ensure you are hiring individuals to source who truly love search and engagement, not just people who claim to be able to source but don’t have a real passion for it. If you need to hire entry-level, make sure you adjust your expectations for results appropriately and provide career learning opportunities beyond just tools or platform-based training. If you are thinking about adding talent sourcing to your organization, whether individually or as an entire team, pause to consider what activities are needed to cover your team’s existing gaps in productivity. Don’t make talent sourcing an “extra pair of hands” function but rather a way to enrich and complement the recruiting currently happening across your business.

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