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Feb 21, 2019

By nature, successful talent acquisition requires a high amount of human interaction, whether written or some form of interpersonal communication. A good number of recruiters and sourcers believe the best way to interact with others is through conversation – talking with candidates, sharing about your company’s or client’s work, describing a job opportunity. Sure, these are great ways for candidates to get to know you and the organization you represent, but if you are busy doing all of the talking, how will you get to know your candidates? I say you need more LOL in your life.

LOL – in modern context, most people think that means “laugh out loud.” Frequently it’s used in text to indicate something funny, and often it is also used as a meaningless filler word. But in this case, that’s not what it stands for. It is an acronym for three activities that sourcers should spend more time practicing and integrating into their daily routines.

L = Listen: give one’s attention; make an effort to hear something; be alert and ready

O = Observe: notice; perceive; watch someone/something carefully and attentively

L = Learn: commit to memory; become aware of something by information or from observation

What happens when these skills are not exercised and deployed through our target audiences is tone-deaf messaging, lack of understanding of talent communities, the disenchantment of recruiters by prospects, and overall failure as a sourcer.

How to Listen Better

The best way to listen better is to simply shut up and let others talk more. Sounds easy, right? However, this can be challenging if you are not asking the right questions or if you never pause your own message to listen for responses. If you are talking during more than 50% of your conversations, you’re not listening and therefore not getting to know your prospects. If this is a struggle for you, try waiting to pitch your job until you’ve asked one or two non-skill related probing questions, so your prospect has an opportunity to warm up to you. This is particularly important for proactively sourced prospects who probably weren’t looking for a new job when you contacted them. Prep for your conversations by writing out open-ended questions ahead of time, and reserve your job pitch until after your prospect has had a chance to answer so you can tailor it based on what they share with you. The best questions to ask prospects are those which allow them to expand, provide examples, and share personal details that will reveal clues as to how you can entice them to consider something new.

Several years ago, one of my co-workers shared with me five motivating factors that drive most decisions when one is considering a job change: compensation, work/life balance, benefits, working with great people, and having interesting/challenging work. I added a sixth, the opportunity for promotion, and have used this list ever since in determining how I will encourage prospects to consider making a change. Listening to these motivating factors in your conversations with prospects will equip you with valuable tools to cater to your recruitment approach. Here are two questions that have worked well for me:

What caused you to say “Yes” to having this conversation with me – that is, why are you less than 100% satisfied with your current role? There is a reason they took your call, and this question gives them the opportunity to reveal why, which is generally a top motivator that would make them consider leaving. Some responses might be, “I wish I could work from home more,” “I really like my company, but I’ve hit the max of my career development,” “I care for an elderly parent and my current employer doesn’t have benefits that help me to do so,” “I know so-and-so who works at your company and would love the chance to work with her/him,” etc.

When did you have that “lightbulb moment” when you know this was the kind of work you wanted to pursue? This will help you determine what about their work brings them joy, which will reveal motivators to you so you can cater your recruitment message to them. Frequently, you will be able to ‘hear’ them smile when recalling this moment.

The best conversationalists are typically those who talk less, listen more, and are genuinely curious about learning. They leave others feeling good about the interaction, which in our case tends to translate into openness to further communication or referrals if the opportunity is not right for them.

How to Observe Better

Observation is more of a non-conversational form of listening – it’s being in-tune with the environment, body language, and other cues that can help to guide your conversation strategy. In the case of sourcing, this also includes observing your industry and what is happening within it. Arguably, I believe this is the most important form of observation because it will give you relatable tidbits of information to discuss with your prospects.

Over the years, one of the approaches I have taken not only with my own sourcing but also with teams I’ve managed is monitoring important industry news and using it as an ice-breaker in both initial outreach as well as screening conversations. For example, if there is a layoff happening at a competitor, this gives you a very good excuse to reach to either new prospects or individuals with whom you’ve connected in the past who are employees at that company to see if they have been affected. Here is an example of messaging I’ve used that has worked well:

Hi [name], I saw in the news that [XYZ Company] announced some layoffs<hyperlink to an article with the news> that are affecting [functions/locations/etc.]. I’m not sure if you were one of those affected, but I wanted to reach out in case you were. Please let me know if you would like to speak, or if you have co-workers who were affected, please pass along my contact information or let me know.

In one example, my team had been proactively observing our industry and caught wind of a small competitor startup quietly shutting down. Within 24 hours of that tip, we had contacted over 50% of that company’s employees and had set up 23 informational conversations. In another example, a layoff at a competitor resulted in those employees tweeting about and starting a crowdsourced Google doc to assist displaced individuals in connecting with recruiters. This Google doc contained LinkedIn URLs as well as location and contact data for those who opted to include themselves. That list still exists today, by the way. In both instances, paying attention to and being observant within our industry led to excellent opportunities for a proactive sourcing team.

With all of the demands in sourcing today, a common misperception is that there simply isn’t enough time to ‘observe’ and read industry news. I’ve heard from lots of people that skimming headlines is all they have time for, or that it takes too much time to set up search alerts. I would argue that it’s not as complicated as it seems, it’s a critical part of being a successful talent acquisition professional, and this oversight causes many missed opportunities not only to be more in-tune with your competitors but also to uncover hidden talent quoted or interviewed in articles. Being observant as a sourcer comes in many forms, but the easiest way of doing so is through RSS subscriptions that bring news directly to you. Outlook on PCs will allow you to subscribe to RSS feeds and bring articles directly into your inbox. You can also use resources like IFTTT to set up observational search applets as well as competitor aggregation resources like Owler to pick companies about which you would like to receive news.

How to Learn Better

Being an efficient learner takes a little more time than understanding how to be an effective listener or an observant professional. Learning is more of a cumulative effort that includes listening and observing, combined with application and practice over time. In turn, learning helps to improve the efficiency of all of the activities that feed into it. It is a positive feedback loop of gaining experience, and one that should not be rushed.

As a sourcer, learning should be a foundational component of your function. From my experience, as a profession we often approach learning from the wrong direction, starting with the desired end product and neglecting the acquisition of foundational knowledge. What I have found to be a successful progression of learning – regardless of if you are brand-new or an experienced sourcer – is the following:

  • Where your role fits into talent acquisition: Every company defines sourcing differently. If you do not have clarity around what that looks like in your job, everything else will be a challenge.
  • Company/client knowledge: How many people spend a portion of their onboarding really digging into the history, operation, and function of their employer or their clients? The first things a sourcer needs to learn are tied to your employer or your clients – specifically, what they do, how they do it, and what the benefit is to its customers. Without this knowledge, it is next to impossible to generate genuine interest from prospects or speak intelligently during screens.
  • Functional knowledge: While you gain a better understanding of your company or your clients, it is important to learn about the functions for which you will be sourcing – what they do at your company/client, how this translates into the general market, what success in that function looks like, who is doing it well, and so on.
  • Profile discovery: Once these two areas have been addressed, finding individuals will be much simpler than if you were to jump right in trying to find people.

While it may seem counterintuitive to productivity, these learning steps are the building blocks of a solid career foundation and will serve you long-term as you source for qualified individuals. Taking this learning back through Listen and Observe activities will yield you even more results, and success will become cyclical.

At a previous employer, I was able to take on a sourcing intern. The plan we laid out for this individual included all of the above – she learned about the various roles in talent acquisition – from recruiting to sourcing to coordination to leadership – and how they all interacted with one another; she did a research project on our division and how it tied in to the rest of the company and presented her research to our team; she shadowed other team members and learned about the various functions within our division as well as where/how to find them; and finally she learned how to find direct contact information and craft compelling messages for outreach. She learned all of this before she was given a LinkedIn Recruiter license, too. She learned foundational knowledge first before being introduced to advanced resources so that no matter where she went following her internship, she would be equipped with an understanding of good learning processes that would aid her in being successful anywhere.

As you think about your sourcing career, consider how much “LOL” time you spend. When you take a step back and reflect, you should be listening more than you talk, observing what’s going on in your industry, and finding ways to learn and grow from these activities. Make a concerted effort to add more LOL to your work, and you will find yourself a much more productive and successful sourcer.

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