Two Tips For Interviewing Talent Sourcing Candidates

During the SourceCon fireside chat I recently facilitated, a question came up afterward about how to evaluate good talent sourcers in interviews. Having interviewed a lot of people over the years for talent sourcing as well as recruiting roles, one of the things I’ve learned is that not everyone who says they can source actually can. Along that same vein, not everyone who can source actually should – depending upon how the role is defined. One of my all-time favorite movie quotes comes from Jurassic Park, when Dr. Ian Malcolm, in response to Dr. John Hammond’s comment about scientific accomplishment, says, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” 

The basic idea of could vs. should is significant when you’re contemplating hiring someone into a role who could, in theory, perform the role. We can become preoccupied with the “could they?” of talent sourcing because commonly when a company is looking for talent sourcers it’s to fill some urgent needs and time is of the essence. Additionally, from a candidate perspective, we may be so dazzled by the idea of working for a company or by a job title itself that we don’t stop to think if it’s the right fit and if we actually should. When both parties are preoccupied like this, what often results is a mismatch and poor experiences all around.

For this article’s purposes, let’s talk about interviewing talent sourcing candidates. It’s important to be able to quickly spot-check for could vs. should in your interviews – you don’t want to hire someone as a talent sourcer who doesn’t match with how your organization has defined talent sourcing, doesn’t really want to be in a talent sourcing role in the first place, or can’t handle not controlling the whole process from end to end. 

While there is a lot that can be addressed when discussing how to successfully interview talent sourcing candidates, here are two quick tips to help you with the could vs. should discussion:

  1. Answer this question first: what does a talent sourcing role involve for your organization? If you don’t have a clear answer to this question, please seek that answer before you look to hire for your role. Otherwise, it’s highly likely you’re going to end up hiring the wrong person. For example, if talent sourcing at your company involves market research, lead discovery, and then a hand-off to someone else for pursuit, it’s not going to excite someone who loves candidate development and selling prospects on new opportunities. If talent sourcing at your company involves passive prospect outreach, engagement, and qualification, it’s going to be a huge mismatch for anyone who is awesome at list building but balks at phone work. If talent sourcing at your company involves managing req-based tasks as well as doing outbound, proactive sourcing, IMHO that is actually full-cycle recruiting, not specialized talent sourcing (please change my mind if you disagree!). Whatever you decide works for your organization should then be clearly communicated to your candidates so they can assess whether or not it’s a match for what they want to do on a daily basis.
  2. When interviewing, give your candidate a search scenario and ask them to walk you through their approach, and then pay attention to what part(s) of the process they spend the most time describing in detail. If they’re passionate about talent sourcing, it’s more likely they’ll linger on details within the search, outreach, and candidate ‘selling’ components because it’s what is exciting to them. During the scenario, take their paid or go-to resources away (e.g. tell them that LinkedIn is down for maintenance, the ATS is not available, or their resume database subscription has been canceled), and ask them what they would do to continue productively looking for and engaging with prospects. But don’t stop there – ask probing questions until their answers are specific. For example, 
  • “I would do a Boolean search” could be probed further with: “What operators would you use? What sites would you search? What would you do to find contact information? What do you then do with the results you find?”
  • “I would reach out to my network” could be probed further with: “How would you reach out? Phone call? Email? LinkedIn post? (trick question – LinkedIn is down!) What kind of a message do you send to your network connections? How would you continue to add to that network over time?”

Couple this with requesting an example of when they have actually used these approaches, even if it did not result in a candidate getting an offer.

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Ultimately, hiring a talent sourcer to your team is a two-way street! You need to find the right person for your talent sourcing role, but your candidates also need to know what they’re signing up for.

Make sure the match is a good one for all involved – do this by knowing first how you define talent sourcing and then by looking for markers for passion in those areas when you interview potential candidates. I hope this helps!

Amybeth Quinn began her career in sourcing working within the agency world as an Internet Researcher. Since 2002, she has worked in both agency and corporate sourcing and recruiting roles as both individual contributor and manager and also served previously as the editor of The Fordyce Letter and SourceCon.com with ERE Media. She currently works as the Director of Global Talent Sourcing for ServiceNow. 

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