Why Sourcing Isn’t Dead – But Sourcers Are

My immersion into the world of recruiting and HR started in sourcing, and the ability to find people and information on the internet has continued to be one of the most valuable professional skills I possess, even if I’m years removed from actually filling reqs.

The thing about it is, it’s never been actually all that hard – even before the profusion of social and online profiles in that transition period between the first and second incarnations of the Internet (back when Google still wasn’t evil and you could Ask Jeeves anything).

The internet that existed for the first half of the 2000s was composed primarily of static pages, painfully slow load times and imperfect, inconsistent search results – factors which made sourcing for lead generation such a necessary discipline.

That internet was about institutional information, which meant that almost all relevant recruiting information online, like professional bios and required certifications, came from some sort of official source, like a company leadership page, an industry directory, business journal, etc.  This created a paucity of profile information, and that which existed was often tucked away somewhere deep inside a site map.

Today’s internet, by contrast, is built around people.  Search engines and websites create a personalized, unique experience for every user.  Through APIs and behavioral targeting, the web knows who we are, what we do, where we are and where we go, giving pretty much everyone a searchable, traceable online identity.  Almost every end user both understands the implications of their digital footprint and in some way actively tries to manage it, tacit proof that the presence of this information is not only ubiquitous, but expected.  You don’t need a dedicated department to find someone, no matter how specialized, on the internet. Semantic search is a big deal because, well, it democratizes searching for personal information that much more.  And these changes are rendering traditional sourcing obsolete.

Traditional sourcing, or what we think of sourcing, is almost always construed in the context of lead generation and qualification, representing the widest part of the hiring funnel.  That, as noted above, has become so easy that literally anyone can do it – and most do as a matter of course, not expertise.  And most sourcing activity, whether staffing or in house, is devoted to finding someone who tightly fits the parameters of a position that’s currently open, and what the theorists call “building a pipeline” is, in fact, really just the overflow of runners up and “right but not for this position” leads who happen to get put in the system during an active search.  Much of this is related to the metrics traditionally applied to sourcing success, favoring volume and speed over quality and sustainability.  The borderline autistic personality of traditional sourcers, that is, the technophiles with a penchant for hacking, a fixation on tools, technology and basically breaking the system, thrived in this function because lead generation required a level of knowledge that, simply put, it just doesn’t anymore.

But sourcing is not dead.  It has, instead, moved from lead generation to lead nurturing and scoring – which are further along down the funnel, but require a completely differentiated set of skills that involve leveraging interpersonal interactions, not technical know how.  This hasn’t changed – what has is that in the era of “big data,” sourcing has morphed from a science to a liberal art.  You don’t have to backdoor your way into a cached company directory or call through a switchboard after hours to find, say, people who live in the Bay Area at a target company in a particular function.  That’s easy.  So too is contacting them – a wildcard search for e-mail still works, as does Facebook messages, InMails and deep web tools like Pipl and Spokeo.  But getting a response to that message isn’t about scale – not for “passive” talent, anyways – it’s about style and substance.  The reason InMails get such a low response rate, why recruiting CRM campaigns rarely yield results (and, by the way, that you already have their information in your system means you should stop building Boolean strings and installing point solutions and start actually searching your database) is simple.

breakfastCommunication is so easily scaled and templatized that it’s easy to ignore.  But, as any recruiter giving advice on applying for a job knows, a personalized message built around developing a relationship instead of an opportunity, rarely gets ignored, and, with a certain level of persistency, almost unilaterally renders some form of interaction.

But the fundamental fallacy is that the focus of sourcing activities and candidate engagement opportunities almost always centers around the professional part of their profile – the real challenge, and real results, in sourcing and attracting top talent means finding some way to engage around the personal parts.

For example, an Open Graph search can easily display target candidates, but it also displays their interests and what they like – so the approach becomes easy once you find a commonality, real or perceived.  Getting a positive response, opening the door to a conversation, however, rests not in being a data scientist, but a behavioral scientist, instead.  Using logic – better title, better salary – might appeal to the head, but you only win when you appeal to emotion, and that is a far harder pitch to develop.

Granted, it’s relatively labor intensive for relatively mixed results – it’s just that technology has leveled the playing field, and the only way to beat the competition is by building relationships, which are inevitably followed by pipelines.  So stop talking about mobile and pick up the phone.  Stop Googling for new names and start Googling for information about that obscure indie band they keep tweeting about.

And stop thinking of sourcing as a way to find candidates and start thinking about it as a way to develop them.  If sourcers can successfully make that shift in methodology and mindset, then its long term prognosis isn’t just good, but it’s never been healthier.

One Comment on “Why Sourcing Isn’t Dead – But Sourcers Are

  1. Ah the mind of Matt- great post! Many of your points have been on my mind as well. I have a lot of thoughts on what this looks like for internal sourcers and the outsourcing function from a methodological and functional perspective in the future. I believe it will become vital for sourcers to treat every candidate that matches like a client- including more front-end research, upfront expectations, and alignment with their career goals. There needs to be value add and genuine dialogue during the interaction and engagement process. Top notch candidates will expect and demand more to pursue opportunities in the future, given the era of “information overload.” Would love to chat about this subject more sometime!

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