A Sourcer’s Obligation to a Company’s Brand

I was cleaning out my office the other day at home and my AIRS manuals from 1999 fell out onto the ground. I stared at the faded covers and then picked them up and flipped through the pages. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then and I thought of all I have done, should have done, failed miserably at, and where I am now as a sourcer and recruiter. Too often, we read about theory in regards to sourcing and recruiting, and I can count on one hand the times that it has been tied to tangible results or someone has said, “You know what? That sucked and really didn’t impact our hiring!

You won’t get a lot of theory or a deep-thinking kind of article out of me — it’s not who I am. I’m what they call in football “three yards and a cloud of dust.” I slog it out daily and I would say that the success I have had can be attributed to sweat equity and applying what I have learned from 1999 until now.

So what’s on my radar right now? I started at Cobalt last fall after consulting with Wetpaint.com, a UGC (user generated content) startup in Seattle. Cobalt is a 1,000-strong (and then some) digital marketing company focused on the automotive industry at the dealer and OEM level. Our technology stack is Java, J2EE, Oracle Weblogic, and so forth. One of the questions I asked myself coming into Cobalt, and one that was asked of me, was, “how do we attract the top development talent, not only in Seattle, but also beyond that?” Seems like a reasonable ‘ask’ right? Who wouldn’t want (or need) to do that? My question back then was: Why would a top Java developer come to Cobalt? I can source the candidates but why would they return my call or answer my email? So many times we as sourcers are more thrilled with the chase and not the capture. It does an organization a disservice to source qualified, top-tier candidates and be unable to move them forward in the process.

Typically, sourcer apologetics start with, “I just find the talent…” but I tell you as sourcers we have an obligation to the company brand to market the company we work for. I had, and still have, an obligation to branding Cobalt as a place that Java Developers want to work — a place they should leave Amazon and other local companies to come to. Some things are beyond my control. I think of the power I hold when I can develop a call list/sourcing sheet or a data pipeline/CRM and then share that these people will most likely not return our calls or emails unless we give them a compelling reason. If we can’t articulate the company’s value in a 5- to 10-minute conversation regarding being a developer at Cobalt, then all the sourcing is for naught.

I hope the first thing you do when selecting your next role is to determine the potential of the company, even if it is established. Cobalt, while maybe not the sexiest business around, offered me an underrated hipness factor and platform to grow into something special. Cobalt operates like a startup with the stability of a 15-year-old company. It was coming out of some rough years and working to repair a reputation in a damaged industry. It’s a great place to work; it made the right changes and additions. But how would Java developers know all this? How would they become aware of what had happened? Cobalt is on Inc.’s 5000 Fastest Growing Companies list and just came in second in the larger company category in Seattle Business magazine’s Best Companies to Work for competition. And we are profitable. That’s a compelling story.

We as sourcers, whether we realize it or not, are involved in branding the company. I’m sure most of us have been a part of developing email templates or the intro or closing pieces of job descriptions. I know a lot of my colleagues at one time or another offered, as part of their training, email templates that get responses. Or maybe you have been a part of developing cold-calling scripts. These are all examples of sourcers impacting a company’s brand perception.

What we did at Cobalt was first to overhaul the social media activities for our staffing efforts. I firmly believe social media is a sourcing tool. I kept it simple and focused on our YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter involvement and tied YouTube and Twitter back into Facebook. We overhauled our company page on LinkedIn as well. I recommend finding a strategic creative media resource to back you up, and I’m lucky to have one myself. Together we’ve crafted great videos where we tried to avoid the cliché. We didn’t want to be the Google knock-off; we really wanted to convey what it is like to work here as a developer. Rich’s knowledge (Rich Stoehr, HR community manager, is the go-to guy for all things “media” for HR/recruiting) knocked it out of the park on capturing that. We worked on adding compelling but fun content to our “Cobalt Talent” Facebook page as well. We started off with a Cobalt car theme and posted a picture of my slick ride, a Subaru Forester with 170,000 miles on it. Cobalt employees were so inspired they posted pictures of their rides. We post pictures of Cobalt parties and feature Cobalt employees who do exciting things both in and out of work. This helped us grow our Facebook page to where it is today at over 300 people. Of course we want more and are working on the next phase to push that number higher.

Additionally, we developed an advertising campaign on Facebook targeting specific companies which contain talent we’re interested in. The search targeted people between the ages of 20 to 50 who graduated from college and who are not connected to Cobalt. We ended up targeting 34,400 potential candidates. The next step is to upgrade the ad copy and the branding. We will also look at increasing the spend on advertising.

Once we started to grow our social media presence, we needed to find a way to take advantage of our employee base and their social networks. I brought in Jobvite as way to do that and for us to create a talent pipeline using its CRM solution. Jobvite empowers us to touch not only first connections of the engineers at Cobalt, but also to go beyond that to third and fourth tiers and beyond. We also brand Cobalt in the Jobvites we send by crafting a compelling message. Using Jobvite also shows that we are a company embracing and using technology.

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Finally, we had to get out there with the people we want to hire. We identified two engineers to take with us to the TheServerSide Java Symposium, which was held March 17-19, 2010 in Las Vegas. We had one of our advisory engineers craft the first Cobalt technical White Paper and had the other developer deliver a short, effective presentation to the conference on Cobalt and our technology. We had a table set up and were handing out everything from water bottles to pens and had the developers answering questions about Cobalt. We gathered over 100 Java developer contacts as well, all of whom we added to Jobvite to work on an ongoing basis. We are now preparing for the JavaOne conference in the fall in San Francisco.

As sourcers, we are part of how our company connects with the world outside the walls. Whether that’s in our social media, our emails, our phone calls, or face to face, we are part of how others see the company brand. Commit to being involved in the company brand as part of your sourcing activities, and it will pay dividends!

Todd Davis

Todd Davis took his first AIRS certification test in 1998 and was the first external Internet Recruiter, as they were called at the time, hired by Microsoft. He has had the opportunity to work with Google, Yahoo!, Starbucks and others during his career. He has trained sources\recruiters at various companies during his career and has recently spoken at the Talent42 conference and at the Sourcing 7 (S7) organization in Seattle. He is currently a Senior Talent Acquisition Professional at Madrona Venture Group.