Hiring an Internet Researcher For Your Recruiting Business

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Jul 11, 2011

One of the most common questions I get asked by recruiting firm owners is, “What should I look for when I want to hire a researcher?” Since so many of you appear to be looking for good sourcing talent these days, I would like to go through some details of what I believe to be good qualities an excellent researcher might have so that you can select the right one for you. This will not be a complete list, however I think that as you conduct your search, you will find that your most qualified candidates will possess several of these particular skills.

Before I get into this, I would like to first give you a couple of examples of the kind of value that can be derived from hiring a researcher for your office:

  • Many recruiting offices have accounted for between $200,000 – $800,000 in placements in a given year from candidates sourced through research
  • Researchers I have spoken with have told me that their total billing dollars made up between 20% – 60% of their total office billings.

When I worked for Jon Bartos from 2002-2006, I myself was responsible for finding the candidates whose placements totaled  over $400,000 in billings for my office in 2005, which at the time was about 33% of our total office billings, so you can see the value that can be brought to your office by having a full time researcher. Keep in mind these numbers do not even reflect the billings that come about from 2nd and 3rd degree candidates which could account for millions more. Please keep this in mind as you’re considering bringing on a full time, dedicated researcher.

On to the meat and potatoes: What should you look for when screening potential sourcers? Everyone has their own opinion on what makes a good researcher; these are simply what I have seen as common qualities in the good researchers whom I know.

  1. Paralegal or Library Science background. I have found that some of the best researchers have these kind of backgrounds – why is that? Well a colleague of mine is a graduate of Dominican University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science. I looked at some of the courses offered in this program, and they include such things as ‘Organization of Knowledge’, ‘Reference and Online Services’, ‘Subject Analysis’, ‘Online Information Systems’, ‘Searching Electronic Databases’, ‘Collection Management’, ‘Research Methods’, and the list goes on and on. In my opinion, anyone who has studied the Organization of Knowledge at the collegiate level would probably make a good researcher. From a paralegal perspective, you’ve got to know how to research and be thorough to be a good paralegal; both qualities carry over into becoming a good recruiting researcher.
  2. Speed reader. I don’t necessarily think that ‘speed reading’ is the important factor here, but someone who can scan and summarize an article quickly would make a great researcher. What I do all day long is….read. So in order to maximize my efficiency, I must read quickly without missing important information. Bottom line – a good researcher scans quickly but knows what buzzwords to look for.
  3. Addicted to information. Almost all good researchers whom I’ve talked to have RSS feeds that they read on a daily basis. Someone who loves to learn and loves information will certainly excel as a researcher. RSS feeds have made it easy for us addicts to get our daily fix without spending all day looking at blogs, news releases, and article reviews. A person who likes to read books in their spare time would also be included in this category. I’m not talking about Danielle Steele novels here – I’m talking about industry-related reading, success principles, history, technology, etc. Constantly in the learning mode. One of my favorite quotes is “If you’re not green and growing, then you are red and rotting.”
  4. Can “connect the dots.” I also like to call this ‘following the White Rabbit.’ Sometimes as a researcher you will be given incomplete information. A good researcher will be able to take the bits and pieces they have been given and create a complete picture from it.
  5. “Outside of the box” thinker. Yes, incredibly cliché, I know. But, when you consider that researchers will have to rely sometimes on crumbs of clues to find the perfect candidate, they must have creative minds in order to find what they need. Let’s take a look at the definition of “outside the box”: according to Webster’s New Millennium™ Dictionary of English, the definition is ‘beyond conventional thought or practice; creative and unorthodox in thought or practice.’ We are an odd bunch, aren’t we? But that’s what makes us excellent at what we do – we can look at a resource and see things that others cannot.
  6. Familiarity with current technology, especially technology pertinent to recruiting and/or sourcing. Good recruiting research candidates will not look at you like a cow looking at a new gate if you mention the words LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, etc. Let’s face it, everyone is familiar with Google, so if you ask anyone if they know how to ‘Google,’ they will say yes. They will tell you that they typed in a word in Google once and ‘conducted research.’ WRONG!! I made the mistake of asking this in an interview once, and after the lady got hired I had to show her how to bring up Google in a web browser. Needless to say, she did not last long and I learned a valuable lesson.
  7. Well networked. Good researchers know everybody. They have a friend who mountain bikes with this guy who works at a company that manufactures XYZ and he reports to…you get the picture. Not only do they know everybody, but those they don’t know, they know where to look to find them. Using public records, white pages, Zoom Info and similar resources, or simply going to Bing/Google/Yahoo, they can find the unfindable people. These folks will typically have over 200 people in their cell phone as well.
  8. Good data entry skills. I look forward to the day when misinterpretation of research responsibilities is squashed forever. Even though I don’t believe that it is the sole responsibility of a researcher to do data entry, this is a skill that needs to be present. It would behoove a researcher to have better keyboarding skills than the classic “hunt and peck” method.
  9. Prior experience in recruiting OR human resources. Not at the top of my list, but I think a potential candidate should get a couple brownie points for having prior experience. This was not the case for me of course: the job I held right before I began researching, believe it or not, was waiting tables. I always considered the ‘must have experience’ clause in a job description to be a bit of a Catch-22 – how am I supposed to gain experience if no one will give me the opportunity to earn it? But if your candidate has been in a recruiting environment or has worked in human resources before, they at least know how the operation works.
  10. Basic phone skills. Yes — researchers do need to be able to get on the phone sometimes to dial into companies and do some competitive intelligence gathering. Granted — this does not mean you need to ‘turn them into a recruiter’ or that they could someday be ‘promoted’ to recruiter status. Not all researchers desire to be recruiters — take me, for instance. I have been a career researcher and never had the desire to become a recruiter. But having basic phone skills could predispose someone to being a good researcher if those skills are applied appropriately to information gathering.
  11. Specific certifications and/or training. AIRS has a plethora of sourcing and recruiting certifications, including the ‘Certified Internet Recruiter’ designation. Anyone who has taken this certification course should have a good beginning foundation for becoming a recruiting researcher (however, I always believe that experience speaks louder than a certification!).

A lot of you at this point are thinking “Well this is all great stuff, but how do you find out in an interview if a candidate possesses these skills?” Here are a couple of quick suggestions I can offer for some good screening techniques:

  1. Ask for specific examples of information they stay current with – what interests them, what they enjoy reading (if they like to read, that is!), etc.
  2. In talking with a fellow researcher while writing this, we came up with a great test to give potential research candidates: give an article, maybe two pages in length, and set a time limit in which it must be read, and then ask the candidate to summarize. The catch in this exercise would be to put a vital piece of information buried in the middle, and perhaps another at the very end, so that someone who could scan quickly yet pick up important details would see it.
  3. Give them a simple search task. Either ask them to verbally walk you through their course of action, or give it to them to complete while they are there, or as a ‘homework assignment.’
  4. Give them a list of 3-4 companies to call into to identify someone with a specific title. Bonus: see what else they are able to come up with while searching for that individual…
  5. Ask them what they think would be the most interesting aspect of conducting Internet research.
  6. Find out what the breadth of their social media presence is – what networks are they part of and how active are they in online communities.
  7. A fun screening technique: our sister site, SourceCon, runs Challenges to stretch the minds of the recruiting research community. Anyone who has participated in these Challenges would most likely do well as your researcher. Note: they don’t have to win the Challenge to prove their research prowess — participation is a key indicator!

I speak from experience here: finding the right candidate to be a researcher can be a daunting task. I’ve had to interview potential research candidates in the past and there’s no one “cookie cutter” type of candidate you can look for. These listed skills however should help you in looking for the right mix of skill and experience that will work within your office. Just keep in mind that as researchers, we don’t really carry a ‘book of business’ or have a set educational path or really even a universal job description, so it may be tough to gauge from just one interview if your candidate would work. You may even consider asking someone you know who already employs a researcher if you could borrow that person for a telephone interview.

Regardless, for those of you out there who have been teetering on the fence about whether or not to hire a researcher, I hope you will consider it more now. A dedicated researcher can bring a lot of revenue to your office – you just have to know what to look for!

image source: Evan Bench

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