How an Intervene-Earlier Sourcing Strategy Can Multiply Your Pool of Top Candidates

Jan 17, 2008

We’re currently conducting a major research project on how top people look for new jobs. This research will offer great insight into what companies need to do to better align their current sourcing efforts with market realities. If you’d like to take part, just send this survey link to all of your best candidates and those you’ve recently placed. Even though the current research is preliminary, one thing is already obvious: the best people don’t look for new opportunities the same way average candidates do. Over the next few years, those companies that aggressively redeploy their resources and technology to match how the best seek out new opportunities will be those that hire the lion’s share of them. While not simple, it starts by understanding how the best people look for work.

Here’s a typical four-step process that most good people who are fully-employed follow when they decide to enter the job market voluntarily. It suggests that contacting these people earlier in the process might be a far better sourcing tactic than wasting money posting jobs where the best people never see them.

The 4-Step Search Process Top People Follow When They Decide to Look for New Jobs

  1. Send out Feelers. Step one starts when a top person starts experiencing some level of job dissatisfaction. He or she then starts exploring other opportunities on a very casual basis, usually networking with friends and former co-workers. This lasts about 30 days. A good portion of these people find jobs this way, but an equal number take themselves off the market as conditions with their current jobs improve.
  2. Expand the Network. This begins in earnest if job conditions don’t get better and step one doesn’t pan out. Top people then begin to more aggressively network with a wider group of people, proactively seeking other networking opportunities. This is typically through friends of friends. They’ll also casually start calling a few recruiters they know just to put their names in the hat. Concurrently, they’ll use Google to see what’s available and quietly check out a major board and a few niche job sites to see what’s out there. Since they’re not yet desperate, they’ll be looking for jobs that either stand out, are easy to find, or offer something special. Towards the end of this phase, they will formalize the networking, join appropriate groups, and start attending the meetings of the professional groups of which they’re already members. They also might check out the big, well-branded employers in their industry or seek out some way to gain an employee referral. By this time, the original pool of top prospects will shrink by about 50% with many people finding jobs this way and some others taking themselves off the market.
  3. Start a Formal Search Process. This phase begins if the current job situation gets worse and making step two connections doesn’t lead anywhere. Under these conditions, people will get more aggressive and implement a formal plan, giving themselves three to four months to find a significantly better new job. First, they’ll be more aggressive contacting recruiters. Then, they’ll go online. Since they’re still not desperate, they’ll avoid the cumbersome requisition-driven navigation process currently built into every career website, every Applicant Tracking System, and every job board. Instead, they’ll start a top-down process, first looking at growth industries where their skills can be useful, then for the strongest companies in these industries. From here, they’ll start looking for jobs by classification, e.g., accounting, customer service, sales, and engineering. In parallel to this, they’ll start checking out more niche sites, seeking out more networking opportunities (e.g., Facebook, alumni, LinkedIn, ZoomInfo), sending letters and e-mails directly to managers, and more aggressively trying to find some way to get referred into a company through an employee. They’ll also post their resumes online in some database. Since these people are very good, most will find jobs this way.
  4. Accelerate the Job Search. If the current job situation continues to deteriorate and all the above leads nowhere, the remaining top candidates will then put their egos aside and succumb to the maze-like bureaucratic rules most companies have imposed, lower their expectations, and look for a decent job close to home. Not surprisingly, since they are top people, most will find a good job within a few weeks.

It seems misguided to spend too much effort targeting this leftover pool of top talent, since it’s a small fraction of its original self, yet most companies unknowingly do just that. Instead, I’d like to suggest that an intervention-based strategy for finding candidates who are somewhere in steps one, two, and three of their job search will be far more effective than waiting until they get to step four.

Here are some ideas for implementing this type of “intervene-earlier” sourcing strategy:

  • Implement an employee referral tip-toe program. To do this, first contact every single person you’ve hired this past year and have them identify every single great person they’ve ever worked with in the past. In parallel, have them contact as many as they can through MySpace, Facebook, or LinkedIn with the idea of making these connections a formal part of their extended business networks. The objective here is to have these people contact your employees first whenever they get the itch to consider something else. This type of early intervention strategy will give your company first dibs on the best people the moment they tip-toe into the job market.
  • Leverage your referral program. Make sure your recruiters personally contact every great employee referral, first to recruit them and second to network with them. During these calls, recruiters should target getting at least two to three more great referrals and then repeat the networking process with the next set of referrals. Networking this way can leverage your employee referrals at least two to three times. Make this a formal process with consistent messaging and train your recruiters to cold call and network this way. Also, create a dedicated mini-website as part of your candidate relationship management (CRM) process to nurture all of these referrals.
  • Build a proprietary pool of top prospects and candidates and then creatively nurture it. You’ll need some technology to support this, but the idea here is to proactively build a humongous resume database of every referral you obtain, making sure every one is pre-qualified, and then have an ongoing series of CRM events to keep everyone in the database warm. When specific opportunities come up, you’ll want to automatically reach out to the people in this pool. If your mini-site and nurturing are professionally done, top people will check out your opportunities on a regular basis, often before step one.
  • Use talent hubs and aggregators to drive traffic to your existing open requisitions. During steps two and three, top people will google for jobs searching on the job title, location, and the term “jobs,” looking for something readily available. Aggregators like push jobs to candidates who look this way. A talent hub is a private career-oriented mini-website that combines all of a company’s jobs within a functional group, like accounting or sales, while presenting a high-level career opportunity message. The site is designed to be found by appropriate candidates based on search engine optimization techniques. The top-down approach dramatically increases the size of the candidate pool by being positive and non-exclusionary. Once on the hub, candidates are then funneled into appropriate open jobs or into the proprietary resume database for further networking and nurturing. is taking the lead on developing these talent hubs.
  • Tap into the power of third-party recruiter networks. All good third-party recruiters focus on finding candidates somewhere long before they get to step four. Typically, most have more good candidates than searches. has emerged to create a market for these “extra” candidates by tapping into groups of recruiters who all work with the same types of jobs. With a network of recruiters working this way, you’re likely to find a top person very quickly. Since the fee is contingency-based, it’s worth trying.

While there are many other tactics you could deploy, developing an “intervene-earlier” sourcing strategy is the real message here. Although it might not be exactly as described above, good people do follow a multi-step job search process, getting more and aggressive if necessary. Sourcing programs built around this concept can enable companies to pick off some great talent before they become generally available. To pull it off, you’ll need to expand your employee-referral program, train your recruiters to be great networkers, develop a proprietary database of hot prospects with expanded CRM and nurturing functionality, build some talent hubs that can be found, and tap into the emerging third-party recruiter network market. This is what an “intervene-earlier” strategy would look like once implemented. It shouldn’t cost any more than what you’re doing today, and it will certainly result in more top candidates being hired than waiting around for the leftovers.

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