Sourcing 101

May 19, 2005

Let’s separate fact from fiction. This will help you find and hire more top candidates. It’ll also help if you read the last two paragraphs of this article first. The article will have more value this way, since it will change your perspective about the real reason why you’re a recruiter. There is an apparent debate going on among the ERE readership regarding the best means to source talent. In any debate such as this, there is truth and reality on one side, and perception and opinion on the other. In between there is misunderstanding. To set the record straight, this article will define the truth. In the process, it will attempt to clarify all of the misunderstandings. So let the debate begin. First, let me set out some basic truths. The need to hire passive candidates is not a myth; nor is it a fad. Passive candidates have been around forever and will continue to be here forever. Whether you choose to find them ó or have the resources and time to do it ó is another matter entirely. Whether you need to find them depends on a lot of factors. For example, if you can find great people running ads on job boards, why would you want to do anything else? If you can’t find enough good people this way, then you’ll need to hire passive candidates. That’s a fact. Misunderstanding typically occurs when people assume their personal circumstances represents everyone else’s. This is rarely the case. In the world of recruiting, if a person has too many requisitions to handle and can only conduct active candidate sourcing and it works, the person will vigorously defend his or her situation. This is only natural. However, it’s based on a false perception of reality. Worse, it prevents open-minded thinking and progress. Whenever you’re faced with people who disagree about an issue, it’s always best to first understand their situation. The active vs. passive candidate debate is not an either/or issue. The fact is that both active and passive candidate sourcing is appropriate ó but it depends on candidate supply versus demand, how good an employer brand you have, and whether you have enough recruiters on the team to handle the workload. Not having the facts about a situation is how misunderstandings occur. It also causes some bad decisions. If you have ever lost a top candidate because a hiring manager client didn’t think your candidate was as strong as you did, you faced a similar reality-versus-perception problem. If the hiring manager didn’t give you facts to justify his or her evaluation, but rather offered just opinion and feelings, you lost the candidate for the wrong reasons. When this happens again, you have two choices: Either buy in to the fiction and find more candidates, or get more facts. I’d suggest you get more facts to back up your evaluation. It takes some tough-mindedness, but you’ll save lots of time. This is what recruiting is all about. Sourcing 101 To better understand the facts about sourcing, let’s get back to basics. There are two parts to this: a candidate segmentation analysis and a sourcing plan. In Marketing 101 (maybe it was 102), we all learned the importance of segmenting a potential customer pool into categories based on certain demographics and buying criteria. The purpose of this was to design marketing and sales approaches that best met customer needs to maximize sales. A similar marketing approach can be used when developing a sourcing plan. Segmenting candidates based on how passive versus active they are is the first step:

  • Very active. These are people who need a job and are aggressively looking. They tend to be less discriminating and focus on short-term compensation and security issues when considering a new job. The best are under-represented in this pool. Traditional boring advertising is sufficient to attract and hire this type of person.
  • Less active. These are people who want a better job and look infrequently, generally on bad days, or just to test the market. However, while they use job boards, they are more selective. Compelling advertising and systems designed to bring these people to the top of list is a key part of hiring them. This is the sourcing sweet-spot, since the best people are over-represented in this pool. You can find them with only slight modifications to your existing processes.
  • Semi-passive. These are people who want a much better job and are not actively looking, but who will accept a phone call to discuss future career opportunities. Who you call and what you say is a critical piece of hiring these types of people. The best approach is to pre-qualify all candidates before you call them. This way, you only call top people. If the person is not suited for the job, you can then network with this person to get referrals. The best people are fairly represented in this pool, but it takes more effort and time to find them.
  • Very Passive. These people don’t want another job. It takes lots of effort and time to call and convince them to pursue your opportunity. The best people are fairly represented in this pool, but it’s not worth the effort if you can find an equally strong person using some lower cost approach.

The Sourcing Plan Putting together a sourcing plan is a good way to ensure that you’re hiring the best quality people at the lowest cost within the shortest period of time. This is the universal objective (or should be) for corporate recruiting departments. A sourcing plan is a list of different sourcing techniques and approaches that you’re likely to use during the course of any assignment. It’s best to prioritize these approaches, based on the degree of effort and resources required. Here’s the quick list of common sourcing approaches, and how you might want to use them most effectively:

  1. Resume databases. You can email a compelling job to the stale resumes to see if anyone is open to exploring a new opportunity. It’s a low-cost way to revitalize your old resumes.
  2. Job board advertising. Compelling and visible advertising is a great way to get some quick hits. You’ll be able to hire some less active candidates if you make it easy to find your jobs, make it easy to apply, and call them within 24 hours.
  3. Internal moves. This should be at the core of every staffing program.
  4. Innovative campaigns. Creative approaches to reach out to the fence-sitters can attract some good people quickly. You’ll be able to attract some of the less active, and even semi-passive, candidates this way.
  5. Basic employee referral programs. Ask all your current employees to get involved by having them recommend the best people they’ve worked with in the past. This is a great way to get less active candidates into your system. You need to keep it up and make it a process rather than a one-time event to make it worthwhile.
  6. Proactive employee referral programs. Personally meet with your best talent and have them identify every single top person they have worked with, or even heard of, in the past. This is absolutely the best way to find semi-passive candidates. Since they’re pre-qualified, it’s worth making the call.
  7. Internet data-mining and cold calling. Developing and calling these people is an important step if the easier stuff doesn’t work. However, since they’re not pre-qualified, how you work the list is the secret to making this process work.
  8. Networking and referral systems. Who you call and what you say is how you convert cold leads into a continuing stream of hot candidates. It takes training and dedicated effort, though.

Bottom line: The more passive a candidate, the more effort is required to find them. Next to the bottom line: Don’t move on to a higher cost/effort sourcing channel until you’ve determined that a lower cost channel has been maxed out. From a pure cost and time standpoint, it’s always better to target the most active (least passive) candidates. If a company can find top active people using job boards or basic employee referral systems, there is no reason to do anything else. The problem arises when the company can’t find enough good people this way. Rather than doing something different, there’s a tendency to do more of the same, more intensely. This is a bad idea. With a sourcing plan in place and managed using appropriate metrics, a company can naturally jump to a higher-level approach when needed. Of course, this requires a lot of pre-planning ó but that’s the whole reason to put together a sourcing plan. There is a debate underway about whether a corporate recruiting department should target active or passive candidates. In my mind, there is no debate at all. Both pools are appropriate targets. How you best do this. and when, is what should be debated. I’m surprised that no one mentioned this. In any debate, it’s important to separate facts, opinions, and opinions masquerading as facts. It’s also important to defend and argue your viewpoint with facts. As long as you’re at it, stop wasting time in these silly debates, and stop accepting superficial opinions and false facts from your hiring manager clients. If you think you’re representing a great candidate, defend the person with as many facts as you can muster. You’ll close a lot more offers, and gain a lot more respect along the way. Down deep that’s the real reason I wrote this article and all of these other articles on hiring, recruiting and sourcing. We sometimes lose sight of this fact: We’re recruiters and we need to find the best candidates we can, and defend them against all silly reasons and processes that prevent them from getting hired. That’s why you need to separate fact from fiction. That’s why you’re a recruiter.

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