Sourcing — Measuring What Works

Unless you’ve been practicing your best Rip Van Winkle impression for the last few years, it’s impossible not to have noticed companies adding talent sourcing to their talent acquisition efforts. There’s a good reason for it: a lot of hiring managers are wondering when their candidates will be showing up.

There’s little doubt that with an evolving U.S. economy and skills in short supply, low unemployment, and 200,000 average monthly new hires, fewer on-target candidates are applying (JOLT ). To keep hiring managers from forming “brut squads,” TA leaders have sought solutions, and many have pinned their hopes on talent sourcing.

Not all sourcing programs are equal, and the biggest challenges have been finding what works best for each company, hiring sourcers who can execute the plan, integrating sourcing into an existing TA organization, and choosing the right metrics to determine if it’s all working.

I’ve had the good fortune of working on a number of sourcing projects for the largest enterprise companies and also smaller regional players. In addition, I’ve been an advisor to the Boston Area Talent Sourcing Association, where members have shared a ton of sourcing stories. The following is a compilation of some of the threads I’ve learned that may be of help to those considering adding a sourcing function or those in the midst of dealing how to make the best of the team they have working today.

When Sourcing Works

It’s not easy, but when recruiters and sourcers have delineated rules of engagement and create a real TA partnership, the results can be astonishing.

In one of my projects at one of the largest U.S. companies, a super energetic recruiter who oversaw global marketing and averaged 35+ reqs embraced her sourcer and viewed him as an equal.

She had been a corporate recruiter for just over a year. All of her previous seven or eight years of experience had been working in a third-party agency. Her best recruiting attribute was the way she managed her hiring managers. She was everything they wanted. Her rapport and trust were of the charts — they loved her. It easily could have been difficult for her to share this hard earned trust with a new sourcer. Yet, she understood that if they worked as a team her effectiveness could only increase and she could grow her career alongside her sourcing partner. She was pretty amazing.

  • Together they developed strategies for what sourcing efforts were most needed for the short and long term.
  • They developed a new hiring manager intake process, along with a hiring team debrief strategy where both participated in tandem.
  • All employee referrals for sourcing designated profiles were funneled to the sourcer for review and pipelining.
  • Weekly meetings were held to discuss hot prospects, the neediest hiring managers, and discuss workforce planning for near future talent needs.
  • Transparency of sourcing candidates in the hiring process was completely open with communication a daily and hourly occurrence.
  • The candidate relationship was managed by whomever had a stronger rapport to ensure that if offered a job there would be an acceptance (with the sourcer even presenting offers if need be).

This partnership was incredible to review as a successful sourcing case study.

The sourcer had about 10 years of combined agency research and corporate sourcing experience. He was a data-driven guy with a strong talent for connecting the dots that others would miss. He was also pretty even keeled, never got too rattled, and was excellent on the phone. He was a great match with this recruiter.

  • He personalized all of his initial engagement reach-out attempts and used a “predictive response data set” that delivered 60+ percent responses on average.
  • He was able to target profiles of passive top performers and cultivate their interest in the company for the future.
  • He was able to know what type of prospect to fill his pipeline with and to uncover their career attitudes, interests, and motivations.
  • He knew when to ratchet up the engagement for specific targeted profiles within the pipeline and tap them for interest in current openings.
  • When there was a tough req with a small talent pool that needed his expertise, he knew the hiring manager’s personality, what the manager needed, and where to go to find prospects who were coveted.

The recruiter got much-needed assistance on reqs with a high degree of difficulty and on-demand talent for reqs she previously had spent weeks trying to find. They were so good that together they brought 4-5 candidates to the intake meetings who hiring managers were choosing to interview — even before the search got kicked off.

The results for this sourcing-recruiting duo were excellent. In 12 months the recruiter increased her number of new hires from the previous year by 49 percent, lowered her overall time to fill from 58 days to 42 days, and eliminated 100 percent of external agency spend ($350,000) She received her highest-ever rating from her internal clients (managers), leading to an “outstanding” performance review with double her usual bonus. The sourcer was directly responsible for 23 additional hires. All in all, a terrific result.

This sourcer also supported another recruiter who didn’t take as enlightened a view of the TA partnership. She reacted much differently where turf protection, limiting access to data, and an opaque view of the hiring process was the norm. Her result was below average, and she muddled through a year of efforts with less than she had achieved the year previously.

Where Sourcing Goes Off the Rails

I recently consulted on a sourcing pilot project where the recruiters were mostly all long-term employees, averaging 10+ years with the company. They had mostly carved out a strong position within the divisions they supported, but the competitiveness in the talent marketplace was impacting their rate of hiring. Regardless of the need, they were unreceptive, to say the least, to the addition of a sourcing function.

In this environment, the sourcers had no interaction with hiring stakeholders and used job postings only. They directed prospects to the career portal with hopes they would apply. Sourcing efforts were tracked, but they had little interaction with the recruiters or the hiring process, and were seen as nothing more than an additional channel of candidate flow. In many cases, agency recruiters were still given priority on numerous openings that the sourcers could have handled. Not surprisingly, the value add of this sourcing function was less than desired.

At most large companies, sourcers have been asked to fit into an existing TA system and it has not always gone smoothly. Change is always difficult. Recruiters get concerned that their domain is being diminished, they don’t know where they stand, they get mixed signals from management, and they view sourcers as lesser-skilled coordinators who only do a small part of what is needed to fill jobs. Turf begins to be protected, intake and debrief meetings get overlooked, candidate feedback gets forgotten, hiring managers get walled off with moats built around them, and instinctively (and unconsciously) non-sourcing candidates are promoted more to the hiring teams.

It takes strong management to overcome these basic and expected human behaviors.

Sourcing managers do their part to enhance their team’s value by directing sourcers to uncover and attract only qualified, interested, and available prospects who have not yet applied. They urge them to find candidates for openings that typically go out to third party agencies. They track the potential savings. The message is clear from management to sourcers: “Justify your existence.”

Yet, this also creates some unintended consequences. To deliver great prospects who will be hired, sourcers begin to look a lot like recruiters. They work on a high number of reqs, swim the moat, and confer directly with hiring managers, assess carefully beyond basic screens, craft compelling candidate presentations, and heavily focus their efforts in a reactive manner on current openings.

This last point is the most damaging of all. As sourcers struggle to get more hires, they focus on prospects who are ready to make a change or are already actively seeking new work. Less effort is placed on building a CRM loaded with targeted talent that can be used for future proactive “ATM”-style on-demand hiring. Many see this approach as sourcers being recruiters without having to close the hire. Thus, the “blurred lines.” With all this happening behind the scenes, leadership needs to figure out how to best measure this activity and determine what is and what isn’t working. Whew!

Know the Different Sourcing Types

The above illustrations, or at least some of the parts, are probably familiar to corporate TA leaders who’ve added sourcing to an existing organization. There is a recipe for smoother talent sourcing integration, and it starts with a clear determination of what sourcing is meant to deliver. As mentioned previously, not all sourcing is the same, and there are different types that deliver different results.

I define sourcing into four flavors. Each has its own objective different from the others, and each offers value depending on company needs. Once understood, the expectations, goals, objectives, and metrics become easier to manage:

  • Deep Dive Sourcing focused on uncovering talent, marketplace and competitive intelligence
  • Proactive Profile Sourcing focused on uncovering and attracting talent for a talent profile that is cultivated and nurtured for current and future recurring hiring needs
  • Reactive Req Sourcing focused on uncovering, attracting, and submitting talent for a current opening (typically roles with a high degree of difficulty or executive)
  • Reactive Volume Req Sourcing focused on uncovering, attracting, and submitting talent for multiple similar open reqs (typically a mass hiring initiative of identical roles)

Obviously, not every company will employ all four of these sourcing types, and others may have their sourcers doing one, two, or all four of these activities combined. With the activity defined, we can start figuring out how to measure their success or lack of it.

Sourcing Activity — Controlled and Uncontrolled

In each of these very different types of sourcing, there are activities that are controlled and uncontrolled. Controlled sourcing activities that should be measured are targeted prospect pool development, short and long list pipeline management, sourcing candidate submittals, and sourcing candidate volume (among many others). Many may also want to manage the nuts and bolts sourcing activity such as email, InMail, or texting response rates, verbal employment branding presentations, screen assessments, and many others.

Hires on the other hand are uncontrolled sourcing activity, but they’re certainly important. Sourcers need to be responsible for new hires on the roles for which they’re sourcing. In all four types of sourcing, the hires made from sourcing prospects should be tracked, but viewed as a windfall to the overall sourcing efforts and be celebrated with their recruiter colleagues. For difficult openings with no candidate flow other than talent provided by sourcing, there should be an even bigger celebration with special notice shared with TA leadership for these achievements.

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Measuring Sourcing Value Add

Last year at SourceCon, Rob McIntosh (Chief Analyst, ERE Media) led a session for TA leaders that asked how to measure sourcing effectiveness. One said, “there’s no better judge of the sourcing talent we’re putting into the business than candidates which result in new hires.” It was the prevailing sentiment, but a few of us in the room had trouble agreeing with this view.

Sourcing deliverables vary widely, and there are numerous results depending on the type of sourcing program chosen that goes well beyond new hires.

For me, determining the value add of sourcing needs a different lens. As noted above, leaders are typically focused on the number of hires that the sourcing team makes. It tends to get messy when this number is compared to the number of hires made overall — which is never a fair comparison when recruiters far outnumber sourcers.

If it can’t be avoided, then the number of sourcing hires should be presented as a percentage of the number of openings that the sourcing team worked on. When a large TA group is hiring 100 people a month and sourcing can account for only 10 or so, it seems like a failure, but when only 20 openings were targeted to get those 10 new hires — perceptions can change quickly (especially if they’re exec or high profile).

Mostly, I urge sourcing leaders to focus their TA exec on the areas where sourcing provides the biggest bang for the buck. The real effort should be made to demonstrate the value add for sourcing beyond the number of hires their efforts support. There are numerous other measurable sourcing activities that can and should be touted to TA leadership. Here’s a short list:

  • Lower time-to-fill rates with on-demand talent pipelines
  • Voice-to-voice “employment brand” presentations delivered
  • External talent comparison for internal candidates
  • Talent mapping, marketplace and competitive intelligence
  • Talent short and long list management (number of prospects engaged regularly)
  • Targeted diversity and inclusion prospect development

The above list and many other sourcing activities should be considered in answering the, “Is sourcing worth the effort” question. Once it’s realized that the value add for sourcing goes way beyond filling job openings, the acceptance will be greater, and the organization will continue to support with added resources (CRMs, search tools, beer, etc.).

There is no question that there has been somewhat of a “herd mentality” for companies adding sourcing functions. For many there certainly has been a bumpy ride with unexpected circumstances, but the potential for great results is worth it. Just as many companies have worked out the kinks and are lighting up their talent attraction engine like never before.

I’d love to hear some of the sourcing successes and war stories from TA leaders who have taken the sourcing plunge. Let’s hear from you — how goes it?

K.C. Donovan

K.C. Donovan's motto is, “Live in the future, then build what’s missing.” He has a unique blend of executive marketing, recruiting, sales, and entrepreneurial experience that encompasses an eclectic mix of CPG, pharma, wine, hospitality, government and technology. A 4x company founder, has built businesses and teams of up to 200 employees as an internal VP/recruiting; managing partner (exec search); president (retained search); CEO (talent communities); VP marketing (CPG); director of sales (wine), owner/GM (restaurant). Previously he kept busy as a sommelier, firefighter, asst press secretary U.S. Senate, sous chef, field camera (ESPN), and a “door to door” insurance salesman. Currently, he is working on his next venture and is more excited about it than anything he’s previously created.