The Future of Recruiting: The More Things Change…

The Future of Recruiting - image by Silverisdead via creative commonsNow that we are on our way into exploring the new year, I’ve seen some articles on what’s coming next for the recruiting industry this year, and even as far out as 10 years from now.

When I read one such article written by Kevin Wheeler, I was struck by his comment that although sourcing remains a topic he is interested in, he feels that “the need to conduct in-depth Internet searches and apply Boolean logic to searches is no longer relevant in the majority of cases.”

I was prepared to write an article just in response to that thought, but as I sat down to review his post again on Sunday in preparation for my post, I noticed that Kelly Dingee had commented in defense of electronic talent identification.

In response, Kevin wrote “I think that intensive Internet searching, for most internal recruiters, is a sign of their failure to develop a community of potential candidates. If the position is a unique or one-of-a-kind search, they should probably use a third party recruiter. For volume and routine hiring there should be no need to use anything beyond a network of potential candidates whether proprietary or not. Building that community is what a recruiter’s job is all about – not running searches or becoming a computer nerd.”

Wow. Where do I begin?

Boolean Search is NOT Dead – Nor Will it Ever Die

We are well into the Information Age of recruiting – “characterized by…the ability to have instant access to… (candidate) information that would have been difficult or impossible to find previously. The idea is linked to the concept of a Digital Age or Digital Revolution, and carries the ramifications of a shift from traditional industry that the Industrial Revolution brought through industrialization, to an economy based around the manipulation of information.”

When you need to find information, unless you’re using a single word or phrase (I literally shudder at the thought), there is no escaping Boolean logic. You either want something (AND), you want at least one thing in a list (OR), or you don’t want it (NOT).

The reason why Boolean logic will never die is that it doesn’t get any simpler when it comes to information retrieval. Yes, I said “simple.” We’re not talking SQL here –  we’re talking about 3 very basic operators. There is a reason why Boolean logic is the foundation of ALL modern digital electronics – it’s the simplest fundamental logic!

Of course, if you’re using Google, Bing, or LinkedIn, you don’t have to type AND, as every space is an implied AND, so perhaps many people are unaware that they are conducting simple Boolean searches. However, if you use more than one search word/term you’re still using Boolean logic – it is inescapable.

The Boolean operators of a search are the easy part – the more challenging aspect of electronic talent discovery is the entire process of understanding the hiring need, thoughtfully translating it into an effective search strategy, and adpatively modifying consecutive searches to return results that have a high probability of being excellent potential hires.

Yes, searching information systems to find candidates requires thinking. Sorry.

Recruiters Do Need to Know How to Perform Electronic Talent Discovery

While every step of the recruiting life cycle is equally important, the fact of the matter is that you can’t build a relationship with (or hire for that matter) a potential candidate that you haven’t identified in the first place. Talent acquisition is dependent upon talent identification.

Recruiters should know how to search information systems to find and identify talent. It’s not about being a “computer nerd” – it’s about the fact that with each passing day, there is more information available about more people electronically, whether it be in a corporate ATS/CRM, a social network, a blog, a press release, a resume, etc. This is a trend that will continue to accelerate – we will never experience a decrease in access to human capital data.

If a recruiter cannot fully capitalize on all of the human capital data that is readily available and accessible today, they are doing themselves and their organization a considerable disservice, and their organization is at a competitive disadvantage.

When Kevin states that for a corporate recruiter, “If the position is a unique or one-of-a-kind search, they should probably use a third party recruiter” – my question is why? If I was a corporate recruiter, I would never need to use a third party recruiter, primarily due to my ability to leverage information systems and human capital data. I am not bound solely to candidates with whom I have a pre-existing relationship.

More on that in a few paragraphs.

Bottom line: You’re not a full life cycle recruiter if you can’t find your own candidates. Whether or not candidate sourcing should be a separate role or integrated function will be the topic of a future post.

Access to Information is Not Enough

The value of information lies not in the information itself, but in the ability to retrieve the information needed at the appropriate time. Information is of no use or value if it cannot be discovered in the first place.

Having direct access to an unprecedented number of potential candidates via a combination of an ATS/CRM, the Internet, LinkedIn, job board resume databases, Facebook, and Twitter is of no value without the ability to capitalize on that data – the ability to sort through the information and retrieve the right candidates at the right time.

In part 1 of Dr. John Sullivan’s excellent 3 part series on talent acquisition trends for 2010, he comments that “The challenge moving forward isn’t finding people – that’s too easy…” I agree, in that with ready access to millions of potential candidates, finding people is easy. However, finding the right people at the right time is not, nor will it ever be.

It is all too easy to assume that access to information automatically confers the ability to fully capitalize on that information. It does not.  That’s like saying I’m a great tennis player because I own a tennis racket.

Even if you’ve already built a community of candidates, you still have to be able to find and retrieve the right person at the right time. If you think that a potential candidate has been “found” just because they are already in your ATS or CRM, think again. Having a candidate record in an ATS/CRM only means that the human capital data has been captured.

Many ATS/CRM applications are well-nigh unsearchable – candidates go in, but they don’t come out. Consider the Fortune 500 corporate recruiter who recently admitted to me that it’s easier for her to run a search on Monster, find a candidate based on skill and experience, then cross reference the name in their Taleo Talent Management solution to find the candidate record.


Breaking the Bonds of Pre-Existing Relationships

The Information Age of recruiting, unbeknownst to many people, has enabled recruiters to break the bonds of the pre-existing relationship.

A core responsibility of any recruiter is to build a community of potential candidates. For over two decades, recruiters have been trained that proactively pipelining candidates is the best way to ensure that they will have ready access to the right candidates at the right time.

However, there are many intrinsic limitations and weaknesses of this practice. What is the likehood that the best candidate available for a given position is already in a recruiter’s pipeline? Also – what happens when a recruiter’s community of potential candidates fails to produce any viable (appropriately qualified, available, and closeable) candidates?

For the first time in the history of recruiting, a recruiter who has the ability to fully capitalize on the huge and ever-increasing volume of the readily accessible human capital data available to them via their ATS/CRM, LinkedIn, online resume databases, Twitter, Facebook, etc.  can almost instantly identify and engage well-qualified candidates with whom they have no pre-existing relationship.

The Information Era of recruiting enables recruiters with solid e-sourcing skills to no longer be limited solely to candidates with whom they have a pre-existing relationship. These recruiters can find and attract the best candidates, regardless of whether or not they have previously identified them.

I’ll let that sink in a bit. It’s deep.

Social Networking

Nearly everyone in the recruiting industry is buzzing about the opportunity provided by and the importance of social networking. While I enthusiastically engage in online social networking (yes, I’ve even made a hire from Twitter), social networking is simply an evolution of in-person and phone networking – taking what recruiters have been doing for decades in person and over the phone (building and maintaining relationships) online.

While social networks increase access and reach for many recruiters, they do not significantly improve a recruiters ability to quickly find the right people, nor the right people at the right time, unless they are adept at e-sourcing.

Moreover, networking of any kind (in-person, online, referral recruiting) has intrinsically low levels of control over critical candidate variables, and thus a low inherent probability of producing the right candidate at the right time.

Final Thoughts

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

The human element of recruiting – contacting, building and maintaining relationships with, and consultatively selling to (recruiting) potential candidates – has not changed in the past 20 years, nor is it likely to in the next 20.

What has changed significantly, and will continue to do so, is the level of access recruiters have to people beyond their pre-existing relationships, which is 100% due to evolving and emerging information technology.

Large corporate ATS’s contain millions of candidates, each of the major job board resume databases has over 20,000,000 resumes, and LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter alone provide access to over 100,000,000 people in the U.S.!

With ready access to unprecedented volumes of potential candidates, the competitive advantage lies in the ability to  search for and find the right people to engage and attract at the right time.

I disagree with Kevin’s assessment that the need to “apply Boolean logic to searches is no longer relevant in the majority of cases.” However, I wholeheartedly agree with his idea that data mining is an advanced skill that can facilitate recruiting success(on the same level as relationship building, no less).

The ability to quickly and effectively extract value out of information systems containing human capital data enables a recruiter to be more productive – to do more of what most people consider to be “real recruiting.” Quite simply, the more qualified candidates you can identify, the more qualified candidates you can contact, engage, attract and recruit – with or without pre-existing relationships.

Relationships and recruiting go hand and hand. This has been long-known and well established, and there’s nothing new to discover here. However, the next frontier in recruiting lies in the effective information management – ATS/CRM solutions, the Internet, resume databases, social networks and whatever comes next.

With more information available about more people on a daily basis, the complimentary need arises to leverage that information to find the people you want and need. The ability to query social network sites, systems, and databases to find these people to engage and recruit is a highly valuable skill and ability, and will only increase in value to organizations who wish to have a competitive advantage in the “war for talent.”

To paraphrase one of my favorite quotes, Jonathan Rosenberg of Google has said that when people and businesses have access to large amounts of data, the ability to extract value from it becomes the complimentary scarce factor. The ability to extract value from data leads to intelligence, and the intelligent business is the successful business.

  • Great Post, Glen.
    I especially agree with your comments about Social Networking. Like you, I have made a hire using Twitter, but realize the value of social media is in enhancing the relationship building process. Twitter, FB and LI are great, but until a conversation or meeting takes place between Recruiter and Candidate, the hiring process is not going to move forward. As a Recruiter, I hope to build and maintain a presence online so qualified candidates can find me and connect with me JIT.

  • Mark Sullivan


    Good stuff. I have always questioned (an it pained my managers early in my career) why recruiters spend so much time courting candidates or maintaining a relationship that takes time away from sourcing and screening when a job is not available for that person. The “right people at the right time” is the toughest challenge. To me proactive recruiting is not having candidates in wait but knowing what your hiring managers needs are, understanding the business and working with them to determine when that “right time” will hit. If you know that, then you can begin your research, if necessary, on what sources will help you identify the best available talent. As you know, I tend to go to the company ATS first, mine has 3+ million names in it. Along your lines, it’s how we use the information available that will differentiate us and find the talent.



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  • Great Post Glen. Very well said regarding Boolean Search. Its very much alive.
    Ability to search is all that matters, weather on Social Networking Sites or Job Portals.

  • Well Done Glen – you have put the nail on the head.

    I think Kevin’s views can be taken as a traditional perspective of recruitment towards sourcing. Sourcing is still considered as a low-end activity in some cases.

    Especially from corporate recruitment side (I work as in-house sourcer) – it has an immense importance. I think sourcing should be a specialized process and component of recruitment value chain – I support this in a big way. Sourcing helps to get a right candidate information at right time and with right channels.

    I totally disagree with Kevin’s comments and I am hopeful that sourcing will evolve globally in coming years to prove its worth and power. I have seen it working magic at my company – in both routine and niche skills. We have one of the lowest vendor usage in our sector.

    Intense internet searching, Boolean and Sourcing will NEVER DIE!!!!

  • jer

    The Sourcing Samurai is amongst us;

  • Search is truly an art. The importance of understanding why and how we leverage search should not be minimized. A company can have the most sophisticated “talent community” ever created but there still needs to be a mechanism for filtering through the information. To assume that a well-constructed talent community translates into easy hires is a nonsense. We all know there’s never a guarantee the community we build (via online, offline, mobile, etc.) will have the “right” talent. Finding the right people at the right time will continue to be the challenge for recruiters across all ages. Bravo on the post-I really enjoyed it!

  • Keith Robinson

    A really well crafted and thought through reply.

    i am no expert in your specifc area but more of “recruiting stratagist.
    I am tired though of the everything is dead syndeome – Job Boards, Boolean Search etc etc. Recruitment today is a Mutli Media, Multi Channel, Mutli Approach Strategy
    This reflects the increased complexity of finding both “people” and “talent” we have seen a huge fragmentation of the audience” in the same way that consumer advertisng saw in the 70’s and 80’s with new channels.
    So yes to talent pools, yes to “posting jobs, yes to search both Boolean and other methods yes to :branded Company career sites” yes to job fairs etc etc.
    They all have part tp play so why do have a fixation with ruling things in and out?
    But again a very well crafted response sir.

  • Thanks @Michael! Agreed, as usual – and the larger the “talent community,” the more important it is to be able to sort/filter that community to find the right people when you need them.

    Keith, thank you for reading and commenting. I definitely don’t rule anything out – I too, get annoyed with everything that is supposedly dying or already dead (job boards, sourcing, Boolean, etc.). My main point is that there are instrinsic advantages associated with searching, sorting, and filtering human capital data (read this article, for example: over other methods of talent identification and discovery. Phone sourcing isn’t dead, posting jobs isn’t dead, referral programs aren’t dead – they all work and have their place – but none of them allow a sourcer or recruiter with an intrinsically high degree of control over critical candidate variables that have a high probability of producing the right candidate at the right time.

  • You inspired me to make my own movie Jeremy!

  • Well said Mark! “Old school recruiting” entails proactively pipelining candidates for whom you have no current needs, which delivers next to no value to potential candidates, and is a waste of time for everyone involved. Did you get a chance to read my 4 part series on traditional candidate pipelining vs. Just-In-Time recruiting?

  • Harvey,
    Thank you for reading and responding. I agree with you, and I like to point out that social networks simply afford recruiters with the ability to identify and build and maintain relationships with potential candidates, just as they’ve been doing for 20+ years over the phone and in person. Same old process applied to a new medium. Nothing earth shattering there IMO.

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  • i think, recruitment in near future, would mostly rely on social networking. i source through linkedin for middle management and senior management profiles, but right now, i find twitter more interesting and productive than linkedin. Instead of identifying candidates through database, these web 2.0 concepts widens the horizons of future recruiting.

  • Glen,

    You may not like what I have to say, but I believe you and Kevin are both right and you are both wrong. While I agree with Kevin that the need to conduct in-depth Internet searches and apply Boolean logic is no longer relevant in “some” cases, I certainly do not think so in the “majority” of cases.

    To illustrate where these types of tools “become” unnecessary I give an example from my own experience. Between 2000 and 2004 I conducted multiple Chief Information Security Officer searches. Since every search was nation wide I quickly acquired nearly all the names of qualified candidates within the US. I say almost every name because every job has some amount of turn over and there will therefore always be some new qualified talent to be “discovered”. However, after the second search I had all the contacts that were or could identify all the qualified candidates. I no longer needed the Internet, Boolean logic, etc. What I think Kevin is referring to when he says there is no need for in-depth Internet searches and applying Boolean logic applies when a recruiter, search professional, etc. is in this type of situation. This situation is likely to arise in high volume and maybe routine hiring.

    The above scenario will not always be possible, particularly with internal recruiters because they are often asked to fill so many different types of positions. As such, they don’t have the time, and many don’t even have the tools (although I have consulted with a few on how to use CRM systems to develop this functionality), to develop such a “candidate community”.

    If you personally do the same search over and over again with some level of frequency you too may surpass the need for Internet/Boolean tools. However, if you do the same search over and over again but do not need to or cannot “discover” the majority of the candidates yet you are still able to satisfy your customer’s needs you may always need to use these tools. Frankly, if you can meet or exceed your customers’ needs, whether internal or external customers, by doing in-depth Internet searches or using Boolean logic you have not failed. You may or may not have done your job in the most productive manner, but you have met the customer’s needs and that spells success.

    I will also add that I don’t think it makes sense to build “candidate communities” for every position. This type of work is time consuming, expensive, and requires a lot of expertise. If the payoff, whether that payoff takes the form of compensation or a fee for the recruiter and/or a reduction in the cost of hire, is not great enough there will not be enough motivation to sustain it. I know many believe that social networks, online communities, etc. have driven down the cost of community building to a level where it makes sense to do so for every position but I disagree. There are a number of positions where this does not make sense, particularly those that do not lend themselves to active involvement in an online community.

  • Spot on – Latin may be the mother tongue of modern language, but Boole is still what we in research tether ourselves to when we wish to extract relevant, useful data. People who are part of rare skillsets in aero or pharma etc are not interested in being herded into “communities.” They have little time for that, but their ears do perk up when I show them that I have done my research and have bothered to learn about them and their world.

  • Deni

     this is simply IT ! Great article