Human Capital Data is Sexy!

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Amybeth Hale’s recent “Sourcing: The Next Sexy Thing” post on the SourceCon website. In her article, she quoted Chris Brogan, who opined that unstructured data gathering, “analytics tools and the people who know how to drive them will be the next sexy thing.

I could not agree more!

In fact, I published an article over 2 years ago in which I  proclaimed that leveraging human capital data for talent discovery, identification and acquisition was the sexiest function in recruiting.

Unfortunately that was back in 2009, when pretty much no one read my blog, so I am updating and reposting it here for the global sourcing and recruiting community to absorb and respond.

What’s The Sexiest Function in Recruiting?

In February of 2009, I read this excellent post on the Google blog written by Jonathan Rosenberg, SVP, Product Management at Google, and I was especially excited when I got to this part:

“Hal Varian likes to say that the sexy job in the next ten years will be statisticians. After all, who would have guessed that computer engineers would be the cool job of the 90s? When every business has free and ubiquitous data, the ability to understand it and extract value from it becomes the complimentary scarce factor. It leads to intelligence, and the intelligent business is the successful business, regardless of its size. Data is the sword of the 21st century, those who wield it well, the Samurai.” (emphasis mine)

Hal Varian, Chief Economist at Google gets it.

Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn gets it.

Unfortunately, too few people in the HR and recruiting function get it, and even fewer executives who proclaim that their people are their competitive advantage do.

“Get what?” you ask?

I’m talking about the fact that the ability to understand and extract value from data is a scarce factor and a significant source of competitive advantage.

When it comes to recruiting top talent, the ability to understand and extract value from the ever-increasing amount of human capital data available to everyone is the scarce factor in talent identification and acquisition, and it leads to intelligence and success in business through the ability to hire more of the best people more quickly!

As such, the sexist function in talent acquisition is sourcing!

The Big Deal about Human Capital Data

Every day, more information about more people is made available electronically in the form of data, and I would argue that not only is the sheer volume of human capital data increasing, but it’s accelerating as well.

This comes from a variety of activities that people perform: responding to job postings with resumes and entering them into corporate databases, creating social media profiles online, posting resumes on the Internet and in online job boards (e.g. Monster, Dice, CareerBuilder, etc.), being mentioned in press releases, blogging, Tweets, foursquare check-ins, LinkedIn network updates, etc.

With the amount of human capital data available increasing at an accelerating rate, it is becoming more important for organizations to be able to leverage these sources of human capital data for talent identification and acquisition.

There is no denying that building relationships with potential candidates is at the core of effective recruiting, and I don’t think that will ever change. However, what has changed is that if you can take advantage of and tap into the power of the unprecedented amount of human capital data available to sourcers and recruiters today (which increases and accelerates every day!), you can quickly find, engage and develop relationships with and recruit more of the right people.

I’ll say it again because I don’t want anyone to scan past this critical point –  effectively leveraging human capital data enables recruiters and companies to develop relationships with and recruit more of the right people! Especially the coveted “passive” candidates.

If your definition of success (or acceptable paycheck) is based on achieving more than 1 to 2 hires per month, you are at a significant competitive disadvantage if you cannot leverage human capital data.

If you CAN effectively leverage human capital data for talent identification and acquisition, it is a productivity MULTIPLIER.

And for those who believe that the best people can’t be found online or in a database, I would argue that with each passing day, there are fewer and fewer people that cannot be digitally discovered either directly or indirectly through networking or referral recruiting with people who can be found online or in your ATS.

Sourcer = Data Analyst?

I think the term “sourcing” does not do the role/function of leveraging human capital data for talent identification proper justice. I think that what most people refer to as a sourcing function is really more accurately labeled as human capital data analysis.

Data analysis is defined as a process of gathering, analyzing, and transforming data with the goal of highlighting useful information, suggesting conclusions, and supporting decision making.

If you take a look at a typical data analyst job description, you’ll see responsibilities such as:

  • Collaborate with business process owners to identify opportunities; define business requirements, and design and implement solutions designed to maximize efficiency and productivity
  • Perform complex data mining and aggregation; critically examine the results
  • Accumulate, analyze, and interpret data in understandable terms for the customer from multiple systems
  • Analyze complex data including: structured, unstructured, and plain text
  • Develop analytic approach in collaboration with project staff
  • Respond to ad-hoc and standing customer requirements
  • Utilize in-house database applications
  • Perform data capture, cleansing and migration
  • Research new data sources and analytical tools
  • Support analysis results at customer meetings
  • Utilize query languages  (SQL)
  • Conduct competitor and benchmarking analyses

Here is the same job description, adapted to sourcing/recruiting:

  • Collaborate with managers and business unit owners to identify opportunities, define position requirements, and design and implement talent identification solutions and processes designed to maximize efficiency, productivity, and results
  • Perform complex talent mining and aggregation; critically examine the results for relevance, qualifications, and probability of match to hiring requirements
  • Accumulate, analyze, and interpret human capital data in understandable terms for the customer from multiple systems, including, but not limited to the Internet, resume databases, and social media
  • Analyze complex human capital data including: Resumes, social media profiles, blog posts, press releases, and unstructured plain text
  • Develop analytic approach in collaboration with project staff
  • Respond to ad-hoc and standing customer requirements
  • Utilize in-house Applicant Tracking Systems and database applications
  • Perform data migration, permanently capturing human capital data from multiple sources and entering them into corporate ATS/Talent Warehouse
  • Research new human capital data sources and analytical/search tools
  • Support analysis of search results at customer meetings
  • Utilize query languages (Boolean)
  • Conduct competitor and benchmarking analyses

If you are a sourcer or are responsible for sourcing potential candidates, what do you think of the above job description?

Sourcing is Much More than Boolean Search

As demonstrated by the above exercise, a sourcer or a recruiter performing sourcing is essentially functioning as a data analyst that is analyzing human capital data for talent identification and acquisition.

This process involves analyzing and interpreting hiring needs and requirements, often with poor or incomplete information, leaving them to piece the puzzle together. Once the needs have been understood, they intelligently assess and strategically select available information resources to leverage, translating hiring qualifications into precise information retrieval strategies to search targeted sources of talent-related data and quickly retrieve relevant results – human capital data representing people who have a high probability of meeting or ideally exceeding the basic qualifications of the hiring needs.

A talented human capital data analyst is capable of leveraging information sources and systems with such speed and precision to enable organizations to achieve Just-in-Time sourcing and recruiting – identifying and acquiring the right talent, in the right amount, at the right time, without the need for having to recruit people ahead of need and building talent pipelines that may not be recruitable when the actual need arises.

Human capital data analysts are capable of searching databases and systems containing data representing millions of people to quickly and precisely uncover, identify, and tap into the talent pools that exist in every source of human capital data to target people with specific educational requirements, years of experience, current and prior roles and responsibilities in specific environments and in some cases in specific companies. That’s no small feat!

Whereas data analysts responsible for working with financial, product, customer or other types of data are responsible for producing reports and analyzing information for meaning and identifying relationships to assist with strategic decision making, human capital data analysts are responsible for identifying and assisting in the acquisition of a company’s most precious assets – its talent, and potentially (and ideally!) the next “game changing” employees who can take the company to the next level.

What’s Your Competitive Advantage?

Most well run companies know that the true scarce resource is talent – and that identifying, acquiring, and retaining top talent is a company’s only true and sustainable competitive.

The more ubiquitous human capital data becomes, the more critical it becomes that companies employ people with strong information retrieval and human capital data analysis skills who are capable of leveraging information systems more quickly, precisely, and accurately than the competition to identify top talent and target them for acquisition.

As Jonathan Rosenberg of Google stated, there is significant intelligence and value in data, but it does not come from simply having access to the data – it comes from the ability to understand and extract value from the data.

I would argue that the most critical asset of any company is its human capital – and the most critical step in the human capital supply chain is the process is identifying human capital.

Don’t agree?

Consider this – you simply cannot engage, develop relationships with, acquire, or retain people you haven’t identified in the first place.

Final Thoughts

There is a reason why companies pay financial analysts, data analysts and business intelligence analysts very good money – because they are knowledgeable specialists and they perform highly critical functions that cannot be fully automated. Typically, the more critical the corporate function, the more specialized and capable the resources are, the more they are compensated, and quite often, the more advanced the technology solutions they employ.

I think that the majority of HR/recruiting organizations as well as many corporate executives haven’t yet figured out that analyzing human capital data for talent identification and acquisition is a highly specialized, valuable, and critical function.

While there are opportunities to automate some aspects of human capital information retrieval, it would be foolish to rely on a software solution alone for your talent identification and acquisition needs. No company relies solely on software to make critical business decisions – computers and applications are used to move and present information (reports, etc.) and then people perform the real work in the form of analyzing the information and making decisions.

It’s also a mistake to rely on entry level, junior, and/or low cost resources for talent discovery and identification. In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a continual war for talent being waged. Do you really think it’s a wise corporate strategy to try to cut costs and corners and battle it out with your competitors with less experienced and non-specialized resources?

As I’ve previously asserted, the most critical step in the human capital supply chain is the process is identifying human capital, because you simply cannot engage, develop relationships with, acquire, or retain people you haven’t identified in the first place. As such, don’t you think it would be wise to employ highly specialized, experienced, and capable resources in talent discovery and identification roles?

Not only is human capital data sexy, it is the sword of the 21st century – those who wield it well will win the battles they fight in war for talent.

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About Glen Cathey

Glen Cathey is a sourcing and recruiting thought leader with over 16 years of experience working in large staffing agency and global RPO environments (>1,000 recruiters and nearly 100,000 hires annually). Starting out his career as a top producing recruiter, he quickly advanced into senior management roles and now currently serves as the SVP of Strategic Talent Acquisition and Innovation for Kforce, working out of their renowned National Recruiting Center with over 300 recruiters. Often requested to speak on sourcing and recruiting best practices, trends and strategies, Glen has traveled internationally to present at many talent acquisition conferences (5X LinkedIn Talent Connect - U.S. '10, '11, '12, Toronto '12, London '12, 2X Australasian Talent Conference - Sydney & Melbourne '11, '12, 6X SourceCon, 2X TruLondon, 2X HCI) and is regularly requested to present to companies (e.g., PwC, Deloitte, Intel, Booz Allen Hamilton, Citigroup, etc.). This blog is his personal passion and does not represent the views or opinions of anyone other than himself.