Talent Sourcing: Beyond Tips, Tricks, Hacks and the Internet

It’s bothered me for quite some time now that many people essentially equate sourcing with Internet search – using search engines such as Google and Bing to find resumes, lists, press releases, etc.

It bothers me because sourcing is so much more than that.

It also bothers me because I am aware that many companies (some quite large and well respected) limit their sourcers and recruiters primarily to the Internet as the only source of information.

I believe a major contributing factor as to why sourcing isn’t highly valued by some organizations and why sourcing doesn’t get as much widespread respect and recognition as it should is because too many people associate sourcing primarily with Internet search.

The future of talent sourcing will involve a shift from manual Internet search and ATS/CRM systems with only rudimentary search and analysis capability to highly specialized tools specifically designed for mining vast and proprietary human capital data sets dynamically compiled from multiple sources that enables predictive analytics.

It’s coming – will you be ready? Will you be ahead of the curve or behind it?

Corporate Leadership – Is Your Money Where Your Mouth Is?

Most people agree that any given company’s only sustainable competitive advantage is to identify, attract, recruit and retain great people.

If the executive leadership of any company really believed that their people are their greatest asset, and that hiring great people is critical to their long term success as a business, why would they limit their sourcers and recruiters to using common Internet search engines to search free and unstructured data?

Do they really believe that they are enabling their talent acquisition team with the highest probability of success in consistently being able to find, attract and recruit top talent?

Think about it – if you’re using Internet search engines to source potential candidates, you’re using Google, Bing and other sites in a manner for which they were certainly not specifically designed, and you’re searching unstructured data that everyone has free access to.

Does that sound like you’re being enabled with a competitive advantage in any way?

There’s no denying that valuable information can be mined from the Internet, and there is no doubt that the more knowledgeable you are with regard to leveraging Internet search engines, the more quickly and easily you can retrieve information others cannot and do not find.

However, I believe that technology-enabled talent sourcing is many years (at least a decade) behind what it should and could be at this point, and a huge contributing factor has been the last 10+ years spent focusing primarily on Internet search.

Sourcers and recruiters responsible for sourcing should not be asked by their employers to become sourcing MacGuyvers – having to inventively use common and unspecialized tools that everyone has access to to solve their company’s talent acquisition challenges.

You could technically play a game of baseball with a broomstick, a tennis ball and just your hands for catching, but you’d lose to a similarly skilled team that used the same bats, balls and gloves that Major League Baseball pros use.

Sourcing: Beyond the Internet

Boolean search does not = Internet search, although you would be hard-pressed to believe that based on the majority of information published on the topic, at least within sourcing and recruiting circles.

A good bit of the “Boolean” search advice you can find online isn’t really focused on Boolean logic at all – you’ll find that a large chunk of the sourcing advice and information actually consists of Internet search engine tips and tricks and specific website “hacks.”

Being able to effectively leverage Internet search engines is important and helpful for any sourcer or recruiter, but searching unstructured and public data certainly has its limitations, and there are much more powerful search engines available that were designed from inception for powerful text retrieval.

There is no denying that the Internet is a big pile of unstructured data, a good deal of which is old and outdated – and that there is plenty of “stuff” out there that can’t even be retrieved, simply because it’s never been indexed.

Let’s also recognize that just because you can search the Internet doesn’t make it highly searchable. I define highly searchable as the ability to quickly and easily retrieve highly specific information with a very low rate of false positives. A good bit of the work any sourcer or recruiter has to perform when sourcing with Internet search engines is attempting to remove false positives.

Of course, there is no denying that searching the Internet with standard or Custom Search Engines (e.g. Google CSE’s) can uncover valuable information.

However, when it comes to deeper/information rich human capital data such as resumes, there aren’t actually as many CV’s/resumes on the Internet as some people would have you believe. Moreover, it could easily be argued (and perhaps proven with a little more effort) that the majority of the resumes that ARE retrievable with Google or Bing are those of Information Technology professionals. There are many professions for which there are remarkably few CV’s/resumes, if any, retrievable via Internet search.

When it comes to shallow/information poor human capital data, such as press releases, lists, directories, etc., I’d argue that there isn’t even as much of that as most people assume (some people make BIG assumptions), and it’s certainly not evenly distributed across all job types and industries.

Beyond Boolean: Sourcing Methodologies

Sourcing is so much more than Boolean strings. I’ve written about this extensively before, so I won’t go into too much of my supporting argument in this post.

What I will stress here is that Boolean logic is simply the simplest way to construct a query, which is a formal statement of an information need, which in turn is the basic building block of an information retrieval process.

The AND, OR and NOT Boolean search operators are just the “glue” that combine all of the actual search criteria together into a single query.

It doesn’t get any simpler than “I want all of these things” (i.e. AND), “I want at least one of these things” (i.e. OR), and “I don’t want these things” (i.e. NOT). If it wasn’t simple, my daughter would not have learned Boolean logic in the first grade in public school – Venn diagrams and all.

When it comes to sourcing, what I feel is significantly lacking is a focus on the information retrieval process, which involves the analysis and interpretation of the data retrieved, and is infinitely more important than any specific search string or Boolean search operator.

The most critical component of any query are the search terms and phrases that are included or strategically excluded (and I am not talking about negating false positives), which should be arrived upon through a consistently applied iterative and incremental process.

In spite of this, much of what can be found online in terms of sourcing advice is focused on how to use Boolean operators, Internet search commands and site specific hacks.

There is a reason why companies that create software utilize and follow software development process methodologies – and they have been doing so since the 1960’s! Why? It’s simple – because they are seeking to find repeatable, predictable processes that improve productivity and quality.

Inconsistent processes lead to inconsistent results. So will a complete lack of a process.

I strongly believe that if the global sourcing community moved more in this direction, focusing more on the sourcing process and data analysis and interpretation rather than the searches themselves, and more specifically Boolean operators and Internet search commands, sourcing would gain more respect, attention and investment, especially from leaders and executives who currently equate sourcing to searching Google for people.

The Future of Sourcing: From Internet Hack to Data Scientist

Have you heard the term “Big Data?” How about “data scientist?”

I would not be surprised if most sourcers, recruiters and HR professionals had no idea what “Big Data” meant, or what it could possibly mean for the future of talent acquisition.

I also would not be surprised if most people immediately rejected the idea that data scientists already have a place in recruiting teams and HR departments.

That’s unfortunate, because I think it’s time more people in our industry started to think outside the box of that has been limiting progressive thought and preventing advancements in the utilization of technology to create a competitive advantage in talent acquisition.

As such – I highly recommend you read this report from McKinsey Global Institute – Big data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity. While you’re reading it, the whole time think about how the concepts and practices could be applied to human capital data and hiring decisions.

Imagine a future where human capital data that can be readily found online in the public domain is automatically retrieved and captured (or live-linked to, find.ly style) and combined with private sources of human capital data into structured data sets that enable predictive analytics and that can be manipulated via highly precise and specific information retrieval capabilities that make Google look like a child’s toy.  Literally!

I can’t say when this future will become a reality, but it can’t come soon enough for me!

I firmly believe the future of sourcing will involve an evolution from Internet Hacking to Data Science.

What is largely done manually now via Internet search will be automated and information from disparate sources will be aggregated into proprietary data sets that will become a company’s competitive advantage when it comes to identifying, engaging, recruiting and making hiring decisions to acquire top talent.

Companies are already sitting on mountains of human capital data that they have captured over the years in their ATS/CRM systems, yet few if any companies are really tapping into the latent power of that pool of data.

It doesn’t take a huge mental leap to see that today’s (top) sourcers will be tomorrow’s data scientists enabling the companies that they work for to identify top talent and make better hiring decisions – read this article on the Rise of the Data Scientist, which is from 2009 no less!

Data scientists are already an integral part of competitive intelligence efforts for many companies, mining and analyzing data to help their companies to gain a competitive advantage. Unfortunately, it seems that pretty much all data scientist jobs today appear to be focused on everything BUT enabling talent identification and acquisition.

You may also find this interesting – LinkedIn has a Principal Data Scientist, and he came from Google. Of course, he’s focusing his talents on creating a better LinkedIn solution. I believe it is only a matter of time before companies begin to harness the power of data science to enable faster and better hiring decisions.

Final Thoughts

I believe that technology-enabled talent sourcing and recruiting is perhaps a decade behind what it should and could be at this point, and a huge contributing factor has been the fact that for the last 10+ years, many people still equate sourcing with Internet search.

Searching through unstructured Internet data that everyone has equal access to with dummied-down and non-specialized search engines doesn’t afford a company with a strategic competitive advantage.

You don’t see companies doing this with their product development, marketing, financial analysis, or business intelligence efforts – their data and BI analysts and data scientists are not limited to using Google for information retrieval and analysis, nor are they limited to searching information solely in the public domain.

There’s a reason for that. Using specialized information retrieval, analysis, and visualization solutions to gain intelligence from a proprietary mashup of data affords companies with information and insights that their competitors won’t be able to match.

Going back to the MacGuyver comparison – he was able to make use of mundane materials to create unorthodox solutions to any problem he faced. Imagine if he actually had the right or the best tools available?

If you’re one of those few MacGuyver-level sourcers or recruiters who can make magic from mundane resources everyone else has access to – good for you.

However, imagine what you could accomplish if you had highly specialized tools specifically designed for mining vast and proprietary human capital data sets dynamically compiled from multiple sources that enabled predictive analytics, empowering you to leverage data to more quickly identify, engage and recruit people who are more likely be ideal additions to your company.

Can anyone help me make this dream a reality?

  • Making a successful hire has always been a people’s business. Technology can’t take it away completely. But it can definitely go a long way to assist recruiters/ hiring managers to search/source, screen candidates, collaborate and analyse. Excessive use of technology is counter productive.

  • Good morning Glen — you bring up a point that leads me to quote Dr. Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” I agree with you that sourcers do waste an awful lot of time poking around free resources and most likely don’t spend nearly enough time with the resources for which their companies paid. (One of the reasons we’re doing a paid resources panel at SourceCon next month…)

    I’ve been a proponent of driving the sourcing function toward learning related skills such as communication and competitive intelligence. Limiting oneself to just the Boolean stuff will make one obsolete very quickly. And claiming that no ‘quality’ comes out of resume databases or structured resources is silly — if that were true, then purchasing an ATS would be silly because that’s just a structured database of your own contacts, right? We need to be able to show our versatile skills and value-adds that can translate into benefits for other areas of business, including marketing and R&D. But the first step in this is getting sourcers themselves to recognize their own worth.

    I’m going to dive into this Big Data PDF — looks quite interesting. Thanks as always for your contributions to our community!

  • Hi, Glen. You know I get as excited as many other sourcers do when I find a unique online tool that helps me do my job in a new or more productive way but it really is a small part of what sourcing is. Sourcing is a big picture. Maybe 20% is the technical aspect and the remaining 80% is interpreting and working with the data. I’m looking forward to downloading the report. 

    I also agree with Amybeth. Whether it’s sourcing, recruiting or even just life in general sometimes we get caught up in the next shiny object and figuring out what others are doing that we forget what we already have. I am constantly asking recruiters and sourcers what tools they are using, why they use them and how they like what they have. More often than not they claim a problem with a piece of technology they own and that they need a new solution when that technology they own has developed or changed since they last used it. Some of the better vendors will help you find a work around if you are still having an issue. 

  • Recruiting will of course always be about people – there is no arguing that point. However, Technology can be used to more quickly find people who are more likely to be good hires, facilitating and enabling human decision making. I am not exactly what what excessive use of technology would look like, but I can tell you that my use of technology for the past 15 years has increased my productivity and reach over and above what it would have been without technology.

  • Amybeth – nice points, thanks! You also get extra credit for the Jurassic Park quote. :-)

    I just see it as an epic fail that many companies invest so heavily in customized, specialized technology that enables their marketing analysts, financial analysts, data analysts, business intelligence analysts, and even social media analysts – yet so many sourcers are stuck with hacking the Internet and trying to search ATS/CRM systems with extremely limited information retrieval capability.

    And yet, finding and hiring great people is just about every company’s top priority. Or at least it sounds good, but their belief in this message doesn’t pass through to the investment in sourcing and recruiting. :-(

  • Shannon – thanks for commenting!

    I agree that sourcing is a big picture, and it is certainly more about process, methodology, analysis, interpretation and decision making than it is about searching. However, one must first be able to retrieve data and information in order to analyze it and take action.

    No technology solution is perfect and without flaw, whether it be ERP systems (financials, SCM, etc.), business intelligence solutions (SSAS/RS, Cognos, Essbase, Business Objects, etc.), or ATS/CRM systems. However, it is undeniable that more money has been invested in advancing and improving the functionality of most ERP/BI systems as opposed to ATS/CRM systems, probably by a factor of at least 100 (over the years).

    Additionally, look at how much many companies spend on ERP/BI systems – much more than solutions that are designed to help them proactively identify, track, and engage passive talent (as opposed to job posting solutions).

  • The move from even complex Google search to real BI Mash-ups (mix of public, private, and proprietary data) would be far beyond the scale many businesses can even imagine.  Maybe 10 companies that are not in IT business would even consider this anything more than a costly experiment.  We can do much more with the data that exists today, but leave the complex number crunching to the accountants.  Recruiting is about people.

  • Thanks for weighing in Aaron!

    I have to disagree with you in that moving to real BI mashups isn’t really a stretch, given that there are so many companies that are already doing this in many areas, some as “mundane” as marketing. If businesses can invest in BI and even predictive analytics for marketing and consumer sentiment, it should not be too difficult to move it over to sourcing and recruiting, IMO.

    Should marketing analysts have more powerful analytics than recruiters? (no offense to marketing pros)

    I plan on writing quite a bit more on the subject in the very near future – please stay tuned. I sincerely appreciate dissenting opinions, so please keep them coming!

    I agree with you in that recruiting has and always will be about people, but the same is true of marketing. The core of marketing is influencing people’s perceptions and decision making…see where I am going?

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts Aaron!

  • Thank you for sharing your ideas.

  • Jacob

    You’ve got to be kidding me! “…highly specialized tools specifically designed for mining vast and proprietary human capital data sets dynamically compiled from multiple sources that enables predictive analytics.” Really? Give us an example of what the heck you are talking about. Can I get a light-saber with that?

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  • John Sloan

    Ok a while back you wrote about a govt owned job board and I came down
    on you pretty hard. I still think it is a terrible idea but on this post
    about predictive paralytics couldn’t you just analyze Census Bureau
    data and figure this all out pretty fast? Let’s say the govt shares the
    data we need with (haven’t thought through the folks I let see this
    data) and you can really work backwards to the time to hire or fill
    numbers from there. So the data says there are 4000 electro-optical
    engineers in the country ages blah through blah. You factor in the open
    jobs data from an aggregator and add in your background check and drug
    screen and pretty soon you can tell me how fast you can fill this
    position. So I ping every EO engineer in the country who appears to have
    the years exp needed and it takes this many emails/phone calls to get
    this many applicants to enable this many interviews which produces a
    hire for this position in this area of the country with this clearance.
    Need to think this all through a bit more ….you could use the data to
    drive VISA applications…..oops no one wants to hear that now do

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