The End of Sourcing 1.0 is Near, Sourcing 2.0 Just Beginning

 

In case you haven’t read Dr. John Sullivan’s recent article entitled, “The end of sourcing is near…the remaining recruiting challenge is selling“, I highly recommend that you do so.

While I agree with some of the points that Dr. Sullivan raises, I disagree with others as I believe he has an oversimplified view of sourcing.

I argue that some basic and common sourcing functions and tactics will be coming to an end soon, and in fact, they have already ended in companies that are on the leading edge of sourcing.

However, as with many corporate functions, there will never be an end to sourcing itself – there will only be an evolution.

What follows is my sourcing manifesto.

Read further to explore:

  • Why sourcing exists in the first place
  • The underlying flaws of the “everyone is easy to find” argument
  • The limits of matching technology
  • Why big data requires people to make sense of it
  • My definition of sourcing
  • Strategic vs. tactical sourcing
  • The true value of sourcing
  • What can (and should!) be automated in sourcing
  • Sourcing 1.0 vs. 2.0

You should be advised that this is a lengthy article – if you’re looking for a quick read, you won’t find it here.

Why Does Sourcing Exist?

Before we can claim that sourcing is coming to an end, I think it’s important to examine why sourcing exists in the first place. If the underlying need for sourcing isn’t coming to an end, then the sourcing function itself isn’t likely to come to an end.

Quite simply, sourcing exists because  companies increasingly recognized that not enough of the right and/or qualified people were applying to job vacancies.

Whether or not companies performed a root cause analysis of the inefficiency and in many cases ineffectiveness of posting jobs and formally recognized the intrinsic limitations job posting could be a matter of interesting debate (for the record, I don’t think many did/do).

Whether recognized or not, the reality is that posting jobs is a passive and reactive method of talent attraction that affords very little predictive control over 3 out of 5 critical candidate matching variables (0% for two of them), and this latter point cannot be overlooked or minimized. The ability to exert a high degree of predictive control over the SOLAR variables affords a company with a corresponding ability to increase the probability that they people they are finding and attempting to recruit are well qualified and matched to any specific job and the company, whether the people are “active” or “passive.”

 

Predictive candidate variable control chart data based sourcing

 

Furthermore, posting jobs only offers a company access to those people who proactively take action to change their current employment situation (aka – “active” candidates). The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics and work performed by Lou Adler and LinkedIn both confirm that at any point in time, people who interested in and willing to take action to change their current employment situation are the clear minority – approximately 20 – 30% of the total talent pool at best.

Relying solely upon the posting of vacancies ultimately yields a company the best of the active talent pool– not the best people that could have been recruited.

Doesn’t sound like a good way to develop a talent-based competitive advantage, does it?

Because the majority of the total talent pool simply won’t take any action to find and take action to apply to job openings (aka – “passive” candidates), the only way to tap into the deeper end of the talent supply is to take proactive measures to find and engage them (aka- sourcing). The probability that the best person for any given position is proactively taking efforts to find and apply to job openings at the time any given company needs them is intrinsically low.

Many companies recognize the fact that some of the best people are likely working somewhere, doing a great job, and being appropriately valued and taken care of to the point where they would never take any action to explore job opportunities. However, if these companies don’t have recruiters who have the time to focus heavily on sourcing or have split sourcing out into a separate role and function, they will likely never be able to acquire truly top talent beyond the best of who’s in a position to find and apply to their jobs.

Now, let’s recognize that sourcing has always existed – it’s the one of the earliest phases of the recruiting life cycle. Sourcing has always been a part of executive search, as well as a large part of agency recruiting.

The decision to split sourcing out of the recruiting life cycle into a separate role and function likely came as a result of realizing that in many corporate talent acquisition teams, the recruiters are often inundated with (largely unqualified) applicants for the jobs that have been posted, leaving them little time to proactively find and engage the larger portion of the talent supply that will never find and apply to their jobs.

At a high level, taking any role that is responsible for many things and splitting responsibilities and activities across multiple roles to increase efficiency and efficacy is a generally accepted best practice in economics and business, and it has been happening for thousands of years (some would credit Plato’s Republic as one of the earliest documented arguments) – it’s called division of labor.

A highly applicable example lies in the fact that some sales organizations have evolved to split their sales teams into “hunters” and “farmers.” This has happened because companies have recognized that some sales people are great at maintaining and growing relationships with existing clients but are not very good at prospecting and landing new clients. Conversely, some sales people are great at finding and signing new clients but are not very good at maintaining them after the deal has been closed.

In many respects, I believe that splitting the recruiting process into sourcing and recruiting is performing very much the same thing – sourcers are the “hunters” and recruiters are the “farmers.”

For those companies that recognize the intrinsic limitations of job posting (both the inability to exert predictive control over critical candidate qualification and matching variables and the fact that the majority of the talent supply simply cannot be reached via job distribution) and the benefits of division of labor, sourcing will never “come  to an end” or die.

How can it? Will the need for companies to hire top talent ever abate? Will talent supply and demand issues ever magically solve themselves?

Finding People is Easy, Right?

Like many before him, Sullivan makes the claim that “finding talent is easy because everyone is now ‘visible,’” and as such, “that nearly everyone is easy to find.”

I find the “people are so easy to find who needs sourcing?” argument especially bothersome because on the surface, it actually appears to make sense. However, the logic is flawed in that it oversimplifies a complex issue, and it’s actually not true that you can find almost anyone online (hat tip to phone sourcers).

However, let’s assume that you can find almost anyone online for a moment.

As I have explained many times, the proliferation of human capital data certainly makes finding people easier than ever before. I like to illustrate this point by using the “needle in a haystack” analogy.

As the stack of hay grows larger, finding hay becomes easier. However, as the haystack grows larger, intelligently sorting through the hay to find the needles within becomes correspondingly more difficult.

In this analogy, the needles represent people with specific skills and experience (including amount and type – team, scale, industry, company, environment, etc.), who live in specific locations, whose desired compensation closely matches what the company is willing to pay, who represent an appropriate cultural match, and those people for whom the company’s opportunity represents a logical or the desired next step in their career.

I do believe this qualifies the use of the “needle in a haystack” comparison. Companies are not looking for more hay – they are looking to identify and recruit the needles, and this will never become easy because as the haystack grows larger, the more difficult it becomes to find the needles (or to separate the signal from the noise – choose your own analogy) – but ultimately, people are not widgets.

Ten people can have nearly identical resumes, but each person can be vastly different than the others in consideration of the many critical matching variables that ultimately determine who is and who is not a good fit for any given position, team or company.

In case you do not like my “needle in a haystack” analogy, perhaps you will better appreciate my home improvement store analogy.

You would think that large home improvement stores such as Loews and the Home Depot would make it easier to find tools and other home improvement items, simply because the grant you easy access to hundreds of thousands of related items. However, if you’re like me, when you enter one of those stores, you’re never just looking for tools, hardware, appliances, lumber, light bulbs, fertilizer, etc. – you’re looking for a very specific tool, piece of hardware, appliance, lumber, light bulb, fertilizer etc.

Using Dr. John Sullivan’s logic, finding a hammer or a light bulb should be easy because the Home Depot has many of them within easy access.

However, I never find this to be the case – and I am sure am not alone. Just yesterday, I entered the Home Depot looking for a light bulb for the light fixture in my master bath. I needed a frosted, globe shaped 60 watt bulb with a standard (non-candelabra) base. Finding the light bulb should have been easy given that the Home Depot has thousands of light bulbs for sale.

However, after walking up and down the light bulb while several times, while I could find many varieties of bulbs that somewhat closely matched my need (right shape but clear, right bulb but wrong wattage, right bulb and wattage but candelabra base, etc.), it turns out that the Home Depot didn’t have the exact bulb I needed.

Furthermore, as I’ve tried to make clear many times in the past, having access to data and information does not provide anyone with a competitive advantage. Access is simply “table stakes” - everyone has access to the Internet, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and many other massive sources of human capital data.

Back in 2009 I read this excellent post on the Google blog written by Jonathan Rosenberg, former SVP, Product Management at Google, which is just as poignant and relevant today “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.”

Ultimately, the access/availability argument against sourcing is fundamentally flawed.

Just to put the final nail in the coffin, has having easy access to large quantities of data reduced the need for or eliminated the roles of financial analysts, data analysts, marketing analysts, business intelligence analysts, or data scientists?

The obvious answer is no.

We are entering the age of “big data” where we have access to massive volumes of a wide variety of data being created at unprecedented velocity (there are more than 1B tweets sent every 3 days!). We have access to more data today than we ever have in the past which has actually created the need for people who can make sense of it all. They’re called data scientists, and they have the hottest job you haven’t heard of.

Oh, and someone should probably tell Paul DePodesta and Billy Beane that using baseball data to develop a competitive advantage (Moneyball) was pointless and ineffective because everyone had easy access to the same player and game data.

No Need for Doomsday Prepping

Although Sullivan clearly recognized that sourcers reading his article might get defensive (“Nobody likes reading about their upcoming doom”), sourcers need not worry about their impending obsolescence.

Technology won’t replace today’s sourcers – it will displace and shift them.

This is a significant variance from Sullivan’s position. Instead of rendering sourcers obsolete and extinct, advances in sourcing technology will simply reposition the sourcers of today into the wielders of tomorrow’s technology.

Historically, software that has been developed to automate the movement and manipulation of data has not actually resulted in the elimination of (m)any positions.

For example, SAP and Oracle/PeopleSoft financial applications haven’t replaced the need for accountants, and business intelligence applications such as Cognos, SAS, Business Objects, and SSAS/SSRS haven’t replaced financial, data, and business intelligence analysts.

Instead of replacing people and roles, the development and evolution of ERP and business intelligence applications has actually resulted in the need for people who have a specialized experience in the ability to use these applications. In many cases, these specialists are in high demand and low supply, and as a result, are compensated accordingly.

This trend is continuing with the advent of big data and the analytics opportunities that big data can afford – particularly predictive analytics. As I have already mentioned – the rapid and explosive increase in the volume, variety and velocity of data available today has actually created the hottest job on the market – data scientists. In many respects, I believe that the sourcers of tomorrow will essentially be human capital data analysts and scientists.

When Sullivan writes that “…as the electronic presence of almost everyone in the world increases, the volume of information will become too large to sort through by highly paid professional direct sorcerers. So instead, eventually recruiting will employee Internet web crawlers that will electronically search 24/7 for individuals who fit the desired candidate profile,” he is partly right.

I believe we are already at this stage where it is much more practical, effective and efficient to leverage technology to gather and initially sort through vast volumes of human capital data – especially unstructured Internet-based and social data whose volume, variety and velocity poses a significant challenge. However, someone will still have to point these solutions in the right direction and configure their facets/filters, and more importantly, people will still be required to actually make sense of the data and make appropriate decisions and take appropriate actions.

To claim that “the volume of information will become too large to sort through by highly paid professionals” is ridiculous. Massive volumes of information have been present in sales, finance, marketing, business intelligence and even HR for quite some time now, and the volume of data and information is one of the main reasons why highly paid professionals exist to make sense of it. This trend is continuing today with big data and analytics.

Jeffrey Liker nailed this concept when he said that “Computers move information, people do the work” The “work” he is referencing is analysis and decision making.

I’ve had the privilege of seeing Dr. Michio Kaku speak at a conference on the subject of artificial intelligence and the jobs of the future. Dr. Michio Kaku is a theoretical physicist and futurist specializing in string field theory – he’s a Harvard Grad (summa cum laude) with a Berkeley Ph.D. and he is currently working on completing Einstein’s dream of a unified field theory, so you might say he’s a pretty smart guy.

Kaku claims that “…pattern recognition and common sense are the two most difficult, unsolved problems in artificial intelligence theory. Pattern recognition means the ability to see, hear, and to understand what you are seeing. Common sense means your ability to make sense out of the world, which even children can perform.” As such, Kaku believes the job market of the future will be “dominated by jobs involving common sense (e.g. leadership, judgment, entertainment, art, analysis, creativity) and pattern recognition (e.g. vision and non- repetitive jobs). Jobs like brokers, tellers, agents, low level accountants and jobs involving inventory and repetition will be eliminated.”

 

 

That’s good news for sourcers and recruiters who perform sourcing because sourcing requires judgment, creativity, analysis, common sense, pattern recognition (instantly making sense of human capital data), and the ability to take intelligent and appropriate action on the data (who to call, how to most effectively engage, what questions to ask to “fill in the blanks” left by the data, etc.).

As I’ve written and spoken about many times, AI-empowered matching algorithms have many flaws, one of them fatal – they can only operate with text that is present to analyze and match against. Job descriptions and resumes (including social summaries of professional experience) are intrinsically flawed and never complete – you cannot effectively summarize a person’s experience, capability and potential in a text-based document.

Any company relying heavily on AI matching for sourcing without human involvement is effectively limiting themselves to the portion of the talent pool who happens to mention the keywords and titles that the matching algorithm “thinks” is relevant at the expense of those people who actually have the right skills and experience and who could be the company’s next great hire, but who did not use the keywords that the matching algorithm recognized as relevant, let alone mention them at all.

 

 

As I’ve predicted for 3 years now, sourcers of the future will be human capital data analysts, leveraging ever-increasingly more powerful tools and technologies to aid them in their efforts to quickly find and identify top talent, and not just the people who are the easiest to find.

 

Big Data, Data Science, Human Capital Analytics, and the Future of Sourcing and Recruiting - original image courtesy of Karmasphere

 

However, don’t get me wrong – there are likely some sourcers today who will not evolve into the sourcers of tomorrow . Keep reading to find out who they are and who should be worried about their obsolescence.

What is Sourcing Anyway?

It’s problematic to debate on the future of sourcing when there isn’t a commonly understood and agreed upon definition of sourcing.

However, before I define what sourcing is, I’d like to first recognize that regardless of definition, sourcing isn’t necessary for all positions.

Sourcing really only becomes necessary when employer branding, job posting, and all other passive methods of talent attraction fails to produce a consistent and sufficient quantity of well qualified potential candidates. If you can produce a good supply of highly qualified, interested and available candidates from your talent attraction strategies and efforts, proactive sourcing of additional candidates is unnecessary to facilitate hiring for roles that are currently open.

Second, I’d like to establish that talent attraction tactics and strategies are primarily focused on and effective for people who are actively exploring career opportunities, whereas sourcing is an activity primarily focused on people regardless of their job seeking status.

The fact is that the majority of any given talent pool is comprised of people who are either not looking for a new job or those people who most would classify as passive job seekers – those people who are not taking any action to discover or pursue job opportunities, but who would be interested in learning of opportunities that would better their current situation and/or advance their career. Depending on your reference source, passive and non-job seekers represent at least 70% of the total talent pool.

Now that we’ve established that sourcing isn’t always necessary to facilitate today’s hiring efforts and that sourcing is primarily focused on identifying and engaging talent that simply cannot be acquired through job distribution , I am going to take a shot at shot at defining what sourcing is.

Sourcing is any activity and effort undertaken to proactively facilitate hiring today and/or in the future.

Simple, right?

Although some people would argue that employer branding and job posting could be considered sourcing (I’ve even taken this stance in the past), job distribution and employer branding is:

  1. a passive strategy (requires the talent pool to take action)
  2. reactive (involves the engagement of people only once they have responded and taken action)
  3. effective only on the portion of the talent pool that is in a position to take action to discover and pursue employment opportunities (<30%)

Sourcing is the compliment to employer branding and job distribution because sourcing is:

  1. an active strategy (involves active pursuit of talent)
  2. proactive (involves proactive engagement and requires no action of the talent pool)
  3. required to find and engage the majority of the total talent pool (>70%) that will not take action to discover and pursue employment opportunities

In many organizations that have separated the sourcing function out from the recruiting life cycle, the sourcers are responsible for proactively seeking out and engaging people who are highly unlikely to be taking any action to make a change from their current employer, whereas the recruiters are responsible for handling the inbound flow of candidates that have applied to published vacancies.

This is a clean division of labor. The sourcers focus on proactive outbound activity while the recruiters focus on reactive inbound activity.

Tactical vs. Strategic Sourcing

It is important to recognize that sourcing can tactical, strategic, or both.

Purely tactical sourcing involves those sourcing efforts whose sole goal is to find candidates for positions that are currently open. As such, tactical sourcing efforts are not necessarily aligned with mid and long term company goals.

Strategic sourcing involves those sourcing efforts whose primary goal is to ensure long-term talent supply stability and the minimization of talent supply risk. Examples of strategic sourcing include talent mapping, competitive intelligence and analysis, and talent pool/pipeline development. As you can imagine, strategic sourcing should be closely aligned with mid and long term company goals.

Sourcing efforts can be simultaneously tactical and strategic if and when sourcing efforts focused on finding candidates for positions that are currently open are combined with efforts to collect competitive and market intelligence, as well as ensuring that anyone identified and/or engaged that is not currently available or that is under/over qualified is entered into a talent pool (or pipeline) that can be leveraged in the future when they might be recruitable, appropriately qualified, or match another hiring need.

While there are probably some types of sourcing that will come to an end soon (if they haven’t already in some leading organizations), there are many different levels of sourcing activities.

Here are six:

  1. Name generation – identifying people without the benefit of a resume or data-rich social media profile as potential candidates and passing this information to a recruiter to engage (Internet and phone sourcing)
  2. Resume and social profile discovery – identifying people as potential candidates and passing their information to a recruiter to engage
  3. Finding (via #1 and/or #2) and engaging talent – determining their availability and interest and passing this information and the candidate to a recruiter to assess qualifications
  4. Finding (via #1 and/or #2), engaging, and assessing talent: determining qualifications, interest and availability and passing this information and the candidate to a recruiter for a quality check and further processing (inviting to apply, submission to hiring manager, etc.)
  5. Finding, engaging, assessing, and selling prospective candidates: determining qualifications, availability, interest and selling the opportunity (current and future), to both compel passive and non-job-seekers to take action and apply or to enter the company’s talent pool, as well as to more effectively elicit referrals
  6. Same as #5, with an additional focus on discovering and documenting market and competitive intelligence

These six levels can be used to assess and gauge a talent acquisition organization’s level of maturity with regard to how they leverage sourcing.

Any and all of the above can be either tactical, strategic, or both depending on the primary goals of the efforts (filling current openings and/or ensuring the availability of appropriately qualified talent at the right time and quality in the future).

If you were paying close attention to the progression in the different levels of sourcing activities, you should have noticed a few things.

For example, #’s 1 -4 all involve passing names and/or candidates on to recruiters for further action. You may have also noticed that the only difference between #4 and #5 is that in #5, the sourcer is consultatively selling current and future opportunities.

#5 and #6 should have struck you as pretty much what many organizations would assume a full life cycle recruiter should be doing, but if we’re being brutally honest, many recruiters don’t really sell – they simply tell prospective candidates about the jobs they are currently working to fill (more on telling vs. selling later).

Another issue that I’ve already called to light is that many corporate recruiters are often too bogged down with screening applicants to proactively find, engage, and sell passive candidates on their current openings, let alone strategically pipeline talent for future opportunities or gather and document competitive intelligence.

As I mentioned before, it’s this very issue that likely served as the genesis of sourcing as a separate role and function.

Companies realized that they had jobs that their full life cycle recruiters simply could not fill in timeframes anywhere close to their time-to-hire targets or in time to meet critical business deadlines simply because some jobs require a significant amount of proactive sourcing in order to identify the right talent.

In less evolved talent acquisition organizations, sourcers are added to an existing team of recruiters to supply the recruiters with names and candidates that the recruiters don’t have the time or ability to find and engage, and with qualified and interested candidates for positions where none of the applicants are qualified.

With each year, more talent acquisition organizations are evolving the sourcing model beyond using sourcers as recruiter assistants and are leveraging sourcers to perform the majority of their proactive recruiting.

Yes, I said recruiting.

If someone is proactively finding, engaging, assessing, and selling prospective candidates on current and future opportunities, are they not “recruiting?”

If a sourcer finds and engages a passive candidate, sells them on and fully qualifies them for the opportunity they are working to fill, what’s left for a “recruiter” to do with the candidate? Aside from negotiating offers – largely administrative tasks.

If you are of the opinion that recruiters should “close down” candidates, I’d argue that in world-class talent acquisition organizations, 90% of the closing of passive candidates should be performed by the sourcer (otherwise known as pre-closing).

Sourcing Involves Selling

In organizations that use sourcers for name and resume generation only or perhaps initial candidate contact, Sullivan is correct in that there is little to no selling involved.

However, in organizations that effectively leverage the full power of division of labor where recruiters focus on working with inbound applicants and the sourcers focus on working with proactively identified candidates, the sourcers are in fact “recruiting” just as much as the recruiters are.

Furthermore, one could easily argue that the sourcers are likely “selling” more than the recruiters are, because the sourcers are engaging people who did not already express an interest in the company because they aren’t applicants.

The people that sourcers engage are predominantly not looking for a job and likely don’t need to make a change from their current employer – this takes a different level of selling than what will be effective with most applicants, who are people who have already expressed interest in making a change from their current employer, as well as interest in the job and company they’re applying to.

Telling Isn’t Selling

I think it is important to point out that you really can’t sell something to someone  unless you first find out what the person would be interested in buying.

Most sales gurus would tell you that the most critical step in the sales process is identifying and/or creating the need. You can’t (or perhaps more importantly, shouldn’t!) sell something to someone that doesn’t meet their needs.

To be able to compellingly pitch an opportunity, you have to first gain an understanding of what the person is looking to do next in their career and discover how your opportunity might align with their needs, desires, and goals – and you can’t do this without making contact, which is why I believe that sourcers should be responsible for finding, engaging, and selling prospective candidates instead of simply flipping leads or resumes.

Additionally, selling is much more effective when you are selling benefits and not just telling the person about features and attributes/advantages. If you don’t know what I am talking about when I mention features and benefits, I’d argue you’re not really selling anything.

Regardless of role (recruiter or sourcer), Sullivan is correct in identifying the fact that effective selling is absolutely critical.

People with highly sought-after skills are stalked by sourcers and recruiters on a daily basis. People who aren’t taking any action to make a change from their employer do not respond to every email, InMail, and voice mail they get from sourcers and recruiters.

As such, the “selling” actually begins with effective messaging. You can’t sell someone on an opportunity let alone recruit them  if you can’t even get them to respond to you. Hence the need for sourcers to be consummate sales professionals!

What is the Value of Sourcing?

I would argue that the value of sourcing is directly proportional to the level of sourcing maturity of an organization.

There is little value in a list of names or a folder full of resumes or LinkedIn profiles.

There is a great deal of value in producing people who are a solid match for your organization’s needs and interested in pursuing your employment opportunity – either immediately or at some point in the future.

In this regard, I agree with Sullivan that low value sourcing activities are coming to an end.

However, high value sourcing is just beginning.

According to a white paper produced by LinkedIn, although sourcing was a critical focus in 2012, only 2 percent of organizations had a long-term approach to sourcing initiatives.

As I previously mentioned, strategic sourcing involves those sourcing efforts whose primary goal is to ensure long-term talent supply stability and the minimization of talent supply risk. Examples of strategic sourcing include talent mapping, competitive intelligence and analysis, and talent pool/pipeline development. Strategic sourcing should be closely aligned with mid and long term company goals.

Strategic sourcing can also go beyond simply ensuring long-term talent supply stability – it can (and should!) be leveraged to yield a company with the only sustainable competitive advantage, which is to consistently find, recruit, and retain great people.

What Can Be Automated…

As some people are fond of pointing out, you should not use expensive resources to collect information from the Internet and scrape resumes from databases. You can use inexpensive resources or use software to collect names and resumes at WAY less than $1/resume/profile.

However, it’s equally fair to recognize that you can use software and technology to automate nearly every step in the recruiting life cycle, including messaging (aka “blasting,” aka spamming), candidate screening, assessment and even interviewing (audio/video).

One could argue that the end of recruiting is near simply because we can use technology at every stage of the recruiting life cycle.

However, just because you can automate something (or outsource/offshore, for that matter), it doesn’t mean that you SHOULD.

Ultimately, companies should leverage their “expensive” resources for high value activities.

When it comes to sourcing, this includes using technology to quickly identify people who have a high probability of not only being the right match for, but also interested in a particular opportunity, leveraging effective messaging and engagement techniques and strategies to make contact with the people identified, and effectively selling the opportunity to people who would never have otherwise taken any action to investigate or pursue employment opportunities with their company.

Final Thoughts

Sourcing is no closer to an end than recruiting is.

As long as companies have hiring needs for which employer branding, job distribution and other talent attraction tactics and strategies fail to produce the right quantity of talent at the right quantity at the right time on a consistent basis, and as long as there are talent supply and demand challenges, sourcing will never die.

Dr. Sullivan is right when he says the end of sourcing is near – however, only if you define sourcing as collecting/scraping human capital data.  We are likely to see an end of sourcing 1.0 relatively soon.

Yes, I know – I’m not particularly fond of the whole x.0 approach either, but it does do a good job of demarcating progressive evolution.

Sourcing 1.0 can be characterized by using more expensive human resources for the scraping and collection of names, social data, and resumes, leveraging sourcing as a purely tactical function, as well as viewing sourcing as a subordinate role in the recruiting process.

Sourcing 2.0 involves using more expensive human resources to expertly wield advanced technologies to move and manage unstructured and structured human capital data to exert predictive control over critical candidate qualification variables, leveraging sourcing as a strategic function, and positioning proactive sourcing as at least, if not more valuable than the reactive recruitment of applicants.

While we are finally beginning to see the emergence of advanced sourcing technologies, including what I classify as “big data” sourcing tools (TalentBin, Entelo, Dice Open Web, Gild, etc.), they still require people to use them, make sense of the information they produce, and take action (effectively message, engage, sell, and recruit).

However, while advances are being made with sourcing technologies, the fact that many companies openly admit that they do not effectively leverage the human capital data in their own ATS indicates we have a long way to go with regard to recognizing and making use of the strategic value of human capital data.

In an organization where recruiters are responsible for screening/assessing, selling and processing candidates who have applied to job openings and sourcers are responsible for proactively identifying, engaging, selling, assessing and submitting people that would never have otherwise applied – both the recruiters and sourcers are “recruiting,” and one could easily argue that the sourcers are “selling” more than the folks who are working with people who have already expressed an interest in making a change from their current employer as well as an interest in the job they applied to.

I agree with Dr. Sullivan in that the emphasis in recruiting needs to shift to selling. However, you can’t sell to someone you haven’t found in the first place, let alone successfully engaged.

Engaging active candidates is not particularly challenging – especially those people who have already expressed an interest in your company and opportunity when they applied to a job opening.

While selling is critical, it is perhaps most critical with regard to sourcing efforts focused on people who are in high demand and low supply, who are typically highly pursued and do not need to entertain the engagement efforts of sourcers and recruiters because they are doing a good job somewhere else and relatively happy where they are. However – that doesn’t mean that they can’t be recruited.

To that end, I’d argue that there is no more critical need for selling than the selling that needs to be performed by sourcers.

While a full life cycle recruiter can and should be capable of performing proactive sourcing, there are many undeniable advantages to the division of labor between sourcers and recruiters, exactly as many sales organizations have divided “hunting” from “farming.”

Having a dedicated sourcing function ensures that the identification and recruitment of people from the deep end of the talent pool, where top talent is statistically more abundant, is more consistent and scalable, and it clearly demonstrates an appreciation for and investment in the strategic aspect of sourcing, which goes well beyond finding and submitting candidates for current job openings.

While Sourcing 1.0 is likely coming to an end soon, and it already has in leading edge talent organizations, Sourcing 2.0 is just beginning, and we will experience a continued evolution of the role and function over time.

 

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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.

  • http://twitter.com/TalentRetrieve_ Talent Retriever

    Wow. Excellent review of the topic. This really merits deep discussion across the industry.

  • Charles

    Many excellent points on how Sourcing is evolving. I know I’ll be revisiting this post…too much to take in at once. Great Job!

  • http://twitter.com/jacobsmadsen Jacob Sten Madsen

    Once in a while people, ideas, thoughts and writings come along that provide insight, inspiration, knowledge, understanding and sense. You are one such Glenn and your lengthy piece is testament to this. Not only do you answer and correspond with Dr. Sullivan’s original piece, but you take it to a whole new and deeper level. Being who you are and what you do, it makes perfect sense and I have rarely read a piece that was this well argued and substantiated. If ere articles at times may be considered to be a little ‘light weight’ there is no such thing with you, and that is as reader a great gift. What you have done here is providing an in depth analysis and insight and substance behind the whole ‘raison d’etre’ of sourcing and I applaud you for this most magnificent piece, it will for long stand as an important document and insight.

  • Ketan

    Excellent blog, like the “needle in a haystack” example and points on “value of sourcing.

  • Sophie Mackenzie

    Really enjoyed this piece – a good dose of common sense and good to see appropriate value placed on high-level sourcing and recruiting skills.

  • Shannon

    Simply brilliant.

  • Jude DSouza

    Must read, despite the length

  • http://twitter.com/socialtalent Johnny Campbell

    Totally agree with you Glen. You could easily write an article about how the functions that the “non-sourcing” recruiter continues are better suited to automation (video assessment, interview scheduling, etc)! In my tweet today, what I meant to say (in more than 140 characters) was that I think the art of identifying talent will become a mainstream skill (it’s still niche, let’s face it) and once that (hopefully) happens, the differentiator will be how you sell, not who you sell to. Long live Sourcing 2.0! PS, I’d highly recommend Dan Pink’s new book “To Sell is Human”. He’s keynoting at SHRM National this year, should be a real highlight! http://www.amazon.com/To-Sell-Is-Human-Surprising/dp/1594487154

  • TaliaS

    Really enjoyed reading this, you relay your thoughts and your ideas very well and it all makes a lot of sense. Cheers!

  • http://twitter.com/medinism Manuel Medina

    Great post and definitely worth the length. Definitely agree that recruiting will turn into a selling job with distinct frameworks – like SPIN selling became to the enterprise. The one angle this post does not cover (and it should not as it might make it excessively lengthy) is the view of the talent. Sourcing assumes that the candidates modes of engagement have not change. Indeed scrapers and their analytical layers (what you call big data) are a great way to spying on people who would not otherwise want to be spied on. But at some point you need to approach them – and anticipate who the candidates will react – to a cold approach or a referral. In technical recruiting is accepted that recruiters spam talent – so more comprehensive spamming is not the solution. much to be done in that area.

    Great work!

  • DavidBernstein_eQuest

    Glen – I, too, was surprised by Dr. Sullivan’s recent post. I like your analogy. I cannot tell you how many frustrating hours I’ve spent wandering the aisles at Home Depot trying to locate the particular item I needed.

    As you point out, even a giant hardware store like Home Depot cannot meet every customer’s need. The challenge, therefore, is to know from the start when to go to a Home Depot and when going to the specialty lighting store. No one can afford to waste time or money in a pursuit that has a low likelihood of paying off.

    I believe a similar concept applies to the sourcing of candidates. The reality is that employers cannot attempt to put point their resources (time, money, and people) at every potential sourcing opportunity. Nor, can they afford to waste valuable time and money sourcing from channels that have a low opportunity of leading to the discovery of qualified candidates. It is critical that employers/recruiters leverage all available data and information to make better decisions about how recruitment resources are spent.

    Recruitment marketing via the job boards is a good example of where informed, evidence-based decisions can maximize the effectiveness of this sourcing channel. The “Home Depot-like” job boards can be valuable for marketing certain positions in certain labor markets. However, there are times when a niche/specialty board would be better suited. I believe the challenge is to know which boards in which market for which positions will have the greatest likelihood of adding qualified candidates to the pipeline.

    Today’s world of Big Data capability creates an opportunity for Talent Acquisition and Sourcing professionals to glean key insights that can be extracted from the analysis of job board, candidate, and employer data. Big Data analysis now provides the opportunity to Recruiters to more accurately predict which specific job boards to utilize that will be most effective for marketing their specific openings. Big Data analysis also enables the employer to measure their recruitment campaign effectiveness in real-time. This real-time analysis vs. the traditional historical data review, allows the employer the ability to make any necessary adjustments to their marketing efforts; further increasing the effectiveness of that campaign.

    As you importantly point out, people need to do the work of the analysis and decision making. There is important data and capability available today that when provided to Talent Acquisition and Sourcing professionals, can enable them to make better, more accurate decisions, at a faster pace. Being smarter and faster in being able to find the needles is a critical first step in the recruitment cycle. I believe Talent Acquisition professionals that continue to harness the power of the data to support their sourcing strategies will not risk seeing the demise of their role. In fact, quite the opposite, as they will play a critical role in bringing in the necessary fuel that powers the talent engine of the company.

  • Preeti

    Dr .Sullivan , i really liked the analogy . you have explained each of your points with a superb example.” tactical vs strategical sourcing “, “needle in the hay ” are exemplary to define sourcing. i am completely in sync with you as i myself is into recruitment . i hope your analogy will bring some dimension in all fields of recruitment’s and would save the sourcers from Obsolesce. Looking forward to read more posts . All the recruitment’s firms ,kpo, bpo, hro etc would really give a thought on this and would surely like to bring some strategic changes in the Recruitment’s.

  • jamie

    Thank you Glen for bringing a remarkable amount of clarity to this discussion. Many elements of Dr. Sullivan’s post seem unfounded and severely lacking in the realities of the what it is like in the trenches and of how these seemingly ‘miraculous’ recruiting results are actually produced. I manage a large team of sourcers and have the utmost respect for their brilliance. From the front lines, I can say that sourcing is both a work of art and a science that takes tremendous skill, experience and expertise…and is ever-evolving (aka expanding and improving) in relation to the tools and technology available to us.

    Thanks again!
    - Jamie
    http://www.intellitalent.com

  • Deb Hester

    Thank you so much for taking the time to clearly express what sourcing is all about. Loved your article!

  • Glenn Gutmacher

    As always, well thought out and written, Glen. The six steps outlining levels of sourcing sophistication point to the need to create systems that scale for each of them. Unfortunately, for those into automated solutions, the Qualified/Interested/Available part is very hard to scale (though kudos to vendors who keep enhancing pre-screening tools, typically as bolt-ons to applicant tracking systems, which have some value in the initial filtering). QIA requires dedicated people on the phone — and that also presents the ideal opportunity to begin the selling vs. telling process (and I agree that sourcers can do both tasks just as well as recruiters, with practice). Therefore, anything else that distracts sourcers/recruiters from the candidate phone interaction are the best areas to focus on automating systems (e.g., name identification, ongoing touchpoint email campaigns). It would be interesting to take each of the examples of strategic sourcing that you cite (talent mapping, competitive intelligence and analysis, and talent pool/pipeline development) to see where the automation can help. These are things that a relatively small percentage of companies have the willingness, vision and resources to make headway on, so I suspect that vendors will continue to have a lot of opportunity to profit in those more sophisticated pieces of the sourcing process, too — and should have no trouble finding progressive companies willing to beta their solutions if they aren’t charged for the time it takes the vendor to travel the learning curve. My primary beef with such vendors is that they think they have great solutions worth a lot of money, when in practice, they are really half-baked and should be severely discounted while the customer helps them improve it, or ideally, given a pay-upon-fulfillment option where work is done on spec (not unlike contingency search fees) to avoid wasted dollars if agreed-upon goals are not fulfilled. Of course, such an agreement would have expectations on both the customer as well as vendor side, which must be fulfilled like any SLA.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/jonnyboy71 Jonny Jones

    No sale.

    Good attempt at attempting to turn the esoteric art of hunting down all sorts of people into an abstract science, though!

    Can I just throw 2 things into the pot?

    1. We’re talking about human being who are a complex mess of skills, abilities, character, personality, attitudes, behaviour, applied intelligence, lack of common sense… so if you’re recruiting for a job in which all of these aspects of an individual will determine how good or bad they are at that job, how the hell do you formulate an effective ‘spec’ to search on in the first place? Unless you get it perfect to start, you’ll just end up with the wrong person – even if you buy into the Sourcing 2.0 idea.

    2. Sourcing “2.0″. Sigh. Cliché ahoy!

    Finding the absolute best person for a job is an art form, which is generally obfuscated by data.

  • Andrew Gadomski

    Nicely done. Like the response and the detail. I admit that sourcing is changing rapidly because of data visibility. We can see more than ever, and that demands increased automation and human scrutiny. Today, we can see into any database or any set of documents quickly and understand the skill base at our disposal. But that is only an indicator of “raw material”. Qualified, Interested, and Affordable is an ever changing state for the individual. That coupled with changing managerial relationships and new ways of working actually make error more likely when sourcing the candidates. There is more data to compare and more opportunities for the candidates to say NO.

    Where sourcing will really change is directly linked to the data that can be gathered about candidates in relation to the potential job. It’s using empirical evidence to show that Candidate 1 has a x percent better chance of succeeding on goals than candidate 2 – and the sourcer can prove it.

    The red herring in all sourcing and data discussions is what the sourcer / recruiter can do. They will continue to evolve, probably quite differently from one company or region to another. The fun stuff to discuss is what the several hundred millions candidates will do when they realize they can be seen easily and their data, work, and ideas are compared quickly to others using data techniques.

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