Do you suffer from Obsessive Exotic Sourcing Syndrome?



Okay, that might have been a bit dramatic, but I do expect a strong negative reaction from some folks because I am going to address an issue that might be a tad sensitive to the sourcing community.

The issue I would like to address is the apparent obsession of many with exotic sourcing.

What is Exotic Sourcing?

If you check out the definition of “exotic,” you will find “strikingly, excitingly, or mysteriously different or unusual.”

Exotic sourcing consists of sourcing methods and technologies that are, yes – you guessed it – “strikingly, excitingly, or mysteriously different or unusual.”

If you’re looking for some examples, here are a few:

What’s the Problem?

I like experimenting with new search engines, deep web searches, and seeing if I can extract sourcing and recruiting value from new, non-recruiting websites sites just like many people do in the global sourcing community. Yes, I’ll admit I’ve poked around Pinterest and Instagram.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that there seems to be a pervasive focus in sourcing circles (blogs, groups, conferences, webinars, etc.) on what’s new and unusual and unlikely to fill (m)any positions for anyone, let alone a select few.

Shouldn’t there be a heavy focus on what’s more practical and likely to yield repeatable, replicable, and scalable results for most people?

It’s not about how fancy your search string is, or how wild, unusual and elaborate your sourcing technique – in the end, it’s about results.

This calls to mind the famous scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones encounters a swordsman in a busy Cairo marketplace. As the crowd parts for what we expect to be a long, drawn out fight, the swordsman gives a small laugh and flamboyantly twirls his scimitar to display his skill, only to have Indiana Jones take him out with a single shot.

Exotic sourcing can be fun to watch and admire, but in the real world, there are jobs to fill, and there is no need to employ an exotic sourcing technique or technology when a “standard” sourcing method will get the desired result faster and with less effort.

Sourcing Success

I used to report up to an executive that had a simple formula for success: Quality x Quantity.

For the highest degree of success in anything that is quantifiable (not just sourcing and recruiting), if you equally max out the quality and quantity of your activities and output (results), you will be successful. A drop in either quantity or quality has a significant negative effect, regardless if the complimentary factor remains maxed out due to the multiplicative nature of the equation.

I’ve since improved the formula to Quality x Quantity x Quickness = Success. Applying this to sourcing and recruiting, you can have a solid quantity of quality candidates, but if it takes you a long time to find them, then your overall success factor is low.

I find many exotic sourcing techniques and technologies to suffer across all 3 Q’s – a lack of precision & specificity (quality) low yield (quantity), and more time to find highly relevant results (quickness).

If it can’t help me find a decent quantity of the right people (quality) quickly, it will fall behind the techniques and technologies in my arsenal that have higher scores (e.g., 3 x 3 x 3 vs. 10 x 8 x 9).

For example, I am often confused with the obsession with X-ray searching LinkedIn (manually or via Google CSE) to find potential candidates when you can more quickly and specifically find people using LinkedIn’s own search. Success in sourcing via human capital data is primarily determined by variable control – but that is the topic of another post entirely.

If you are in sourcing/recruiting and you haven’t strategically built out your LinkedIn network to the point where you would never consider searching LinkedIn via Google as the most precise and controllable method of finding the talent you’re looking for, then you’re part of the problem, and you have some serious work to do.

Although I experiment heavily with search engines (custom or otherwise) to search LinkedIn, when I need to actually find people to fill a role, I search LinkedIn with LinkedIn’s advanced search interface. I’ve used LinkedIn for free since 2005, and as I have written before, I use LinkedIn to find people. The only time I use Bing or Google is to  discover their full name if they are beyond my 2nd level on LinkedIn (if I don’t decide to use another method).

While searching LinkedIn via Google custom search engines does have a “cool factor” in some circles, it’s not necessary. In fact, Google CSE’s pointed at LinkedIn can exclude qualified candidates, which users of CSE’s should be very concerned about – the LinkedIn profiles that are not being returned that actually could be found via LinkedIn.

This is a much stickier issue, as most people do not fully understand or appreciate the fact that every search excludes qualified candidates, and that there will always be intrinsic limitations to searching a site like LinkedIn (or any site, for that matter) with a search engine.

Unfortunately, something tells me that’s not a “cool” thing to say.

Regardless, it’s true.

So is the fact that there’s not a single LinkedIn profile you can find with Google (CSE or otherwise) or Bing that you can’t find using LinkedIn’s search interface, other than snapshots of out of date profiles.


Is it Human Nature?

The strong interest in the new and unusual when it comes to sourcing may be hard-wired.

It seems to be human nature to think that new is better than old, unknown is more interesting than known, complex has to be better than basic.

Remember when Pinterest started getting buzz as the fastest growing social network? All of the sudden, I started to see chatter on blogs and Twitter about how everyone needed to look at how to leverage Pinterest for sourcing and recruiting.

I think people just don’t want to feel like they are being left behind by others who know, and we all know people don’t like to feel left out or left behind. “Hey, are you using custom search engines?” “No, what are those?”  All of the sudden, someone feels out of the loop and perhaps behind the curve.

As we are emotional creatures, it can be difficult to pry our emotions out of our interests, opinions and decisions and instead focus on fact-based reality. However, it is critical that we try our best to, because I would argue that sourcers and recruiters would get more and better results if they focused more time and attention on getting better at and mastering the “basics” and by picking up the phone than by spending time on exotic sourcing techniques.

Now there’s a topic for another article :)

Sourcing Snobbery

Imagine two sourcers having a conversation and one of them asks the other, “Hey, how’d you finally fill that really difficult position that’s been open for 6 months?”

Here are some possible responses:

  • “I found them using a Google CSE to search LinkedIn”
  • “Monster search”
  • “I found them in my ATS”
  • “I used Blekko”
  • “I got a referral from someone I called that wasn’t interested in the job”
  • “The right person responded to my posting on CareerBuilder”
  • “Facebook X-Ray search”
  • “The hiring manager gave me a few names of people to research and one of them turned out to be interested and available”
  • “A Hootsuite stream for mention of a specific keyword”
  • “Someone I found on an attendee list I found with Google”
  • “LinkedIn Recruiter”
  • “An image search from a conference photo that lead me to a blog”

Which one do you think is the “coolest” answer?

If you were at a sourcing conference, which answer do you think people would be most impressed with?

Does it really bloody matter?

How about these questions:

  1. Which one of the above methods is the most repeatable/scalable (across the 3 Q’s)?
  2. Which one has the highest ROI (time and/or money)?

And here’s the kicker – why was the position open for 6 months? :)

What’s the Goal of Sourcing?

Does sourcing end at finding?

I don’t think so.

Positions don’t get filled by names, resumes, or LinkedIn profiles – they get filled by people who have been contacted and found to be qualified and interested.

Information can be the final result of research, but the final measurable result of sourcing is hires.

When I create and deliver sourcing training, I focus 95% of my time on techniques and tools that will help people consistently find the right people in a timely, high ROI fashion. I only leave 5% for “exotic sourcing,” because I know that while people like to hear and see it, it’s not going to help them fill (m)any positions.

In fact, I feel responsible to do so.

However, there are plenty of people who make a living and/or gain notoriety from writing about, presenting on, and training people on techniques and technologies that are highly unlikely to help anyone fill more than a small fraction of the roles they need to hire.

People love to hear about exotic sourcing techniques and technologies, and are willing to pay money to make sure that they are “in the know” with what they think is on the cutting edge of sourcing, but the reality is that few people will actually make use of exotic sourcing techniques, and fewer people still fill anything more than a trivial amount of positions using them, if any at all.

I would argue that the time and attention alone that is paid to exotic sourcing techniques would be better spent on mastering the foundational (not to be confused with basic) principles of information retrieval as well as the use of “vanilla” tools and techniques (their ATS, LinkedIn, resume databases, making more phone calls per job, referral recruiting, passive candidate messaging/engagement, etc.).

That’s why I am calling the exotic sourcing focus of the international sourcing community into light and into question.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being interested in new, creative and nonstandard sourcing techniques, but the Pareto Principle needs to be applied.

80% of all hires will be filled by 20% of the sourcing techniques and technologies, which do not include exotic sourcing techniques.

As such, I’d argue that those in the international sourcing community – both the practitioners and the thought leaders (bloggers, speakers, trainers) – need to spend at least 80% of their time on what will actually fill the majority of positions, and 20% or less time on exotic sourcing techniques.

I love creative and unique sourcing techniques, and to be sure, hires made via exotic sourcing methods make fantastic stories.

However, if the sourcing method isn’t replicable, repeatable, and scalable, it’s not practical – it’s a novelty at best.

Am I Biased?


Back in the 1990’s when others were interested in Internet sourcing, I was mining an 80,000 record Lotus Notes based resume database and making 8 hires/month as an agency recruiter with less than 1 year of experience. No Google, Monster, LinkedIn, etc. I *know* what can be done with a single, non-Internet data source.

Over the years, I’ve helped companies select and customize systems and ensure that sourcing and recruiting teams had access to high value tools and sites to enable maximum productivity and effectiveness. As a result, I’ve led many recruiters who could fill 80% of their roles with their internal database, 19% with resumes databases and LinkedIn, and the remaining 1% with Twitter, Facebook and Google.

My entire career, whether it be when I was working a desk as an agency recruiter, or when I’ve lead teams of sourcers and recruiters, has been focused on filling positions with the best people I could find, at scale.

By “at scale,” I mean consistently producing 4-12 hires per month per sourcer/recruiter.

I know there are executive search recruiters that can make a good living off of finding and placing 1-2 per people month. That’s great for them – but most corporate, agency, and RPO recruiters would find themselves looking for a new job if they were only making 1-2 hires per month.

That’s why I key in on the scalability piece of the puzzle when it comes to sourcing techniques and technologies – most people do not have the luxury of spending more time using exotic sourcing techniques when they could be finding more of the right people more quickly with a more masterful and consistent application of “standard” sourcing techniques leveraged across purpose-built sources of professional human capital data.

The Bottom Line

If you haven’t yet mastered searching your ATS/CRM, resume databases, LinkedIn, and Google/Bing, I don’t think you need to be overly concerned with the newest search engine, the latest tweaked out X-Ray syntax, Google CSE’s, or some new site everyone is buzzing about.

Heck, I’d argue that you shouldn’t even be worrying about trying to find resumes on the Internet if you haven’t absolutely mastered your ATS/CRM and any other structured database you have access to.

I think the sourcing community itself is at the root of the issue, as there is a constant focus on what’s new and unusual when it comes to sourcing. Anything people think is “standard,” or that they think they already totally understand is boring.

For example, when I presented at SourceCon in Dallas in October 2012, it was the first SourceCon session ever dedicated to searching LinkedIn using LinkedIn’s search interface.

2012 – first ever session on LinkedIn sourcing.

Doesn’t that strike you as odd?

People think because they have access to LinkedIn, they’re LinkedIn sourcing masters – yet nothing could be further from the truth.

Also, when you see Boolean content online, at conferences, or in training sessions – the vast majority of it is focused on Internet/Google sourcing, and in truth – much of it isn’t even Boolean, nor is it even information retrieval best practice – it’s site specific search syntax.

It’s odd to me that people who haven’t mastered information retrieval via basic Boolean logic are interested in site specific search syntax.

I am fascinated to see people are more interested in new an unusual search engines than in extracting maximum value from their own ATS/CRM, or LinkedIn for that matter – the largest, most searchable structured professional human capital database anyone in the U.S. and many other countries has access to.

If you just said, “Yeah – but what about the Internet?” – the Internet isn’t a database, it isn’t structured, it wasn’t purpose-built to store and retrieve professional human capital data, and in many ways, it’s not nearly as searchable as purpose-built systems (e.g., fielded search, parsed data, full/extended Boolean, etc.)

I feel strongly that sourcers and talent acquisition leaders need to foster an interest in doing “the basics” extremely well, because the basics have a higher ROI than exotic sourcing and result in the vast majority of hires.

Don’t get me wrong – I think alternate search engines, custom search engines, esoteric “deep web” searches, and new sites that pop up that *might* have some sourcing ROI are cool.

However, whenever I come across a new technique or a technology, I quickly boil it down to an assessment of the probability of it helping me fill a significant amount of positions with the right people on a consistent basis in a timely manner, better than than my existing methods.

I think everyone else should do the same – stop being blinded by the Bright Shiny Object Syndrome and assess sourcing techniques and tools based on whether or not they are replicable, repeatable, scalable, and practical in helping you fill more of the roles you are responsible for filling.

Unless something new comes along that can help you find the right people more quickly and accurately than all of your existing means and methods, file it away in the “well, that was interesting” section, only to be retrieved when all of your more effective methods and technologies fail.

Your Thoughts?