Sourcing vs. Recruiting – What’s the Difference?


While you may not  know that Balazs Paroczay recently posted a rebuttal of my proposed definition of sourcing, I strongly suggest you read his argument, as I appreciate his perspective as well as the fact that he disagrees with me on the definition of sourcing and I’d like to hear your opinion.

I believe disagreement is important and valuable, because it fuels critical thinking and forward progress.

Before I get to Balazs’s post, I’d like to get your take on a recent disagreement I had with Recruiting Animal.

Recruiters Can Source, But Sourcers Can’t Recruit?

@Animal and I recently went a few rounds on the issue of whether or not sourcers can recruit – if you didn’t catch it, you missed on on some lively dialogue that managed to attract the attention of @socialtalent@sdazzo@shally@kamoswin@imJeremyR@TheRobMcIntosh@MikeChuidian and others.

@Animal claims that while recruiters can source, sourcers can’t recruit, or else they are recruiters.

Twitter Disagreement Over Sourcing and Recruiting with @Animal

I argue that just as recruiters can source, sourcers can also recruit.

There are a handful of others who still have an issue with the converse argument, although I am baffled as to why.

What do you think?

In my opinion, “sourcer” is simply a title, and no one should ever expect a title to fully define what someone’s responsibilities are/should be.

I define “sourcing” as the finding and initial engagement of non-applicants, with the end goal of turning at least some of them into applicants. :) If someone wants to call a “sourcer” a recruiter, that’s fine by me – but if they are primarily responsible for recruiting non-applicants, then they’re “sourcing” most of the time IMO.

I don’t care about the title – the specific responsibilities and focus are what matter.

Where and How I Disagree with Balazs Paroczay on the Definition of Sourcing

Balazs recognizes that “sourcing nowadays indeed seems to be the science and art of ‘passive candidate’ generation.”

I don’t, however, use the term “passive” anymore when speaking about sourcing – I’ve defined sourcing as a proactive focus on non-applicants, which can include people who are and are not looking to make a change from their current employer.

Non-applicants also includes referrals, by the way.

Balazs raises a very good question in his article:

I am probably not the only one who is often stretched with the question: why does direct sourcing take only a little portion of the total hiring? Why do we need experienced and expensive sourcers if all the other recruiting channels provide much more, the majority of the hires?

What are your thoughts in response to that brilliant question?

Balazs defines sourcing as “nothing else, from a customer perspective, than generating a slate of qualified, interested and available high-potential candidates,” and that sourcing essentially owns the whole funnel, including posting jobs and processing applicants.

I believe one of the main values of sourcing is to ensure a company does not rely solely on hiring the best of those people who happen to have found the company’s job posting and apply.

We know that active job seekers are the minority of the employed population of any country, and smaller still is the percentage of active job seekers who, through whatever means, manage to find and decide to apply to any given position posted online somewhere. Even smaller than that is the percentage of qualified applicants. In reality, the probability that any given applicant is fully qualified for the position they apply to is low.

Admittedly, some companies don’t *really* have to source – they get plenty of qualified applicants and can meet all of their hiring needs simply from processing applicants, especially for certain roles (e.g. non-I.T., non-knowledge worker, non-executive, etc.).

However, for a company to rely solely on that small fraction of the total available talent pool (active job seekers who will apply to jobs) says something about their talent acquisition strategy. Whether they like it or not, these companies (and their recruiters!) are effectively saying, “We’re fine fishing in the shallow end of the talent pool, and we don’t care about taking any proactive efforts to find the best talent – we’re happy to simply react to applicants and solely work with people who come to us.”

Would you be comfortable saying that? Is your company’s talent acquisition function essentially saying that through their actions?

For many roles, the best people are actually working for someone else and even if they would change employers for a better opportunity, they are not motivated to take any action to do so. However, a sourcer (or recruiter who sources) can find and engage these folks and turn them into applicants.

Let’s look at companies like GE, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, etc. – they are deluged with applicants, yet they still have teams of sourcers who are responsible for finding and engaging non-applicants.

Why do they do this? Simply because they know that their applicants only expose them to a small minority of the total talent pool and if they are truly committed to finding and attracting the best talent, they have to also hunt in the deep end of the talent pool – non-applicants. A balanced and holistic talent acquisition strategy must include efforts to recruit applicants and non-applicants.

Another value of sourcing, as per my definition, is speed. If a company relies solely on applicants, many positions can go unfilled for longer than acceptable periods of time while talent acquisition teams simply wait for the right person to apply. Proactive sourcing of non-applicants can significantly speed up time to find and hire the right people.

From a lean perspective, sourcing has the least amount of waste associated with it from a talent acquisition perspective. This is because the sourcer (or recruiter who is sourcing) can search for and find people who only meet and exceed minimum “specs” (BQ’s + PQ’s). On the other hand, job posting has the highest amount of waste, as I previously explained – volumes of unqualified applicants with ZERO control over applicant qualifications.

One of my main issues with Balazs’ definition of sourcing as:

Nothing else…from a customer perspective, than generating a slate of qualified, interested and available high-potential candidates

…is there no differentiation in focus and strategy between recruiters who only process applicants and recruiters who only find and engage people who haven’t already applied?

What are your thoughts?