Sourcers have a lot in common with sorcerers: insatiable curiosity, out-of-the-box thinking and experience conducting endless experiments to find the proverbial sorcerer’s stone–which, for businesses, is developing a great talent pool in a tight labor market.
Over the years, sourcing has become an increasingly popular approach for companies searching for top candidates in a wide variety of technical, specialty and leadership areas. Luckily, creating a world-class candidate-conjuring team is no magic trick: It can be done by carefully defining roles, traits and skills; providing appropriate tech tools, professional training and a well-developed process; and building close collaboration among recruiters and hiring managers.
What Makes a Good Sourcer?
First, let’s define what sourcers are–and are not.
“Sourcers are not junior recruiters,” says Shally Steckerl, president and co-founder of the Sourcing Institute, based in Norcross, Ga., who is known for his groundbreaking work developing the sourcing function in the late 1990s. Sourcers are experts at both research and relationship building, finding potential talent from a myriad of sources and networks, and making initial contact with them, all to put them into the pipeline for open jobs.
When “suspects,” as Steckerl calls candidates, are interested, the sourcer hands them over to the recruiter, who vets their suitability for the open positions and takes them through the rest of the hiring process.
Steve Levy, a veteran sourcer who is now technical sourcing lead at M&T Bank, based in the greater New York area, says the first question an organization should ask itself is why it wants to build a sourcing team–and that means thinking about metrics: What kind of “post-and-pray” response are you getting? What are your drop-off rates during the engagement process? What’s the response to your employee-referral program? Is your sourcing process optimal?
“To say most programs are suboptimal would be kind,” says Levy. “They are laden with opportunities to exclude someone at every step of the process.”
Sourcing, he says, works best when it targets as many people as possible, even if there are no open roles for them. That’s because if a division needs to add 150 to 200 tech jobs over the next three to five years (as M&T Bank is now doing), it needs an established talent pool to benefit recruiters.
Another superpower of many sourcers is finding passive candidates. “I tell candidates that you just don’t know you’re looking yet,” says Cyndy Davis, senior engagement leader of strategic sourcing at IQ Talent Partners, based in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
A key strategic factor in building a world-class sourcing team is developing a solid sourcing/recruiting partnership that leverages data-driven insights, says Kristi Wawro, director of enterprise talent acquisition and talent sourcing for the Walt Disney Co., based in Burbank, Calif. “We’re fostering a data-driven approach [by] leveraging market intelligence,” Wawro says.
Take, for example, Disney’s experience in hiring industrial engineer talent, which constitutes a unique and narrow talent market. After a sourcer had conducted numerous screens and about 25 first-round interviews, “we were able to shift the [job] requirements through the data and insights that we gathered from the market,” she says. This gave the hiring manager a fully informed perspective for evaluating and finding the best-suited individuals.
Steckerl says that, while recruiters act as coaches to move candidates through the pipeline, sourcers broaden the search for current and future candidates by “living where the candidates live”–belonging to the same associations, attending the same conferences, engaging in online professional forums, paying attention to who the speakers are, following people through Twitter and other social media, etc. This requires personality traits such as being intuitive, systematic, curious, process-driven, tenacious and perseverant. Continuous communication and self-assurance are other boons to the job, he notes.
Another must-have is the ability to make strong connections with people, says Davis, whose background is in sourcing and recruiting for Amazon, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Time Warner Cable. For example, a pet-friendly company was searching for software developers and Davis came across candidates who mentioned their dogs on their blogs, or Instagram and LinkedIn accounts. Since she was also a big canine fan, she built a campaign that keyed into that shared interest.
“That built a rapport and … we now have something in common. The next time I have a job, I can just pick up the phone and call them,” she says. In cases where prospects weren’t interested, they would often thank her and say, “I don’t usually respond to recruiters but this is really cool.”
Disney’s Wawro adds that great sourcers have a combination of curiosity and technical skills, as well as a collaborative analytical bent that is rooted in business acumen: “For example, we have to be able to understand what is shared on our quarterly earnings call … We are businesspeople first.”
Team Building from the Ground Up
As for where to find good sourcers, all those interviewed agree that a “build, buy or grow” approach is applicable for the sourcer’s area of expertise, depending on the organization’s needs and timelines. To fill a lot of jobs in short order, experienced sourcers are effective, even though hiring them is more expensive than growing a junior team from basic skills, notes Davis, whose IQ Talent Partners has helped companies build their internal sourcing teams. “Everybody knows who’s good and who’s not” in the sourcing field, she says. “And, we tend to travel in packs from company to company.”
If you have time, though, she suggests growing a team from scratch, tapping into people who may have some recruiting background. The advantage of starting them out fresh is that they haven’t picked up any bad habits and can often develop a close connection to the business’ culture as they build their expertise, skills and networks.
As for the makeup of the sourcing team, different types of skills and expertise are needed, Davis says: some to do the research, others to do outreach and build relationships, and still others to take on recruitment-marketing messaging that reflects the company’s brand identity.
As for professional development, the experts say a combination of in-house training, external programs, coaching/mentoring and technical training, as well as exposure to new ideas at conferences and through associations and networking, can give sourcers a leg up.
Building a good sourcing function often means taking apart what already exists.
Fiserv, a provider of financial-technology solutions based in Brookfield, Wis., began its sourcing program about three years ago, when Julia Levy joined the company as director of global talent acquisition/recruiting operations, based in Atlanta.
“I came in with fresh eyes and was looking at all of our processes from an operations perspective. There was some friction in the sourcing process that I identified quickly and that we worked to alleviate and streamline,” she says, adding that the organization undertook similar exercises with its recruiting-coordination team and the candidate-experience process.
On the sourcing side, the first step, she says, was for the TA team members–including sourcers, recruiters and leaders–to tear back the entire process “like the layers of an onion” to define sourcing at the organization. They asked what sourcing should be and how it would interact with recruiting and hiring managers, ultimately mapping the entire process through service-level agreements that detailed timelines, candidate quality, pipelining and metrics.
“We took the time to step back and be thoughtful about the process, the tools and understanding the measurements of what success would look like,” she says.
The result: The company was able to hire over 30% more people in 2018 than it did the year before by using effective sourcing and recruitment-marketing efforts in conjunction with a robust tech ecosystem, all without adding sourcing headcount until late last year.
Disney’s Wawro says her operation consciously fosters a data-driven culture that leverages market intelligence to tell the story of the search and inform conversations with hiring leaders–and, ultimately, shape the talent-acquisition process.
For example, for a recent SVP search, the sourcer utilized market information to show that “there were only about five people at that level in the country who had the unique combination of skills and experience that we were looking for,” says Wawro. “Through those sourcing efforts and, in partnership with the internal executive recruiter, we were able to, again, better inform a hiring leader and, ultimately, we landed someone–which is always exciting, but particularly so at the SVP level.
“We’ve found that such a strong, integrated partnership with recruiters and sourcers is a real game changer,” she adds. Depending on the area of focus, sourcers also work alongside recruiters in “pods,” and sourcers and recruiters collaborate with the hiring manager to meet business goals.
“We have also found that taking a personalized approach to sourcing talent is a key to our success,” Wawro says. By building true “communities” of talent, Disney’s sourcers are building and maintaining relationships with people. To support diversity, talent acquisition and sourcing partner with internal groups, such as Disney Lawyers of Color, which has expanded their ability to build diverse talent communities.
Finally, it’s no surprise that Disney’s sourcing team synthesizes its sourcing and recruiting data into a visualized story–often using a funnel that tracks the process from sourcing to qualified candidate or offer. The visualization both informs and influences hiring managers about the process, showing both the “art and science,” Wawro says.
Tech tools abound for sourcing and, as with all HR tech, choosing the right level of complexity for the organization’s circumstances is key.
“I’ve been doing this for 30 years, since the beginning of every ATS and CRM out there,” says M&T’s Levy. “It’s not that one is better than the other. It’s that you choose the one to help improve your optimal strategy and process.”
Sourcing tools range from browser plug-ins and extensions for finding prospects and scrubbing contact data from websites to machine-learning/AI sourcing platforms and ATS systems that are starting to build in CRM capabilities, he adds.
Fiserv’s Levy recommends trying new tools for a period of time and testing them against each other, while also making sure you are putting your current systems through their paces.
Don’t forget to look for resources in the sourcing community itself, says Wawro, because sourcers can be very generous in sharing both tools and knowledge.
Of course, no HR-tech talk would be complete without mentioning artificial intelligence and automated “conversations” with potential candidates. While such tools can communicate with near-human responses through web chat, texts and emails, they can also help whittle away at the bane of most sourcers’ jobs: a huge ATS or CRM database that doesn’t have updated availability or contact information.
When privacy rules changed in Canada and required an opt-in to communications, Randstad Canada turned to AI-tech company AllyO to help confirm and update 1.6 million profiles in its ATS, says Bennett Sung, head of marketing for the San Francisco-based company.
The AI system reached out to candidates through email and text to ask if they were still interested in opportunities at Randstad and directed them to opt in and update their contact info. As a result, 12,000 active job seekers responded to the AI conversations.
Sung says the sourcing team may be a specialized area of recruiting, but it has the largest candidate pool, depending on what you are sourcing for. It’s nearly impossible to go without a technology assist–no one is answering their phone anymore and sourcer messages can get lost in people’s inboxes, which are often bombarded with tons of emails and irrelevant junk. Even LinkedIn messaging has a low response rate.
“[Technology] is not here to replace anybody–it’s here to replace the routine that bogs people down,” says Sung. “Systems like AllyO’s also allow for different tactics, depending on the target candidate’s preferences and the role being sourced.”
The technology chosen should be commensurate with the organization’s needs, despite the temptation to be attracted to the proverbial bright, shiny object, says Steckerl, author of The Talent Sourcing & Recruitment Handbook: Source Better, Smarter, Faster and Cheaper than the Competition.
“It is critical to apply the appropriate technology and use the least-advanced technology that can do the job,” he says. “The most critical tool in the arsenal of an IT leader is to nail down your workflow and optimize your process. There are plenty of organizations out there that have spent a bunch of money on a CRM on top of their ATS, and both of them are really misused, not used at all or are overlapping–or there’s friction put between them. You have to have the right developmental stage before you go investing in technology.”
What final words of wisdom do experts have for building a world-class sourcing team?
Wawro says that, after a sourcing team gets fully immersed in the business, “it will really set your priorities and drive how you align your work” in support of that operation. Next comes building a strong foundation of roles, responsibilities, timelines, deliverables and other aspects of the sourcing funnel, followed by one last step: “Build your foundation but plan for testing and adjusting that foundation. Feedback is key.”
Levy of Fiserv reminds sourcing-team developers to think about the challenges ahead, not just today’s open jobs. For example, her company is merging with First Data Corp. to create a worldwide payment and fintech organization. Levy’s sourcing team will engage with teams around the world using tools and resources that have to run 24/7.
“How do we build out our capabilities in our India team or our Singapore team or New Zealand so we can have a broader global [sourcing] footprint? How do we engage that staff where the team comes in in the morning? That’s where I’m thinking ahead [about] how we use our tools and resources to have that engine running really 24/7,” she says.
Finally, since the ultimate success of a sourcing team is dependent on building strong and lasting relationships with people in a company’s potential talent pool, Levy of M&T offers one last reminder: “A really good sourcer is human. The two most powerful social-media tools are still the telephone and the handshake.”