Anyone Can Learn the “Art” of Sourcing

In my recruiting career, I’ve come across many people who believe that sourcing is difficult to   learn. I think that there are a number of contributing factors to this belief, including the idea that sourcing is more art than science, exposure to poor and/or ineffective training, the lack of  picture62access to a sourcing mentor, and in some cases – the absence of a true desire to master the craft.

I feel that sourcing is more science than art and can be relatively easy to learn, provided you actually WANT to learn and have access to the proper training and resources.

Art vs. Science

Dr. John Sullivan believes that “The primary difference between a function that is driven by science versus one driven by ‘art’ is that the scientific approach allows a business or recruiting process to be repeated again and again with the exact same level of quality and results.”

What some expert sourcers can do quite literally appears to be magic – I can understand where the idea that sourcing is an “art” comes from.  However, I am here to tell you that candidate sourcing CAN be broken down to a process that can be repeated by anyone, and breaking the sourcing process down to a repeatable science does NOT remove creativity from the equation.

Some people call sourcing an art simply because they are not able to break down their own sourcing process into a series of repeatable steps, including the analytical thought processes applied. The goal is not to remove thought from the process – in fact, it’s quite necessary. However, even the creative thought processes applied by sourcing “magicians” can be broken down into a process that anyone can follow and execute repeatedly, with excellent results.

How Do People Learn?

Part of the reason why some people believe that sourcing is an “art” is because of how they were trained, or more correctly, how they were NOT trained.

Mastery of the sourcing process does not come from reading books, blogs, or cheatsheets, nor does it come from attending seminars. Although quite a bit of information can be transferred from these training materials and means, the most effective method of learning exactly how to expertly source top talent comes from a combination of #1 Training that involves the ability to practice the sourcing techniques and strategies being learned with immediate feedback from the trainer, and #2 Having access to a sourcing coach or mentor who can provide you regular feedback and coaching on your sourcing efforts.

Occupational training studies have shown that the vast majority of people learn by DOING, not by reading and watching. Thus it is critical that any effective sourcing training will allow you to use the techniques you’re being taught under the guidance and evaluation of the trainer

After the formal training sessions are over, it is critical to have ongoing access to a sourcing mentor. Without a mentor, sourcers and recruiters don’t have any basis of comparison when it comes to the quality and effectiveness of their sourcing strategies and tactics. Without a basis of comparison, most people are simply not capable of objectively judging the quality and quantity of their search efforts. It’s similar to taking a single golf lesson and then going to play golf without the instructor watching and coaching you and expecting to become a professional golfer.

Lacking the ability to apply what you’ve been trained on under the guidance of an expert coach, there is no way for you to receive immediate feedback on the sourcing techniques you’re applying. Until a highly proficient mentor reviews and assesses your sourcing efforts and results objectively, you may actually be in a dangerous state of ignorant bliss. You don’t know what you don’t know.

Disturbing Statistics

I recently read Shally Steckerl’s excellent ERE post referencing the findings from the Arbita Recruitment Genome Report (a link is provided in the post to download the report) and learned that 81% of the 482 respondents feel Internet sourcing is a major part of their recruitment strategy, 79% manage Internet sourcing internally, and that 47% feel their team has inadequate training on Internet research and sourcing.

If most companies highly value sourcing and feel it is a major part of their recruiting strategy, and most manage the process internally, yet nearly half feel their team has inadequate training – the $64,000 question is WHY is the training inadequate for such a critical function?

Perhaps it is because many companies simply don’t possess strong in-house sourcing expertise? Or could it be due to a poorly designed and executed sourcing training program? The worst case scenario is that it could be both.

If a sourcing and recruiting team doesn’t already posses at least 1 sourcing expert – buying training materials, watching webinars, and attending seminars will not magically convert the team into a group of sourcing experts. What’s missing from these training methods is that when the team members who participate in the training go back to their office, the training has little chance of sticking without a highly proficient sourcing mentor on the team to evaluate their efforts and provide feedback, guidance, and a basis of comparison.

Ideally, a team with at least 1 sourcing expert can leverage that person to assimilate (Borg-style, if you will) all training materials, strategies, and tactics they are exposed to and incorporate them into an effective training program involving interactive feedback that is critical for learning and lots of deliberate practice.

Master your Craft

I’ve been told that sourcers and recruiters don’t want to know “this Boolean stuff,” that they just want resumes delivered to them with the least amount of effort, and that sourcers and recruiters want sourcing solutions that require little-to-no thinking.

That’s like being on the golf course and overhearing other golfers complain about how hard golf is, that they don’t want to put the effort into learning the rules or even a proper swing, and that they just want to swing a club and have the ball go into the cup, get it over with, and go home. Why are they even on the golf course if all they do is complain and they have no real interest in playing the game? Get off the course!

Similarly, if you’re a sourcer or a recruiter who is responsible for the finding candidates and you’re not interested in and dedicated to mastering your craft, you should look for another job. Unlike golf, which is a hobby for most, if you are a sourcer or recruiter, finding candidates is your job – it’s at least part of, if not all of what you get paid to do. But maybe that’s the issue – if finding candidates is just a job and not a passion, you will never master the craft of talent identification.

A Call to Action

  • If you are a sourcer or recruiter and you’re not already a sourcing guru, commit to becoming one. You can’t hire or place someone you can’t find.
  • Seek out training that #1 goes beyond the “what” and deeply into the “how” and the “why,” and #2 allows you to use the techniques you’re being taught under the guidance and evaluation of the trainer.
  • Find and engage a sourcing mentor who is capable of expertly and objectively judging the quality and quantity of your sourcing efforts as well as capable of consistently challenging and pushing you just beyond your current ability.
  • Perform deliberate practice of sourcing best practices under the guidance of an expert coach or mentor.
  • If you manage sourcers or recruiters who are responsible for sourcing and you don’t already have at least 1 person with expert-level sourcing expertise – acquire one. If you want to have the best talent identification and acquisition team in the world, upgrade your entire team.
  • Taking a golf lesson from Tiger Woods will not make you play as well as Tiger Woods. It’s what you DO with the training – be sure to attack the unfamiliar and the uncomfortable with passion, seek to figure out the “why” and the “how” and to continually improve your skills and ability.

About Glen:

picture7 Glen Cathey is the author of, a blog about sharing best practices for leveraging the Internet, job boards, resume databases, and social networks for sourcing and recruiting. With over 12 years of experience in the recruiting and staffing industry, he currently serves as the V.P. of Recruitment for a large staffing firm and trains hundreds of recruiters every year in the art and science of leveraging technology for talent identification and acquisition.

By Noel Cocca

CEO/Founder RecruitingDaily and avid skier, coach and avid father of two trying to keep up with my altruistic wife. Producing at the sweet spot talent acquisition to create great content for the living breathing human beings in recruiting and hiring. I try to ease the biggest to smallest problems from start-ups to enterprise. Founder of RecruitingDaily and our merry band of rabble-rousers.