It started, as so many of these sad stories do, in one of those meetings – you know the type. The one with the client, or the hiring manager, or some douchebag on your team (or so you had thought) who, after a little shop talk mixed with strategy, finishes the meeting by muttering that one godforsaken maxim destined to send any sourcing ship smashing into the path of pure peril.
Of course, to these assholes, it’s always some sort of epiphany, as if they’ve somehow made the biggest breakthrough this side of Boolean. To any experienced sourcer – who’s heard it all before – it’s like some funereal dirge, a siren song of sourcing sorrow.
Because you know as soon as you hear it, as a sourcer, you’re pretty much screwed: “we’ve got to come up with some more creative ways of finding candidates.”
Oh, great. This again? I mean, yeah, I’ve had to do the whole “creative sourcing” shit before, but I’m never even sure what the hell they even mean by the many variations on this recurring talent theme. Seriously. If you’re a sourcer, I know you feel me on this.
You’re building a pipeline, pounding the phones, somehow doing the impossible by finding and filling a slate of purple squirrels, when suddenly some asshat decides that what you’re doing, while working, just isn’t “cool” or “creative” enough.
Whatever you’re doing, it doesn’t matter about actually finding names or developing candidates to these clowns. Nah. It’s about being on the cutting edge, man, don’t you get it? Thing is, I don’t. Not really.
And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who’s completely baffled with what seems to be this singular sourcing fixation on “coming up with creative ways of finding more candidates.
” That’s why I wanted to put together some of the times I’ve dealt with this soul shattering, nerve rattling situation and successfully found solutions that actually transformed that specious conversation into clarity – and, consequently, candidates. Maybe they might not have been the most “creative” sourcing techniques in the history of the world – but then again, when they end up with a hire, somehow, everybody’s happy.
Here are some of the lessons learned I’ve learned over the course of my career when it comes to the endemic, obnoxious and unfortunately ubiquitous myth of the “creative sourcer.”
The Legend Begins.
Like any legend, the origin myths behind the legend of the “creative sourcer” are critical to fully understanding the nemesis you’ll inevitably be dealing with. In my mind, there’s not one single conversation, convention or certification course that caused the spontaneous and inexorable rise of this legend.
I think that it happened with different people at different companies across different functions in disparate industries and geographies coming together with an underperforming recruiter.
There are a lot of them, and while they might not be the most diligent or passionate professionals out there, they share an almost unilateral skill when it comes to the art of self-preservation.
What I think happened was that instead of admitting that, in fact, they were in fact grossly negligent and/or incompetent on whatever search it was for which they were being questioned, these recruiters, inevitably, blamed resources instead of their own resourcefulness. Instead of admit ineptitude, they instead convinced the hiring powers that be the problem had nothing to do with the recruiters themselves.
Nope. In fact, those poor bastards were hardly getting by as it is. “We do not have enough qualified candidates applying for our jobs!”
No one ever suspected that competent recruiters were the real talent shortage, of course. Instead, talent organizations came up with what seemed to be a fairly obvious solution to what happens when a post and pray goes unanswered by the hire powers.
If we don’t have enough qualified candidates applying for our jobs, then what if we went out and found them, first?
I’m sure at the time, the thought that you’d actively target someone who was happily employed likely seemed like heresy. But so too did the full time, dedicated, white collar, six figure salaries that came with the rise of the recruiting function.
Sourcing was born, by necessity, to perpetuate the myth that somehow, the business of finding qualified, interesting and available candidates takes style, not substance, creativity instead of craft. This is, of course, bullshit, but then again, what about this industry isn’t? I give you the birth of sourcing. And all I can say is, you’ve come a long way, baby.
A Link to the Past.
In even the best of times, the recruiting profession has had somewhat of a mixed reputation – and checkered track record. Many people had been somehow burned by recruiters, or else were already onto the fact that finding people to fill jobs was exactly the hardest job in the world. Sourcing, on the other hand, was a specialty that remained largely enigmatic, part of recruiting yet somehow free of its reputation and largely suspect legacy.
Unlike recruiting, no one really knew what sourcers did, only that somehow, they changed talent acquisition from farming to hunting (which is why the initial concerns about “poaching” made so much sense). All recruiters knew was that these specialists did the stuff that they either didn’t want to do or, most commonly, didn’t know how – researching, engaging and nurturing prospects and converting them into candidates.
This alchemy of transforming happily employed professionals into potential new hires seemed to show that sourcing was not only an immediate success, but the future of the function, too.
As networks like LinkedIn and Facebook continued to grow and evolve, so too did the sourcing function, suddenly providing a seemingly endless supply of passive candidates with whom we could approach with opportunities, requests to network, and all that other shit that was too obnoxious to ever try in real life, but somehow OK on social.
These “professional networks” proved to be a veritable garden of Eden for poaching and pipeline building – and sourcers settled into a comfortable routine of never being able to somehow slake their insatiable appetite for passive potential hires. The deluge of leads continued to pour unabated, until, one day, largely without notice, that stream suddenly dried into a trickle.
Something was changing. Something always does. And, like all good origin stories, this professional paradise was lost forever. Sourcers were sent into exile – either outsourced, offshored or reskilled. Or some combination thereof. And we were cast out of the Garden for good – largely because online, we were the serpents responsible for social’s original sin. We colonized communities, coopted conversations and took value without ever thinking of the long term consequences of a victory that’s turned out to be largely pyrrhic.
Sourcers have somehow become far worse than recruiters ever were – and instead of surgically targeting candidates, we’re now the biggest spammers this side of CyberCoders. We have gone from being the dogs of the war for talent into merchants of Spam – an evolution that’s another tale entirely. Or, more accurately, a devolution, as sourcers went from being devoted, passionate strategic talent partners to unresponsive, ineffective and apathetic lifers no better than the recruiters we were ostensibly replacing.
As sourcing codified, it turned into the very thing it was supposed to kill – and we’ve unsuccessfully tried to fight back and fill the gap not with substance or strategy, but filler and fluff. We watched as our standard 50% response rates (minimum) to our personalized messages for targeted opportunities dwindled to below 20% or even 10% on some campaigns where automation seemed easier than segmentation, playing the numbers game even though, somehow, the math never really worked out.
It seemed just as suddenly as it had come, sourcing stood solidly poised on the very verge of extinction. Or at least, having to go back to a desk at an agency.
Sourcing has evolved in order to meet the most pressing talent challenges; for recruiting, historically, the biggest problem was simply finding enough qualified professionals to fill a position. Identifying, much less engaging, candidates was a major challenge – it was nearly impossible for most enterprise employers to find enough qualified people simply to fill our open jobs. In order to meet this glaring need, the singular focus of most recruiting technology over the past 15 years has largely focused around talent identification.
From Monster to CareerBuilder, Dice to LinkedIn, Entelo to Gild, the tools available in our recruiting arsenal have largely been built to attract, engage and select qualified candidates for just-in-time jobs. As a result, sourcing has largely moved from commodity to commoditized, and talent identification has become relatively simple, at least compared to the rest of the hiring cycle.
We’ve solved for what’s always been the biggest challenge in recruiting – we know every candidate, or have the seeming ability to find them at will, and to do so at scale. At least in theory and product marketing, anyway. The result is that the tools of the trade have allowed more sourcers to contact more passive candidates, prospects and potential hires in less time than ever before, effectively saturating and siphoning off our own finite market of future talent.
Ironically, the candidate flow sourcing was designed to solve has dried up largely because there are so many sourcers with so much information that more than likely, even the best in the business are mostly being ignored. The better we get at reaching people, the more likely it seems those people are to blow us off entirely. I can’t say I entirely blame them, really.
This negative feedback loop has created a new problem in sourcing and recruiting. The issue is no longer identification; the issue, as any pundit or practitioner will tell you, is far more pernicious. The problem in talent today is now engagement. And now, we come to the moral of the story, and why I think, as I’ve not so subtly implied, that “creative sourcing” is a complete and total myth.
Now, the myth for me has nothing to do with the existence of creative sourcing – it’s just we seem to have no set rules for what the hell that really means and what this amorphous theory actually looks like in actionable practice. The myth of creative sourcing is that we’ve always got some ace up our sleeves that gives us the superhuman ability to identify new prospects, and continuously build pipeline. The reality is that creative sourcing isn’t about identifying new prospects, but instead finding new ways to engage with the ones we’ve already found – and somehow find a way to break through the noise and make sure our message is heard.
As Einstein once said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them.”
To me, this means that to change the way sourcing gets done, we need to change the way we think about sourcing itself. Finding an increasingly shrinking pool of potential prospects is not the solution to somehow solving the problem of candidate flow. In fact, it’s only making the problem worse.
A New World.
So, what, exactly, is the solution to fixing what’s broken with sourcing today?
The first thing we can do as recruiting professionals is to stop focusing exclusively on our external relationships and instead, put our energy and time into building alliances and connections within our own companies.
The relationship between recruiting and marketing should become analogous to the relationship between marketing and sales. In each case, these professions are tangibly tangential, but distinctly different enough to each benefit from close collaboration and a singular alignment on business outcomes and the bottom line.
The next thing we’ve got to do is work to improve the candidate experience. Yeah, I know it’s a cliche, but it’s really, really important for our redemption as recruiters. A simple way to improve the candidate experience is simply to let them know where they are in the process.
This is as easy as shooting off an automated e-mail – and making sure to close the loop with them at the end of the process, whether or not they’re selected. I know, these seem obvious by now, but for some reason, recruiters still seem to be resisting these simple but powerful steps.
Our duty to our candidates doesn’t stop when they get knocked out of process – if we have qualified, viable candidates who aren’t selected, offer to help those people you worked so hard to get through the process to ensure that no matter what, they don’t come away empty handed. Instead, work to find them another job, or else, offer to help make introductions or use your recruiting expertise to help them in the future.
Put your network to work for them, and this will do two things for you. First, it will build an actual network of people who actually will activate when needed should the occasion ever arise. Secondly, and most obvious, this is the sort of thing that generates great word of mouth and creates candidate referrals, guaranteed. And candidate referrals are a source that no technology can create or compete with.
Learn the language of marketing; understanding your target audience and how to engage them in a way that makes sure they actually answer your call to action is the single most important thing a recruiter today can do in terms of improving their personal productivity and professional efficacy. Personalize your message and always choose the personal approach over the mass blast; it’s far more effective to reach out to a handful of prospects that are potential hires than it is to hit up everyone on your list in the hope that one or two of them might respond – and even if they do, there’s no guarantee that they’re even qualified. Automation is easy, but spam machines have no soul, you know.
Finally, work with your employer branding team or other internal subject matter experts responsible for overseeing this function to understand exactly what they’re doing to engage and convert prospects. If you don’t have a dedicated EB team, reach out to marketing or even internal communications or public relations; they might be suspicious at first, but if you prove that you’re anything but another recruiter, they’ll happily help increase your skill set and your understanding of what it takes to effectively engage top talent today.
The Legend Continues.
Some closing advice for my fellow sourcers out there: start small and stay simple. Start by learning about your company, and learn how to tell the stories that make your company the kind of place where a candidate would want to develop a career.
If you can’t find stories worth telling, ask. Ask your hiring managers what impact their work has, or how their teams contribute to the bigger business picture or the company’s mission, vision and values. Ask your hiring managers and stakeholders why the work they do is important.
Understand why they come to work every day. Then, once you have those stories, share them with every candidate who will listen. Chances are that if you’re telling a story instead of selling a job, they’re going to listen.
The simplest way to tell these simple, but powerful, stories has nothing to do with social media – instead, share it when you cold call prospects or when you personalize e-mails. These make the impact of these stories somehow more personal – and infinitely more special. And that’s kind of what this whole engagement thing is all about.
Remember, you can’t have a happy ending without a story that begins “once upon a time.”
And for sourcing, hopefully, our story is really just beginning.
About the Author: Mike Wolford has over 9 years of recruiting experience in staffing agency, contract and in house corporate environments. He has worked with such companies as Allstate, Capital One, and National Public Radio.
Mike also published a book titled “Becoming the Silver Bullet: Recruiting Strategies for connecting with Top Talent” and also founded Recruit Tampa and Mike currently serves as the Sourcing Manager at Hudson RPO.
An active member of the Recruiting community, Mike has spoken publicly in an effort to help elevate the level of professional skill.
By Mike Wolford
Mike Wolford has over 15 years of recruiting experience and is currently the Director of Analytics at Wilson HCG. He has worked with such companies as Allstate, Capital One, NPR and Twitter. Mike has also published 2 books titled “Becoming the Silver Bullet: Recruiting Strategies for connecting with Top Talent,” and “How to Find and Land your Dream Job: Insider tips from a Recruiter.” An active member of the recruiting community, In 2022 Mike spoke both at SourceCon and HRTX in an effort to help elevate the level of professional skills. Follow Mike on Twitter, or connect on LinkedIn.
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