A Tale of Two Cities: The Merging of Sourcing and Recruiting

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.  — Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Of course, Dickens was referring to sourcing and recruiting circa 2012. What Dickens was really saying is that with the emergence of LinkedIn and related networking tools, sourcing should not be split apart from the full-cycle recruiting process. The work involved in both now overlaps to such a degree that you can’t logically separate the two without compromising performance. Reading between the lines of his epic novel, here’s why Dickens believes this way.

Since developing a list of potential target candidates is now relatively simple, the real hard work involves contacting and recruiting them. Since these people are all networked with others of similar ability, you need to get referrals from them if the person turns out to be inappropriate for the job at hand. If sourcers only present candidates who have passed the filter of qualified and interested to their recruiters, they miss the opportunity to recruit and network with these people. Then if recruiters focus only on assessing the person as to whether they’re worthy of presenting to their hiring managers, they miss the chance to connect and network with them. To prevent this significant double-double calamity, Dickens is saying sourcers should become recruiters and recruiters should become sourcers. I’m saying everyone should become a full-cycle recruiter.

While there are gaps in skills that need to be learned, becoming a strictly name-generating sourcer nowadays is far simpler than becoming a great networking-driven sourcer and a great recruiter. With this bias in mind, following are the minimal core skills this combo sourcer-recruiter needs to have to play in the big leagues of full-cycle recruiting.

  1. Understand the basics of Boolean. Realistically from a Boolean standpoint all you need to know are how to use the OR, NOT, parentheses, and quote functions as part of your keyword searches. LinkedIn’s Recruiter version provides 20+ filters to find profiles, so you don’t need to be too skilled in Boolean to find suitable people down the block or with a specific degree from a target competitor. In the keyword box, you’ll use the OR (embedded OR firmware) if one or the other terms is essential and the AND (Ruby AND scrum) if both are. The parenthesis is needed to separate the phrase from the rest of the stuff in the search box. Use the quotes if you use a search term that has multiple words, e.g., “It was the best or times.” You can use this in Google searches, too. Use NOT in front of anything if you don’t want it in your results. For example, if you’re looking for directors for a job, but don’t want someone who has been a vice president, you can narrow your search results by including  NOT (vice OR VP) to your keyword search.
  2. Be clever at selecting keywords. Being a Boolean guru is becoming less important in a networked world, but you do need to become more clever. Given the lack of time and increasing search workloads, you need to become more productive and more efficient. One way to do is to shrink your focus and deal only with “worthy” people. I define a worthy person as someone who is either an ideal prospect for your job opening, or is directly connected to someone who is. As part of starting the sourcing process, prepare a list of keywords or terms that indicate your prospect possesses the Achiever Pattern. These are recognition terms the person would include on their resume or LinkedIn profile. For technical people it might be obtaining patents, being a speaker at a specific trade conference, or preparing a whitepaper. Just using the term awards or honors in a keyword search helps narrow the search. Recognition could also include being awarded a work-study fellowship, earning a scholarship or winning a prize or given an honorarium. Also search on specific honor society names like Beta Gamma Sigma or Tau Beta Pi. During the intake meeting, ask the hiring manager what type of industry or academic recognition a top person in the field would likely obtain. Then add these terms in your keyword searches using the basic Boolean search functions.
  3. Find worthy nodes. In a networked world, think in two dimensions when starting a new search project: direct and connected. The direct dimension of course is developing a list of names for people who are possible candidates for the job. I find this less effective than getting warm pre-qualified referrals by finding people who are connected to these people. I call these people nodes. For example, a headmaster in Ireland can lead you directly to great instructors in advanced high school math; a scrum leader can you tell you about the great Ruby developers who were on her last team; and a buyer at Home Depot can tell you about the best national account managers they know in the DIY tool market. To try this out on your next search, prepare a 360° work chart with the hiring manager during the intake meeting. On this work chart list the titles of the people your ideal candidate most likely interacts with on a day-to-day basis. The nodes will stand out. Then use the simple Boolean techniques noted above to find the names of some of these people. Then contact and connect with these nodes. On the phone, never ask “who do you know?” Instead search on their connections and ask about the best people listed. This “cherry-picking” networking technique is how you can find some great passive prospects within a day or two of taking the assignment. In my mind this is the real value of LinkedIn Recruiter, the ability to search directly through your first degree connections’ connections.

Think Inside-Out, Not Outside-In

In this merged sourcing/recruiting model, you need to forget about preparing a long list of target people to call. Instead develop a short list of 10-15 worthy people (nodes and target prospects) and start contacting them. The goal is to not just qualify them, but also network with them in parallel. Once connected and using LinkedIn Recruiter, you can then search on their first-degree connections using the clever and basic Boolean techniques noted above. This way if the initial contact is not a worthy prospect, just ask about specific people (e.g., name names!) in their connections who are. This is how you can quickly get at least two warm, pre-qualified referrals on each call.

This is a much better technique than running down an endless list of names hoping to find a perfect match. I refer to this technique as the Golden Rule of Recruiting. You can short-circuit the first round of cold calls by finding some of your current company employees who are connected to these worthy prospects using the same inside-out technique.

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The Inside-Out approach is based on the idea that calling a referred person is more efficient than calling people at random. For one thing there’s a higher chance they’ll call you back, and if they’re already pre-qualified, you’ll save even more time.

Of course, you’re not done yet, since very quickly during the course of this sourcing and networking, you’ll find some top people who could be great, but need some pushing to Bridge the Gap from a person being qualified, but not interested, to becoming interested. This is why great full-cycle recruiting skills are so important for a sourcer to possess. You can’t bridge the gap unless you know the job and hiring managers, and can uncover the person’s career pain points. These skills are required on every inside-out call especially when dealing with passive candidates.

When the sourcer-recruiter determines the person is not worth recruiting, you need to instantly shift to networking by searching on their connections. The problem is that if you only have a sourcing mindset, you’ll ignore the need to recruit everyone contacted. If you only have a recruiting mindset, you won’t recognize the golden opportunity and importance of sourcing  and networking with everyone. When the roles are split, all of the great people who could have been recruited or mined for referrals fall in the wasteland of lost opportunity. That’s what Dickens meant when he said “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).


12 Comments on “A Tale of Two Cities: The Merging of Sourcing and Recruiting

  1. Good practical advice Lou. I continue to believe that the role of the recruiter as we know it today, will continue to evolve. As the art of finding candidates gets easier and easier, recruiters will become more consultants and counselors. This will be especially true as talented people become less and less dependent on recruiters searching.

  2. Thanks, Lou. As Bill said: “As the art of finding candidates gets easier and easier, recruiters will become more consultants and counselors.” The vast majority of candidates can be found by outsourced telephone/internet sourcers for $6.25/hr or so like the folks I use, and the ones that can’t be found like this can be outsourced to Maureen or Irina for $40 or so/name.



  3. Lou – While you give some good pointers such as the 360 work chart, I find this article a bit dated. The industry is moving towards separated functions of sourcing and recruiting. While having the skills to do full-cycle recruiting is a bonus for a professional, in reality it is more productive and efficient to break them out.

    You make is seem as though sourcing = name generation. That is an extremely narrow view of what skilled sourcers do, they are strategic researchers who know how to uncover the elusive “passive” talent that every hiring manager seems to want. There is a broader skill set they tap into such as competitive intelligence research, pipelining, social recruiting, building talent communities, sourcing large talent pools for events etc.

    Additionally, in corporate environments recruiters typically act as “account managers” and much of their time is monopolized in meetings with their clients (the hiring manager), presenting offers and closing candidates and in general managing the reqs. This doesn’t leave much time for them to proactively source or build pipelines. In these cases a sourcer is able to become the SME on the industry, develop and execute a strategy while continually building relationships and pipelines.

    Also, sourcers must be more fluent in Boolean than you are portraying as not everyone has the luxury of a LinkedIn Recruiter account at $500+ a month and not every candidate or “node” is on LinkedIn. Therefore a sourcer has to know how to find the (large) remaining professional population through whatever means necessary including Boolean, competitor research and phone sourcing.

  4. @Jennifer – actually the industry is moving away from separating sourcing and recruiting into the merging of the two. I’ll send my best networkers armed with a phone and LinkedIn Recruiter against any pure independent sourcer and win hands-down. If fact, we’ll not only find better prospects but they’ll be interested and qualified in meeting with the hiring manager in 72 hours from the starting gun. And this is without any pipeline.

    To even imply that a sourcer wouldn’t use the latest tools like LinkedIn Recruiter sounds pretty dinosaurish to me. It’s like a carpenter saying he/she still uses a handsaw. When you apply the trifecta of metrics as guidelines there’s no contest who will win. The metrics – quality of hire, time to fill and cost per hire.

    FYI – by definition, to be a node they have to be a LinkedIn. And if on average everyone of the 160mm people now on LinkedIn is connected to only 50 people you can get to everyone in the US who’s 20 years old by one degree of separation 10x over, even if these connections aren’t on Linked. To get their name all you have to do is call the node and ask. Then if you pre-qualify the person, you’ll only have to call people who not only will call you back, but they’re also qualified! What a hoot –

  5. @Lou – What are you basing your theory on of the industry moving to a merging of the functions? I can develop a long list of companies from T-Mobile, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, large RPO’s etc to startups such as Zulily, Tagged and more that are actively growing their sourcing teams and developing the divided model. The reason being exactly what I stated previously; the recruiters are acting more and more as account managers and don’t have the bandwidth to be sourcing, connecting and calling.

    As for the LinkedIn comment, I’m going to assume that you simply skimmed my comment and felt you had a witty analogy to throw out even though it was irrelevant. I never said that sourcers don’t use LinkedIn or LinkedIn Recruiter. I simply said not all have the luxury of a full paid Recruiter account so they must know Boolean to circumvent the system and still access the talent. There are many ways to be effective and efficient with a simple Free account.

    As an FYI to you – why would a node have to be on LinkedIn to be classified as that. Sticking with your own example are saying that if the headmaster in Ireland is not on LinkedIn he wouldn’t be able to connect you with the math instructor? That is absurd. There are many other ways to find a node and a true sourcer can do just that using all the tools in their toolbox. Plus they have more time to produce greater results without all the client meetings.

  6. @jennifer – if sourcers are calling passive candidates, convincing them to evaluate new opportunities, overcoming concerns, and/or networking with them getting 2-3 quality referrals per call, then they’re doing what I see as necessary. This is no theory, this is what you need to do to max your metrics. If your “account managers” aren’t recruiting, assessing, networking, and closing, they’re missing a tremendous opportunity.

    So if as stated above, our differences might be definitional. The whole focus of the original article was targeting passive candidates. In my mind the heavy lifting comes at first contact – on the phone – convincing someone who is not looking to a least seriously consider your opportunity, and as minimum, plus get 2-3 referrals on every call of pre-qualified candidates. Since 83% of the professional employment market is passive, to me this is where all of the action is. Spending time on Boolean is not necessary to do this – the 5 steps in the article are all that’s necessary to be great a finding great people, recruiting them, and getting them hired.

    This however is not to say that two people shouldn’t be doing this work. I work closely with my researchers/sourcers on searches I conduct, making sure we both support each other. As the recruiter/account manager I track referrals per call, and cold calls vs. warm calls. I also make sure the sourcer knows the job inside/out, becomes an SME in the industry and company, and knows how to convert a job into a career during the first five minutes of the first call. We usually can develop a list of potential leads and nodes in 1-2 hours using LinkedIn Recruiter. Then we’re off to the races. For every person sent to me, I network with the prospect and send my warm, pre-qualified referrals to my sourcer to make the initial connect. Our warm to cold call target metric is 4:1. A warm call is returned 80-90% of the time, and since they’re already pre-qualified 30-40% of the 2nd level calls results in a worthy prospect to send to the HM. This is the process we use – without a pipeline – to be able to send 3-4 prospects for the HM to conduct an exploratory conversation within a week from the starting gate.

  7. Funny. When I read posts like this I must remind myself that ONLY TPRs are real recruiters. Not corporate folks like me. Who win contracts. Who rarely miss. Who could find people NO ONE could be found on the internet. Interesting exchange though.

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