Broaden or Narrow Your Search for Talent?

Sourcing gets all the attention these days. Last week I wrote about new technologies for sourcing talent and our recent recruiting trends survey (results and a summary will be available here in two weeks), which shows that broadening sources of candidates is the number-one focus for organizations of all sizes.

Never before have these words been truer: Finding the right people is difficult. And finding great people takes a strategy, not just more of what you currently do.

Simply broadening candidate sources and using more people and money to expand your search process may result in finding more candidates, but it is a crude way to do it.

Henry Ford could have conceivably hired thousands of people and trained them to craft entire cars. But if he had done that, car prices would have actually increased and he could never have achieved the volumes he did. What Henry Ford did was to rethink the process and do it a smarter and better way.

We need the same approach in recruiting, and that will require you to develop three areas of expertise.

Start Here

Research which positions are most critical to your organization. I define critical as positions that directly generate revenue; have a significant customer involvement or relationship; or invent or create your organization’s products and services. Everyone else, by definition, is less critical.

Focus your sourcing efforts on finding those kinds of people. Perhaps as much as 80% of your staff and budget should be devoted to sourcing and recruiting these people, as they will be the primary reason your organization will stay profitable.

If you are devoting significant resources to finding people for non-critical positions, think about outsourcing that work or find other ways to meet the needs for these people.

Next is Focus

Develop a focused sourcing strategy. By determining where your best hires have come from and through meeting with key performers, you should be able to identify the best potential sources of the kinds of people you are seeking.

Focus your recruiting efforts on those channels that you know will deliver good people to you most of the time. Good channels are characterized by three things:

  1. They have enough members to be a reliable source.
  2. The members are close to each other and network together.
  3. It has members who meet your key position requirements.

Good channels of candidates include professional associations, conferences, and sporting events, as well as your own referral programs. Your imagination is the only limit as to where to find potentially good people. But it does mean you have to get out of the office and start networking. Talk to your key incumbents and be sure to experiment.

An organization I have worked with polled its key position holders and found that many were science-fiction buffs who also enjoyed marathon events such as running and biking. They then diverted sourcing dollars and people to sponsor marathon events and ran movie trailers about their company during science-fiction movies. They developed a targeted referral program for this group as well. This targeted effort lowered sourcing costs significantly and also doubled the candidate pool.

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Another organization treated any employee who invited a colleague from another company who met their basic qualifications and brought along a resume to a free gourmet lunch and a meeting with the function leader. This was a popular and very successful practice that was repeated two or three times a year. Again, success was significant and costs and staff requirements were minimal.

Focus is far more effective than a broad shotgun approach. However, it does take time to determine which positions are most critical and to locate the sources that will pay off the best.

Finally, It’s About Brand and Strategy

Effective leadership also has to look at the long term with the same vigor it looks at the short term. Successful companies focus on achieving current recruiting goals using all the traditional methods, as well as on developing longer-term strategies to build pools of candidates that can be tapped later.

It is not true that if you build a great strategy or a great organization that people will flock to your doors. Getting people aware of your organization is a tough job. It requires having a consistent communication process, a plan to raise general awareness through advertisements, promotions, or by getting listed as a “best” place to work.

Your messages have to be able to answer questions like, “What makes your company different or unique for me?” or “Why would I want to come work for you?” You should make sure your advertising, Web presence, and overall corporate advertising support this image and attract the key people you most need. This has to be an organizational-wide effort and it takes time and an accumulation of messages to be effective. One or two advertisements or a handful of posters won’t do it.

Over the long term, you will need to build a social network that attracts even people who are not looking for a job right now, but who may be later. Encourage all kinds of people who have the basic set of skills you need to be a part of your network.

While building the network is in itself important, it is even more important to make sure you spend the time to develop communication tools and messages that are interesting enough to keep potential candidates interested. Channels and social networks have to be “worked” all the time and are not much good if they are only tapped when you have an open position. The whole idea of a talent community is to have it there when you need it. CRM is a proactive process.

Every hunter I know uses the same tactics I have described above to find the animals he wants. Only the really unsuccessful hunters get our their shotguns and simply hope they bag something.

Developing targeted sources for key positions, building channels and networks, and practicing good communication will pay you back many, many times over.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


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