Can’t Find People? Try Name-Generation Firms To Solve Your Sourcing Problems

Any recruiter worth his or her salt knows that there are three essential elements to recruiting: 1) sourcing or finding names, 2) assessment, and 3) selling the candidate. Most corporate recruiters are weakest at the first stage, which is finding the names and contact information of the ideal candidate (the working professional that has the same job title as your open requisition). Fortunately, there is an easy solution to this candidate identification problem that, for some reason, 75% of the corporate recruiters and 98% of the managers I have worked with have never heard of. It’s puzzling to me that they don’t utilize it, because this solution to finding and targeting candidates is quick, relatively inexpensive, and essentially ends the candidate identification problem. The solution goes by a variety of names including:

  • Names research
  • Name identification
  • Unbundled search

Whatever you call it, name identification research is simply the most underutilized sourcing tool in corporate recruiting. The reason that name research is so valuable is that most corporate recruiters are weak at sourcing or finding candidates. In contrast, corporate recruiters are pretty good at assessing and selling candidates once they have their name, number, and bio. It’s not surprising that most corporate recruiters stumble when it comes to identifying names because of their high req loads and the fact that they recruit for positions in many different disciplines. It’s obviously hard to keep up with “who’s working where” when you have limited time and multiple disciplines to cover. Fortunately, employing a names research firm can provide corporate recruiters and managers with all the names they need. It’s A Miracle! Think of it. You can call a name research firm like RW Sterns and tell them that you need the names, phone numbers, email addresses and a brief bio of all the people that hold a key position title at each of your major competitors, and in a couple of days you’ll have it. The names provided will all be employed people (the so-called passive candidate) and they will only be from firms that you have expressed an interest in. Once provided with this information, all the corporate recruiter or manager must now do is to contact them, begin building a relationship and make your sales pitch. Even though most corporate recruiters have never used name generation, the tool is commonly used by third-party recruiters and executive search firms. They realize that finding names is a unique and specialized talent that, while essential, is a completely different skill from assessing and selling candidates. Many of these third-party recruiters realize that their strength is in building relationships and selling candidates, so they don’t hesitate to focus on those important element of recruiting. In fact, many corporate recruiters are surprised when I inform them that it’s not uncommon for third-party recruiters in a specialty area to buy the names of the people that they provide as candidates. Managers frequently think that these third-party recruiters have a huge database of people in a certain profession. While a few do, most, when they are given a recruiting assignment from a client firm, just call their research firm and buy the names. Some large third-party recruiters have their own internal name researchers, but the concept is the same. If you excel at building relationships and convincing candidates, focus on that and let someone else that specializes in finding the names do the sourcing for you. Costs I find the cost of unbundled research to be quite reasonable and the quality of services provided to be extremely high. In most cases, if the name is unusable there is no charge. Incidentally, if you compare the cost of names research and the results it provides to the most common sourcing approach, newspaper ads, there is no comparison. Newspaper ads get you active candidates, people that don’t currently possess the job title you are currently recruiting for, a large percentage of unemployed candidates, or candidates from firms that you might care little about. In contrast, names research guarantees you get only what you specify. The need for expensive executive searches can also be reduced if you don’t really need the whole range of services offered by executive search firms. If they are given the names and contact information, many senior managers can make the calls necessary to get these top candidates in for an interview. Ethics I know you’re probably thinking about the various tricks that these names researchers use to identify these individuals and to get their contact information. My response is, get over it. They don’t break laws in order to get the names and that’s all you need to know. Incidentally, it’s important to realize that you are offering these candidates a better job and opportunity, so you aren’t misusing their names in any way. Identifying Names Research Firms Kennedy Information (a recruiting publisher) publishes a directory with a complete list of all search firms, and it highlights the ones that do names-only research (also know as unbundled research). Although I don’t endorse firms, here are the names of some firms that can get you started.:

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Conclusion The first step in shifting to a model that relies heavily on names research as a primary sourcing tool is admitting upfront that your recruiters don’t have the time, interest, or skills to do cold calling and all of the necessary things required to gather names. It’s a common weakness in the corporate world but fortunately, it’s not a deadly one. By utilizing names research firms to supplement the names you get from the other most effective sourcing tools (your website, conference recruiting, and referral programs) you can essentially solve your sourcing problem. Then, corporate recruiters and managers can focus on what they do best, which is convincing the identified people to apply, assessing them and selling them on your offer. The thought of eliminating this tremendous roadblock to recruiting success should make even the most cynical corporate director of recruiting smile. Try it, you’ll love it!

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



11 Comments on “Can’t Find People? Try Name-Generation Firms To Solve Your Sourcing Problems

  1. David

    Well put.

    I agree that corporations should consider doing this in-house but the reality is that HR people would never allow them to do their work. I haven’t met more than a dozen corporate HR people in over 35 years of HR that appreciate the value of competitive intelligence. Most dismiss it out of hand as unethical, immoral, unprofessional etc. Managers on the other hand grasp it and accept it much more quickly.

    Many HR people actually think that the best candidates can be easily found on Monster.ugly etc., so why the need to hire professional CI people to find ‘other’ people?

    Incidentally, I have also found that when presented with a targeted list of candidates from CI professionals, that many corporate recruiters often won’t even contact them because the individuals on the list are too ?demanding’ (because these individuals are not actively seeking new jobs, they’re less likely to tolerate the poor customer service, the delays and the arrogance that is so common among corporate recruiters).

    I don’t see corporations hiring true sorcerers/ CI professionals in house until the people in HR begin to look at competing for people as a competitive ?war’ between two competitors. Why do you think so few HR people are willing to even discuss ‘poaching’ people from competitor firms?

    No David, most HR people are pacifists in the war for talent. And they’re not about to allow ?guns and violence? (CI and poaching) into their pristine insulated world.

    Incidentally, David’s PassingNotes web site is a fantastic source for ‘serious’ sourcers. I am a frequent visitor.



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  2. ‘I know you’re probably thinking about the various tricks that these names researchers use to identify these individuals and to get their contact information. My response is, get over it. They don’t break laws in order to get the names and that’s all you need to know. ‘

    uh, i don’t think so…what immediately comes to mind when i read a line like this is that little conundrum that all corps wrestle with…

    on one side, you’ve got the ‘values statement’ – it says, ‘be ethical’…then you’ve got the ‘mission statement’ – and that says, ‘do whatever it takes’ (hey! that’s quotable!)

    what you are advocating is a gray area of research, and it goes by MANY more names than you’re calling it, from asset and mark intelligence in certain communities to source, lead, name, candidate identification in others, to rusing, social engineering and aliasing in others…and it CAN become illegal (you should first consult an attorney who gets the telecom fraud act!!!)…

    i’ve interviewed many firms in this regard, and have been troubled by these 2 consistent issues:

    quality of work, specific to accuracy, ‘freshness’ and overall delivery (over promising such items as time and quality and so on)

    lack of comprehension (for unusual knowledge, real research is required to understand what people do…to be specific (!) – traditional name gen shops work on titles, they work to org charts and formulaic corp structure..

    …what they do not understand, imho, is how groups form on the basis of communication behavior, which requires at the very least an interpretation and analysis of network dynamics in a firm (and much more, just not going there)…as a result, you say, ‘give me 30 sales reps for X’ and maybe you’ll luck out, but if you say, ‘bring me the individuals responsible for designing and implementing new changes in commercial stored value banking solutions’ and you’ll find people who don’t see the clusters around marketing, sales, service, and about 50 other points of contact beyond the walls of named target organizations…

    how can you tell when the ID shop doesn’t get it? usually i quiz somebody if it’s a very serious need, and i do NOT go to these types of name gen shops, i go instead to the folks who work in competitive intelligence and some areas of journalism (where the source IS the project, just as it might be with recruiting, but where the knowledge of corporate ‘things’ matters more than job title..)..or, as many of you know, i tend to do about 99 percent of it myself – and mostly because of those other issues described above…

    my point? uh, kinda got away from myself…maybe ‘caveat emptor’ and ‘if you pay peanuts you get monkeys’ and ‘corporations should understand exactly what they are buying and from whom, and should think long and hard about developing this competency internally…

    don’t get me wrong, some of these firms are great for straight-up shopping lists or more sophisticated projects…but sometimes they’re beaten out by information brokers and other list vendors…

    just my million pesos…so you can feel free to flood me with hyper critical ticked comments if you should feel so inclined, if you will, if you must, if you shall 😉

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  3. thanks for the kind words on the site…there is actually an article on there that i originally authored for called ‘the state of ci for hr’ which briefly examines the war for talent issue along with other noted changes in corporate hr leadership agendas…

    …and i agree, many companies pay heady lip service to the war for talent and then appear to (for lack of a better saying) ‘run to canada’ when it comes time to fight…

    however, i’ve seen many firms take this quite seriously, almost to a frightening (but personally inspirational) level…one great way to keep tabs on this is to follow the sales and activities of the specialty software firms selling apps for personality profiling to major corporations and asset managers. this includes some of the specialty ‘retained search vendors’ as well as several vendors of competitive intelligence software, personality profiling apps, social networking analysis software and related categories…

    having spent some serious time on projects of this nature, i can only say that there is a difference of brobdingnagian proportions between ‘gathering a list of names’ and building a real profile on a company, team or any named individual…

    another place to look for exemplary planning and progress in this regard is law enforcement and military organizations focused on monitoring and evaluating high risk groups and individuals…these folks are marrying personality profiling, traditional research, OSINT and social network analysis to effect a new high yield output beyond just ‘relationship mining’ – though most would be overkill for traditional corporate recruiting purposes

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  4. Great article…. but you left out the best researcher there is…. Laurie Zimmerman, and her group, Zimmerman Associates (978-470-4647)in Massachusetts. Without question, the best I have used, and I have worked with all of them. Her work is delivered in organizational format, everything is correct, and she doesn’t give you broad titles, she gives you FUNCTIONAL titles…. she leaves no stone unturned, and is very easy to work with. When I need research, she is my first phone call.

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  5. While recruiting in high-tech, I utilized several Research Firms and found them very efficient and cost effective. However, these same companies, although very willing to try to assist me in healthcare research, in the end were unable to demonstrate the same successful results.

    I’d be interested in hearing if anyone recruiting in healthcare has experienced success with any Research Firms?

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  6. I think this is a great article. The Fortune 100 company that I am working for, and going to, has onsite Sourcing Specialists to build these lists for the searches they are working on. In my mind this is the wave of the future, and the companies and recruiting agencies that are able to hire, attract and implement Sourcing Specialists into their recruiting processes, are the ones who are going to be more productive and effective going forward. Thanks!

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