How Many Phone-Sourced Names Do I Need to Make a Hire?

The short answer: It depends.

The long answer: It depends on a lot of things but the biggest qualifiers are what and where the job is.

If the job is one in which there is a plentiful supply of talent in the local market (relocation still being a big issue in recruiting today — most of my customers prefer not to do it!) and the job itself is one in which there is a healthy employee turnover rate (four to five years), usually between 35 and 50 telephone sourced names will effect one immediate hire.

Why do I put those words in italics?

I say usually because there is no magic bullet in recruiting, and several factors play into this formula:

  • The skill of the recruiter in contacting and “selling” a job to a person who really isn’t looking for a job in the first place and can truly be considered the “passive” candidate.
  • If we’re looking in some of the very challenging arenas — like oral and written communication skills in the IT space (the most in-demand IT skill!), biotech, pharma and military-clearance-required defense sector jobs — three and four and five times my stated estimate may be required! In those cases sometimes it’s best to ask your phone sourcer to do the project in phases to keep your costs contained and order more as you need them. Understand, though that there are more costs to the phone sourcer each time he restarts your jobs so there may be additional costs (and longer time to your project) added for those expenses.
  • If the compensation (including benefits) doesn’t coincide with industry averages, usually no amount of recruiter skill or company reputation is sufficient to overcome this fly-in-the-ointment that spoils the effort.
  • If the target companies from which the candidates are sourced aren’t chosen carefully for both competitive and culture match to the hiring company’s fit, that 35-50 estimate will very well skew off the graph. However, if the target companies are chosen carefully and correctly the caliber of candidates that emerges is usually so high that the “first draft” of candidate elimination necessary in so many applicant-tracking systems is unnecessary. This is the great benefit in being the chooser and not the chosen in recruiting.
  • If the opportunity is a lateral or an “up” move impacts the number of names you’ll need. A skilled recruiter understands the variables on both and can make sense of lateral moves many times when a less-seasoned recruiter may miss the opportunity.

Surprisingly, this formula for phone-sourced names has remained pretty much unchanged over the years even as the shiny new balls have come and gone, losing their lusters along the way.

Sure, I could up the number here for a particular type of quality manager and down the number there for a sales representative selling windows. But overall, 35-50 phone-sourced names will get your job filled within 30-60 days if you start calling the names immediately once we send them to you.

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Notice I keep saying phone-sourced names. Phone-sourced names are likely to be unique; they’re not likely to have been called repeatedly before by recruiters; they’re not likely to be residing on the Internet in a manner that tags them to the jobs they’re doing (of course this depends on the industry — every recruiter in the world is on LinkedIn!). And, in general, they are receptive to a recruiter’s call and find them refreshing, never (usually) having been called by one before!

They’re not likely to have shown up on an Internet-culled “list” that was handed from Internet sourcer to recruiter with a next step that probably resulted in an email (or an InMail) or, in a very few instances, a left-on-the-doorstep-after-6 p.m. one-stop hurried-through canned voice message with a “Call me back about this great job opportunity!” that never got enough listening time to make it to the “Call me back” part of the message.

There’s something else wonderful about phone-sourced names: they don’t wear out. If you “pipeline” them — put them into your database and make friends with them; get to know them and communicate (remember that most sought-after skill above?) with them when they too reach that “healthy employee turnover term” (four or five years) — chances are you may even hire some of them!

I’m sure I haven’t covered all the variables above and if you have any to offer I invite you to do just that in the comments below. If you agree (or, better yet, disagree) with what I’ve just said I invite you to do that too!

Maureen Sharib has been a “Socratic sourcer” her entire sourcing career; from the moment she first picked up the faxed list of Silicon Valley high-tech companies that was her target list to “phone source” in 1996 to today she has instinctively followed this method of investigative sourcing using (mostly) the telephone.  She is a proponent of sourcing as a synonym for success and envisions the craft moving away from a dangerously drudgery-paced life-form existence to an exciting investigative/competitive place within organizations where practitioners co-exist within a framework of market research, human resources, and C-level future planning. She owns the phone sourcing and competitive intelligence firm, Inc. You can contact her at Maureen at or call her at (513) 646-7306.  If she’s not on the phone she’ll pick up!


7 Comments on “How Many Phone-Sourced Names Do I Need to Make a Hire?

  1. Hi, Maureen…!

    I was thinking I don’t have anything to ask or add to your article here and then I realized I do have one question that has not been addressed in our previous conversations:

    How long does it take you to generate those 35-50 names?

    I’m sure this depends on industry, etc. but perhaps you have an average?

    Thanks as always, Maureen.

  2. The short answer, Paul is: it depends.
    The long answer is: it depends in what sector I’m sourcing. Some sectors are more challenging (for me) than others. Every phone sourcer has their sweet spots but even sweet spots can turn sour at times so there’s no way really to answer this. I can work all day to get a name or two and I can get hit in the rear-end right out of the box with several names or a lot of names on one call – it’s anybody’s guess. There’s no pat answer to this but one answer is to keep after it until the worm turns in your favor – this doesn’t mean to beat your head against the wall or to throw in the towel immediately at the first gatekeeper pushback. As a phone sourcer you learn to work smart and part of that is learning to sense when the wind is right.

  3. Maureen,

    Thanks, I would say that your answer would be my answer, too.

    As you said, there are days when it all comes your way and there are days when you have to pull teeth or jump through hoops, back doors and use new scripts/lines to get those names.

    Or new tricks, using someone’s phone system.

    I was thinking that since you specialize in sourcing your response would have been different from my own experience but it sounds as though we have to both go through the same motions.

    As I discovered when I was ‘in your office’ that day.

    Thanks as always,


  4. Maureen, thank you for an interesting article. I like how you emphasize the value of sourced names that aren’t on LinkedIn or an active job seeker site. I think this is particularly true when dealing with the more ubiquitous high-demand skill sets. For instance, for most technical recruiters, there is a great deal of value in developing a relationship with a really strong Java developer who does NOT have a profile or resume online. They tend to be much more receptive and giving of their time than someone who is constantly clearing their email of job solicitations through LinkedIn, etc. And, I’d like to emphasize, there are a LOT of great candidates that do not have profiles or online resumes. I’ve read a bunch of back and forth about the percentages. My personal opinion is the pool of candidates who don’t have profiles online is much higher than is commonly believed. I say this because I’ve worked internally at a number of large technology driven companies and I’ve taken the time (in one case as an “official” project) to go name by name down internal company directories of engineers and scientists in certain critical departments and search for them on LinkedIn, etc. What I’ve consistently found is that the number of people without profiles is greater than the number with. I realize this goes against some very general data people point to (which they get to by basically extrapolating LinkedIn professional penetration based on the total number of U.S. LI users) but I do tend to trust my own experience over all but the most well vetted data. Also, the company I am involved with now identifies engineering candidates based on referrals from other engineers. And so far less than half of our referrals have had LinkedIn profiles (this is something we track). Does this align with your experience? Do you track how many of your phone sourced candidates have profiles or resumes online? Do you track if those who do have online profiles or resumes are up-to-date? One other question, out of curiosity, will you target specific companies that you know are having difficulties of one sort or another? Do you try to avoid phone sourcing from companies that are considered employers-of-choice? Have you noticed that your 35-50 general range shifts significantly depending on the sourced companies reputation, growth rate, or the like? Thank you.

    Doug Friedman

  5. I have heard about a sourcing tool/db that has around 150,000,000 entries. Most of the sales/marketing ones are supposed to also be in LIR, but I was told about half the technical ones AREN’T in LIR…


  6. @ Douglas,

    I’ve noticed the trend you mention, but with a caveat; the younger they are, the more likely they are to have a LinkedIn or other social media profile, and older they are the less likely. As a trend I think most people will be online in the next decade, except hipsters. And if you want them, just look for the ironic mustache in the crowd.

    When it comes to which companies to source from, generally if I hear a company is moving or going through something I will use that in my search. I won’t avoid calling EOCs though. Reputations are often more overblown than reality, people are just as likely to want to leave or stay at an EOC as anywhere else, in the few instances I’ve looked.

  7. Richard,

    Thank you for the insights. I completely agree with you regarding age playing a factor in the probability of someone having an active profile online. I’ve noticed this and, because of this, in disciplines with older median ages, like aerospace engineering (the number of graduating U.S. aerospace engineers has been decreasing for decades), the number of candidates with profiles online as a percentage of the total available is lower than in younger disciplines (for instance, platform independent software engineers).

    There’s something else I’ll throw out there that might be a bit controversial. And I can’t say I have hard data to back this up. It’s just something I’ve noticed. I think the percentage of candidates with active profiles who have the very best academic and professional pedigrees is significantly lower than mid and lower tier candidates. And, in my experience, this holds true for the younger candidates as well. Why? My theory is that someone graduating with, for instance, an MS degree in engineering from MIT who has had numerous impressive internships, awards, etc. has so many career options, and so many companies are actively looking for people like this, that they have no motivation to put a profile on an employment oriented network like LinkedIn. The same goes for people graduating with JD degrees from Yale or MBA degrees from Harvard, etc. What I’ve noticed is when I do develop relationships with these candidates that they rarely have LI profiles. Also, my friends who have pedigrees like the above also generally don’t have LI profiles. That’s not to say this group doesn’t have a “trail” on the Internet of publications, presentations, recognitions, etc. but I think a lot of them (not all) aren’t putting resume or CV oriented information online.

    Doug Friedman

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