Narrowcast Sourcing for Specific Skills and Attributes

Today, companies are presented with unprecedented visibility into the global workforce, yet many recruiting organizations continue to identify “the ability to find candidates” as their number one difficulty. While this issue seems silly in an era when nearly every potential worker over the age of 14 exists in one publicly available database or another, it is an issue nonetheless. For organizations experiencing a finding problem, the answer might be to stop passive broadcasting and start active narrowcasting.

What’s the Difference?

Sourcing activities, like any form of activity, can easily be grouped into categories that define scope, applicability/relevance, cost, cycle time, or any other distinguishing attribute. Narrowcasting is one such category that relates to scope of target audience addressed by the activity. It is positioned between broadcasting and microcasting.

Broadcast Sourcing

Broadcast sourcing activities are those that focus on sourcing from the widest possible talent pool, and generally involve using mediums that reach a few qualified candidates and a wide range of unqualified candidates simultaneously. Broadcasting relies heavily on advertising, be it print (newspapers, billboards, banners/signage), electronic (banner ads, mass email campaigns, job boards, corporate employment sites), and old school, first-generation employee referral programs.

Narrowcast Sourcing

Narrowcasting focuses sourcing activities on specific (narrower) population groups that exhibit similar attributes to those that map to success in specific jobs. The intention of narrowcasting is not necessarily to find someone with previous experience in that job, or even someone who already has all of the knowledge and skills required, but rather to find someone who thinks and acts like those who are most successful in the job. For example, recruiters looking for sales professionals might look into populations that routinely exhibit enthusiasm and an ability to perform consistently under volatile conditions. Narrowcasting relies heavily on actively networking via social/activity clubs and public events. The networking can be conducted by a recruiter or any organizational stakeholder participating in a second-generation targeted referral program.

Microcast Sourcing

Microcasting is the most targeted category of sourcing approaches. It’s used primarily when organizations need a small volume of highly specialized candidates with either prior job experience or who exhibit a rare combination of skills. (While many recruiters think they microcast, in reality, few actually do.) It may include such approaches as advertising in specific professional journals, competitor raiding (either executed by the organization itself or via a third party), or direct sourcing of heavily researched candidates.

Narrowcasting Applied

Narrowcasting is unique in that it doesn’t involve looking for individuals with specific degrees or prior experience. Instead, it involves looking for individuals who are likely to possess highly desirable attributes or abilities that are either needed throughout a company – i.e., attributes that fit the firm’s unique culture – or that are essential for a particular job family, like sales or customer service. Examples may include such interpersonal attributes as enthusiasm for sales professionals, risk avoidance for nursing, and tolerance for developing personalities for elementary school teachers. Narrowcasting may also focus on such physical attributes as hand dexterity for machine operators and construction workers or high-fatigue endurance for long-haul truck drivers. While for many recruiters broadcasting as a sourcing methodology has become de rigueur, a number of organizations have successfully used narrowcasting to fill the ranks as competition for talent has increased.

Firms like Home Depot and GE have targeted former soldiers because of their discipline. Firms like Wal-Mart have emphasized hiring retired persons because of their maturity and perceived genuineness. Network equipment manufacturers have targeted individuals with a specific affinity for logistics, such as those who routinely monitor road traffic conditions, for their ability to discover workarounds to common roadblocks. EDS, Microsoft, and a host of other software firms recruit music majors and mathematicians primarily for their ability to identify and understand patterns such as those that appear on sheet music or in mathematical models. In nearly every job, narrowcasting can be successful. Did you ever think that elementary school teachers who are adept at managing the unruly would make great bartenders? Next time you’re in Las Vegas, ask around; you might be surprised at what the guy/girl pouring your drink does during the day.

Cheerleading to Sales: The Leap is More Common Than One Might Assume

While the idea of recruiting current and former cheerleaders to work as professional salespersons may seem like a stretch, in reality it isn’t. If you want individuals who aren’t afraid of performing under pressure, are outgoing, dedicated, and are enthusiastic about getting others involved, cheerleaders are a perfect fit. Pharmaceutical firms and network communication equipment companies have both found cheerleaders to be phenomenal at sales. The leap from the football field to the sales profession is so common that it can support a placement agency known as Spirited Sales Leaders, which specializes in enthusiastic people. With more than 10,000 “spirit leaders” in its database, it’s clear that others recognize the need for attribute versus skill-based recruiting.

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The Narrowcasting Process

The process of narrowcasting is quite simple. Identify the most critical attributes of successful people in any job or job family and then look for ways to identify individuals who demonstrate the skills or traits in other parallel professions or activities. For example, if you’re looking for someone with endurance and the ability to stay the course no matter what, recruiting at the finish line of the Ironman/Ironwoman triathlon will get you individuals with endurance and perseverance. The whole narrowcasting concept isn’t new; as the old saying goes, “If you want to marry a doctor or a nurse, hang out in hospitals.” Finding people with desired attributes shouldn’t automatically ensure a hire. Like all other sources, candidates found via narrowcasting should be assessed. Recruiters should also avoid assuming that they know where to find these individuals, and take the time to actually gather demographic data that is needed to profile possible organizations and events. As in all recruiting, do your metrics; if by chance you find these sources demonstrate an adverse impact, you can modify your approach or add resources to other sourcing channels that have less of a diversity impact and that balance the overall process.

Possible Narrowcasting Talent Pools

The best way to identify narrowcasting talent pools for skills and attributes specific to your organization’s needs is to approach individuals in your own organization who excel at certain activities and ask them, “How would I find you again?” without using a traditional broadcasting or microcasting recruiting source. Possible talent pools include:

  • Local or national clubs. Consider clubs that support rock climbing, bridge, skydiving, ultimate Frisbee, book reviews, restaurant/wine reviews, or public speaking.
  • Organizations that attract people with similar interests or values. These might include religious, political, social, or lifestyle groups. For example, senior citizen clubs and volunteer activities at local charities attract individuals with strong values. (No, it is not illegal to recruit at churches or age-specific organizations if 1) you are looking for skills rather than a particular religious belief, and 2) you recruit at a variety of them across a broad spectrum.
  • Internet sites where people with common interests gather.) Websites, chat rooms, and blogs where people with similar skills frequent should also be targeted. This might include everything from a nurses forum to MySpace.
  • Sporting and social events. These might include athletic events open to the public, college athletic events, wine festivals, and home shows, some of which have been used by Cisco Systems in the past to recruit.
  • “Value” events. If you’re looking for individuals with strong ethics or values, you might consider patriotic, charitable, environmental, and political events that support the values and ethical standards you require.

Possible Pools by Attribute

  • Discipline. Military organizations, math societies, musical groups, athletic organizations, and library clubs.
  • Calculated risk-taking. Rock climbing clubs, mountain climbing groups, and casinos.
  • Handles high pressure well. Pilot associations, cheerleading groups, competitive athletes, and event-planning organizations.
  • Perseverance. Marathons, triathlons, and video-gaming contests.
  • Caring. Volunteers at schools, charity events, social events, and hospitals.
  • Team player. Athletes on successful amateur and college teams, as well as teams that build floats and organize public events.
  • Leadership. Leaders of clubs and associations, military officers, and coaches.
  • Politically savvy. Former politicians, political parties, volunteer lobbyists (e.g., SHRM volunteer lobbyist), and political fund-raisers.
  • Customer service. Individuals who staff the return counter or complaint line at public events, as well as great wait staff, flight attendants, and maitre d’s.
  • Ethical. Current or former ministers, church deacons, church society members, Sunday School teachers, and congressional lobbyists (just kidding).
  • Convincing skills. Cheerleaders, Toastmasters groups, ex-debaters, ex-Girl Scout cookie sellers and lemonade stand operators, and raffle ticket sellers.
  • Plan ahead. Chess players in chess tournaments, event organizers, and endurance hikers.
  • Multitasking. Stay-at-home spouses with school-age children and small budgets.
  • Language skills. Book clubs, Shakespearean actor groups, politicians, volunteer speechwriters, volunteer auctioneers, and volunteers who teach at English-as-a-second-language schools.
  • Trading and selling skills. Successful eBay buyers and sellers, baseball card and comic traders, and coin and stamp collectors.
  • Free-form and innovative. Improv comedians and actors, jazz musicians, entrepreneurs clubs, inventors clubs, skateboarders, many individuals on MySpace and YouTube, Star Trek conventions, bloggers, and bloggers conventions.
  • Hand-eye coordination. Video-gaming tournaments, dart players, and bowlers.
  • Global knowledge. French and other language groups, food groups, travel clubs, geography clubs, social groups that attract members of a single country or region, and volunteer language and tour guides for visiting delegations.

Courage Required

Don’t even consider narrowcasting unless you are courageous, bold, and unwavering because the minute you bring up the subject, you’ll get a cavalcade of whining from HR weenies and pseudo lawyers who will have a thousand excuses why it can never work. The fact is it does work! It has been used by a small cadre of world-class companies that has the courage to try something different. If everyone scoffs at the idea, that leaves the approach open to those of us with the courage it takes to bring the very best teammates into our company.

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.



5 Comments on “Narrowcast Sourcing for Specific Skills and Attributes

  1. Call me biased, but somehow I was looking for the word ‘referrals’ in your paragraphs about narrow casting and microcasting? i.e. identify the key employees who you would love to clone and multiply if that was legal and ask / incentivize them, and perhaps only them, to make referrals? This can work to find special skills or special demographics to improve diversity recruiting.

    Broadcasting jobs is clearly ‘the easy button’, narrowcasting or microcasting is clearly more work, but no pain – no gain, right?

  2. This article is one of the best thought crystalisg one I have ever read.

    Broadcasting,Narrowcasting or microcasting we have been doing in one form or the other to the extent of insight and motivation we have on the job in hand.

    The article really focusses on the insight we need to have on talent pools and source maps.

    Clarity breeds motivation.

    If you want animals to race on the ground dont search for them on the trees, you may end up getting unpredictable yet agile monkeys. you dont have a right to say there are no good horses.

    Thank You Dr. Sullivan.

    Iriventi Sridhar Murthy

  3. Interesting words and concepts. I’ve long espoused the idea of sourcing through associations (see: ) In fact, there was one time we were retained for a search in a niche industry and had absolutely no contacts for it. My research turned up two or three associations that just happened to be having their monthly meetings within that week. Attending two of those meetings turned up dozens of contacts and even more leads, as well as many presentable candidates. So in regard to using associations for sourcing, I totally agree.

    It’s hard to generalize about characteristics and values held by a particular group. So it’s difficult to concur with some of the examples. However, those examples are definitely food for thought when trying to sort out which types of people and groups will be more likely to fill the bill.

    Definitely good information to keep in mind as we review resumes. Far too often, inherent talent because of a profession or association is overlooked because it isn’t specifically spelled out on the resument in several hundred words or so.

    Thanks for sending out the wake-up call.


  4. A second time I actually liked and agreed with an article that Sullivan Wrote..

    Sure there was one or two things I did not agree with, but all in all this article was on the nose regarding sourcing.

  5. Dr Sullivan needs to add these terms, Narrowcast, broadcast, and Microcast sourcing to the wikipedias.

    I recommend, and


    Jeff Weidner
    925 313 9005 X 200
    HTC Research Corp

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