Rethinking Sourcing

*Note: The free global recruiting trends survey report is now available. This report was mentioned in Kevin’s previous articles.

We all have our routines and habits. For years I drove the same route to work, parked in the same spot, and ate lunch at around the same time every day. Routine is good because it keeps us from wasting time thinking about mundane and unimportant things. It is a necessary component of our lives, yet too much routine for too long can limit productivity and even end our ability to think creatively. Recruiters and hiring managers have fallen into a sourcing routine that is slowly strangling them. Most recruiters and hiring managers cluster their search for top talent around those people who are between 30 and 45 years old.

On the surface this seems like a logical practice; these are the people who have some experience, are not too expensive, and are healthy and energetic. They also are likely to be closer in age to the hiring manager and recruiter, and they probably have family, cultural, and other interests that are similar. In other words, they fit into our stereotypes of what an employee should be. Hiring managers routinely focus on experience and title as key hiring criteria. Too much and an applicant is deemed overqualified, too high a previous title and they won’t be happy. Rarely does a manager ask for someone with extensive experience for a job that he or she would regard as mid-level, or for an entry-level person who could be developed. Everyone is after this middle group of candidates. Most hiring managers and recruiters never question any of this. They assume, because it has become a routine, that this is both normal and good. They assume that someone with lots of experience won’t want or won’t be happy in a mid-level position and they assume that entry-level people will require lots of training. Because of the assumptions and strong beliefs that both recruiters and hiring managers have, recruiters are frantically tapping into all sorts of tools to get at them. The most popular tools, touted by most experts as the best way to source people, include employee referral programs, online search, competitive analysis, targeted marketing, blogging (again aimed at this candidates with a certain level of experience), carefully “tuned” websites that are written to appeal to this group, and job boards.

Many of the assumptions recruiters and managers make, however, turn out to not be all that valid. There is growing evidence from some excellent organizations that hiring people outside this stereotype not only brings in diversity and new ideas, but also costs less in the end because of lower turnover and high engagement. To compound the sourcing problem, the age group from 30 to 45 years old is also the smallest one to be in the workforce for a long time. There are only approximately 40 million of these Gen-Xers, as those in this age bracket are called, compared to 90 million Baby Boomers and 70 million Gen-Yers — those aged under 30. Despite the tools and techniques that are being used to find these people, the limited supply will always make it difficult. There is no magic bullet to get more of this group, and most programs are just recycling programs that move talent from one spot to another with little benefit to either party. Some of these practices may have significantly negative downsides, as well. Referral programs, for example, tend to supply candidates who are exactly like the ones you already have as employees. This lessens diversity of all types and increases the danger of “group-think,” which can occur when everyone is more or less similar in background, education, and experience. It is a rare referral program that introduces diversity into the workplace. What are the alternatives? Organizations like IBM, DuPont, General Electric, and many smaller ones are looking at the ends of the curve for their people. The ends are made up of three groups: new graduates, those over 50, and recent retirees. Each has unique traits that make them highly valuable.

Recent Retirees

This group can be a prime source of candidates. They are still very healthy and very much up-to-date in their fields. They may want to work fewer hours or have a more flexible schedule than less-experienced workers, but they are also not likely to be looking for promotions and are not going to get caught up in corporate politics and power plays. This frees them up to be more productive. IBM has been re-hiring retirees for many years to lead critical projects and act as technical leads on projects. Their experience makes them highly valued and heavily sought after. This is also happening at DuPont, Dow Chemical, and many other firms that have retirees and appreciate their value. These same people can be hired by other organizations that are smart and forward-thinking and can break out of the paradigms I have described above.

Over-50 Age Group

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These people are most likely still working, but may be ready for a new challenge. Startup companies are finding this group of people key to success and half-a-dozen small firms I work with are actively seeking these people. They are not only relatively easy to recruit; they bring the maturity and experience that younger employees lack and add balance to teams that are very young. Their generational attitudes and loyalty are models for younger employees and add diversity of ideas. Think-tanks and innovation centers often hire them to bring a divergent view. They are relatively easy to find. After all, the workforce is over 40 percent Baby Boomers and a significant number of them are over 50 and ready for opportunities they thought were only available to young people. They are also looking for different things than Gen-Xers are. They are most likely focused on challenge and a stimulating projects than on the potential for career advancement or travel. This gives you more options when you put together an offer package.

New College Graduates

Vastly under-recruited and underused, they make up close to 35 percent of the emerging workforce and will be the most dominant group numerically within a decade. Whoever realizes this and starts to tap into them will have a competitive advantage by building a “young-person-friendly” brand. They are seeking variety, opportunity, project-based work, and organizations with less hierarchy than is traditional. They are much less expensive and learn very quickly — often with little formal training. A team of employees made up of mostly those over 50 and new graduates is powerful. By combining wisdom and experience with the latest knowledge and huge energy, these teams can be more productive than any other. The older employees act as mentors to the younger ones and the younger ones tend to keep the older ones up-to-date.

These three groups are on the fringe of most recruiters’ radar screens, but should be at the bull’s eye. The Gen-Xers are a small and tough-to-recruit bunch, while these other groups are abundant and looking for new opportunities. Instead of spending time trying to source more Gen-X folks, spend it convincing hiring managers to take a chance on some of these other groups. I believe that seniors and new graduates will be the most heavily recruited segments within the next five years. You are getting the word early enough to do something exciting in your organization.

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


1 Comment on “Rethinking Sourcing

  1. I could not agree with Kevin more, particularly with respect to employers hiring from the over 50 age group. Those employers that are providing flex-time and either part-time or project assignment employment are attracting qualified employees from this age group. Employees that require less training and generally tend to be hard working and reliable.

    Hiring the over 50 employee is farily easy once you locate him/her, but there are currently few ways to reach this group. Advertising in the classified sections of newspapers or posting jobs on boards like Monster, CareerBuilder, HotJobs does not target the 50+ age group.

    Below is a list of boards that target this group.
    (National Council on Aging)
    (State of California)
    Here?s how this site works.
    1. Start at main page:
    2. Select: Labor and Employment
    3. Select: Targeted Services for Older Workers and
    4. Reach numerous site links

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