Rogue Sourcing

All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them. — Galileo Galilei

The hand came up about halfway down the rows of seated SourceCon attendees after the Sourcing Movie was shown. Here’s the beginning of the show.

“At corporate we prefer to have someone in-between us and the name sourced. We prefer to hire sourcers like you to do the really proactive stuff.”

I think he meant phone sourcing, as that was the demonstration on the movie he had just seen.

Unsaid in that confession is the simple truth that many corporate staffing departments believe that the act of “sourcing,” especially phone sourcing, is best left to third party vendors — that it’s kind of a rogue activity.

That’s all yippee-skippee and profitable to us phone sourcers out here, but moving beyond that is the internal, mistaken, and dangerous belief that there is something not-so-sacrosanct about phone sourcing.

Okay, I’m going to say it. I hate to bring it up because it’s a politically unarguable debate that’s been beaten to death on the boards and that is the subject of ethics.

It’s a fact that many people don’t want to call another on the telephone and ask for information much beyond what it takes to order a pizza. Because this is a basic truth about much of human nature there’s a repugnance that’s developed around the subject of phone sourcing. It’s intimated over and over again among individuals that it’s a borderline honest activity.

Bolstering that repugnance are the lofty ministrations that usually emerge over the subject of calling another company’s employees and offering them another opportunity.

All of the high-handed discussions about the right to poach from other companies are just a screen for fear.

I’m willing to insist here that the loudest criers about “ethics” are those who don’t like to cold-call or, more maliciously, those that don’t want anyone else cold-calling because it breeches their own territories.

Let me ask you another question:

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Is it right not to?

The United States Justice Department doesn’t seem to think so.

We who are adamant practitioners of the craft don’t think so.

In fact, some of us who phone source have long since believed, in adherence with what the Justice Department has said on the subject, that “poaching” employees from other companies is the best way to keep a competitive landscape level.

Maybe a best solution is one in which companies (and individuals) think beyond the discomfort and faulty judgments they’ve allowed themselves to tolerate in the past over the subject of phone sourcing.

Maybe it’s time C-levels that are and will be held accountable for their failures to encourage cold-calling within their own organizations get (and give) buy-ins.

The best way to understand something is to practice it.

Maybe it’s time to go rogue.

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!


11 Comments on “Rogue Sourcing

  1. One way a company could source without feeling so much guilt would be to get into the sourcing business. Companies could set up independent small companies and “contract” with these companies to get the job of telephone sourcing done. At the company I work for I have been told that it is ok to cold call people who are not directly in our market. I can call people in other cities and other states but you are right about our direct competitors. My company does not want us cold calling the people next door.

  2. Well, I suppose there’s a ‘rogue’ element to it. My guess it’s mainly inability to do it, lack of time to do it, non-interest in doing it, or some combination thereof. That’s great for you though!

  3. Before faster tools were available the phone was high tech. I guess phone sourcing is considered “rogue” today because nobody seems to wants to start there anymore. It’s not sexy. The trend is to use impersonal computer searches instead of a personal contact as the initial step. The comfort level is lower because people can push back and computers usually don’t. Ironically, the job is not done until somebody picks up the phone.

    Effective sourcing requires the selection of the most appropriate tool for the job, practicing the skillful application of the tool, and fine tuning the process when results are elusive. Most of us are “hybrid” sourcers rather than single tool advocates, but thankfully we have Maureen to keep us from forgetting our sourcing roots and to challenge us not to forget the basics.

  4. Great article Maureen- Sourcing, Cold Calling, etc. is all about SERVICE. If you believe in your product, service or company, YOU OWE IT TO YOUR CUSTOMER’S (potential customer’s/future employees)to get your story/job/product/service in front of them…

    Bottom line, if you are unwilling to “Cold Call” you either are not “sold” on your product,service, company, etc OR, you are a Lazy, Entitled, Narcissistic type, and encourage you to challenge that type of thinking…

    Best to ALL, Brian-

  5. @ Maureen:
    A thoughtful article. I’d like to suggest that we ask a different question- WHO should source?
    IMHO (and experience), the vast majority of telephone and internet sourcing can be done very effectively by virtual sourcers for around $11/hr.
    The types of “purple squirrel” searches, such as Maureen very efficiently did with the Canadians as described here (Sourcing for Customers can best be done by the pros for $40-$45/name, or whatever the going rate is now, and it’s well worth it. In other words: anything that’s worth your time to do (“purple squirrels”) is best left for the high-quality professionals like Maureen, Shally, Irina, and Glenn to do, so there really isn’t much about sourcing (beyond the basics and where to find the appropriate external sourcing resources) that a typical recruiter has to concern themself with. Furthermore, “pretty good sourcing” keeps getting better and better.



  6. Though effective, telephone sourcing is the most difficult aspect of full cycle recruiting. I agree with Robert D. Recruiters don’t have an interest in doing it because they don’t know how to do it effectively. The reason why it is difficult is because it must be done without using your eyes. Try doing anything with your eyes closed and see how difficult something simple can be. A good telephone sourcer like Maureen can see with her ears. And she uses her voice to navigate through a person’s mind as you would a mouse on the computer screen.

    Basically sourcing is like fishing. All a good fisherman needs is a fishing pole and the knowhow of specifically where the fish are. The computer can help you find where the right candidates are, but then you will still need a telephone and someone who knows what they are doing to hook the big fish.

  7. There’s no right/wrong argument to me in the act of phone sourcing so much as how and what is said. It’s certainly not considered rogue if you call someone working at a competitor while they’re at home so calling them during the day at their office isn’t really all that different. But beware – most companies truly fear people raiding their talent because with a little knowledge it’s easy to do from all but a handful of companies.

    I’ve managed recruitment teams, business functions, and full HR staffs in the corporate environment. There is an incredible resistance to internal staff cold-calling because many companies believe it will break an implied detente with other industry competitors.

    I had a hard time trying to change that mindset because it was driven by managerial and leadership fear that someone will in return steal my best employees.

    As far as skills for corporate recruitment staff, it was easy to teach but hard to implement because of the aforementioned mindset. I’ve managed and seen several teams of recruiters with the skills but not the time or resources to phone-source.

    Oddly, managers with openings were ususally willing to make the calls themselves, solicit a third party recruiter to initiate the activity, or willing to try to get the ok from her/his senior leader or executive. But it never seemed to gain momentum outside the one manager.

    I don’t think internal recruiters managing relationships with managers and handling the actual openings have time to effectively source. Some companies have figured that out and have internal sourcing specialists; however many are willing to pay a third party to do it because the cost/benefit always seems to look like it’s cheaper to pay someone $50 per perspective without incurring additional employee-related or advertising costs.

    Another gem from Maureen though.

  8. Face it, if your business is recruiting then unless you have a lot of $$ and a lot of time on your hands, sourcing is a drain.
    Shameless Marketing pitch to follow:
    We help by providing USA based source & screen services with access to over 30 sites including the top 20 job boards. Results in 48-72 hours, incredible pricing/value. B-T-W, $11/hour comes out to over $100/day with basic taxes, etc. plus job postings, licenses etc. Check out

  9. Did I miss the memo when we started calling NAME GENERATION ~ “Sourcing”? Additionally, I think you are confusing the ethics of phone rusing and an off-hands list. I personally don’t care for some of your tactics (literally been there & done that with the best), but I don’t think it’s an issue of ethics, but bad business should your target candidate connect the dots. And for those who use those tactics…it’s gets old. So what does the ruling by the Dept. of Justice have to with your topic?

  10. I would be referring to the creative ways to obtain information (name gen.) using various phone tactics. I’m sure everyone here is familiar with your teaching. But, that’s not the point. I’m just curious about the comparison to the DoJ decision about “off limit” lists and cold calling companies. The DoJ findings cover the topic of 2 companies (or more) having an unwritten “gentleman’s agreement” not to recruit out of each others companies. Thus infringing on the employee’s right to work.

    Perhaps you are referring to the culture of some Corp. Recruiting environments, in which recruiters are instructed not to cold-call candidates who have not applied. Commonly referred to “Hunting” as opposed to “Farming.” Generally this instruction is given because there is a perception that cold calling is too aggressive and may lead an adverse reaction from a competitor.

    But, that has nothing to do with the DoJ findings either.

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