Sourcing 101: How to Find the Really Great Candidates

Last week I began a series of articles devoted to the 10 basic steps that I define as critical to a successful recruiting effort. The ten steps are: planning, branding/marketing, sourcing, screening, assessing, selling, checking and closing, on-boarding or orienting and retaining employees. I imagine a book could be written about any of these (and some have been), but as a recruiting professional you need to have a good understanding of every one of them. I talked about the first two last week, but this week I will focus on sourcing by itself because it is the foundation for the following steps. Great sourcing is all about who you know. It’s about systemically building relationships and developing networks. Sourcing strategies cannot be built in a few days or weeks. Successful talent agencies have recruiters on staff with years of experience – and fat Rolodexes – who make them successful. Think of sourcing just as you would about acquiring anything valuable. You assess your need and define what you are looking for. You have a pretty solid idea about what you want when you go out looking. Then you determine where you could buy whatever it is you want. You may check out several stores and even check the Internet for the product, comparing prices, availability and quality. Then you go shopping. You enter the store, check it out, talk to a salesperson and eventually make a decision either to buy the product or not. This process is almost identical to the one you should follow for sourcing great candidates. And the steps involved have to be executed in sequence. You cannot skip any and expect to be successful. STEP #1: Know Who You Want The first step is to know who you are looking for. As deceivingly simple as this sounds, it is the most complex and difficult step in the entire sourcing process. You will need to spend a lot of time with your hiring managers and in the business units that you support building a deep and thorough understanding of the competencies, skills and attitudes key players have that lead to their success. You need to find out who the best (most productive) employees are and spend time figuring our what they have in common that makes them successful. You will need to interview hiring managers and others who are dependent on the output of the people you are profiling. And, you need to be as neutral and objective in this process as you can be. Managers often think they know who the best workers are, but they may not be right. You will have to find out how to make a business case to the manager about why a different profile might be more useful. Some organizations are using competency analysis tools or may have something like a culture fit test that is used regularly. The results from these can be very helpful in developing the profile. A useful profile will give you a list of very specific competencies, skills and attitudes that you can interview candidates for or ask them to demonstrate for you. Here are some questions to ask yourself or the managers are you develop these profiles:

  • Who are the most productive employees that a particular manager has? How does the manager define success?
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  • Who do the other employees think is the best worker in that group? Why?
  • Does your company use a 360-degree feedback tool or other means of testing employees for skills, competencies or cultural fit? If there are such tools, can you access the results to help develop a well-rounded and objective profile of what a good employee looks like?

STEP #2: Find Out Where to Find Them Once you have a profile and have developed some criteria to judge candidates against, it should be much easier to discover where likely candidates might be found outside of work. I suggest outside of work because then you can reach those people who have no interest in changing jobs – the really passive candidates – and try to market to them. They are in an informal setting and are easier to approach. Companies like Xerox and Cisco have sponsored sporting events and taken part in bicycle races and marathons because those were the events that the IT professionals they were seeking participated in. They have done extensive market research into where the kinds of people they most want to hire spend their time and where they spend it. Cisco has shown recruiting advertising in theaters before science fiction and other specialty movies begin as many “techies” enjoy those types of films. They do not screen advertisements at kid shows or other kinds of movies because it is an inappropriate audience. The key is targeted, well-thought-out use of advertising and other promotional activities to generate candidate interest. There may be websites where your ideal candidates spend time or there may be a chat room where they are active. What you have to do is research where they are and when they are there (as timing is critical as well) so that you can present them with your targeted message. This is also the step to look at your competitors and find out where they are looking for candidates. You need to figure out where they are getting their people. And you need to be very aware of impending layoffs or other changes a company is going through that might give you a supply of good people. STEP #3: Develop an Effective Strategy and Set of Tactics for Reaching Out to Them This step is relatively easy compared to the others. It simply means you need to decide where you will go with your message and how much you will spend. Will you sponsor radio ads? TV ads? Will you go to hockey games or football stadiums with your recruiting booth? Will you show trailers at the movies? You will need to work with your advertising agency, as well, to develop a multifaceted and phased approach to sending out your message and reinforcing it. Which jobs boards make sense to use and which are wastes of your money? I see many companies using job boards that are too broad to ever supply them the kinds of people they need. You need to track every source carefully so that you can eliminate any that don’t produce results in a few weeks. Sourcing is really about up front legwork and intelligence gathering, and it’s ultimately about developing a network that continuously supplies you the great people you need. The only caveat is that this process takes time and cannot be successfully implemented in a flash – no matter how big the need it. If you need really quick results, find a good agency and work with them to help you while you create your own sources. But, like all good things, your efforts will pay off for a long time. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

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


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