Sourcing in the Sweet Spot

As I’ve mentioned in other articles, the iPod offers a great model for sourcing and recruiting. Three things stand out:

  1. It’s a system. The iPod is a fully integrated information system — not simply a standalone music player. In comparison, most corporate recruiting departments resemble a hodgepodge of different technologies, tools, competing processes, and poorly linked information channels.
  2. It’s strategic. Healthy businesses grow and change when strategy drives tactics. The iPod has metamorphosed Apple Computer. When tactics and processes drive strategy, companies languish and so does sourcing. Too many recruiting departments are driven by tactics, bureaucracy, and processes. For example, why do we still post boring job descriptions online?
  3. It’s customer- and market-driven. The iPod is compelling, easy to buy, simple to use — and fun. The sourcing processes at most companies treat potential employees as vendors. The processes are impersonal; jobs are hard to find; the marketing copy (a.k.a. the job description) is boring and exclusionary; the application process is demeaning; and the interviewing process is unprofessional.

To start addressing this imbalance, it’s important to better understand the buying behavior of the people you want to attract. Then you can develop sourcing strategies and campaigns that target these people and address their needs. This is what being market and customer-driven means. In my article The Sourcing Sweet Spot, four broad candidate pools were described. These had to do with how aggressive candidates were in seeking new jobs, what motivated them to look, and the quality of the candidates in each pool. Here’s the quick take:

  • Active candidates: This pool represents about 15% of the labor force. These are candidates who are actively looking full time. By definition, they need another job — either because they don’t have one, or because the one they have is inferior. While there are some good candidates in this pool, the best are underrepresented. Most companies by default market to this pool.
  • Less active candidates: This pool represents candidates on the margin. People in this group sometimes feel underemployed, underappreciated, or overworked. By definition they are fully employed, but on a bad day they might look for another job. The total size of this pool is about 15% to 20% of the labor force, and the best people are overrepresented in this pool. This is a big segment of the sourcing sweet spot, and you need to redesign your front- and back-end sourcing processes to market to it.
  • Semi-passive candidates: These people are fully employed, but are open to being called to consider a better career opportunity. The best people are fully represented in this pool. However, the pool is huge, about 35% of the labor force. So who you call and what you say is key to success here.
  • Passive candidates: These people don’t want another job, so don’t bother unless you can’t find a strong person using less costly sourcing techniques. Passive candidates will only move for a combination of a far better job, a much stronger career opportunity, and a much richer compensation package. This pool represents the rest of the labor force, about 30% to 35%.

A comprehensive sourcing strategy in combination with a workforce plan is the lesson of the iPod. This needs to define the channels you’ll use by job type, the development of advertising programs that meet the needs of those in the sweet spot, how the recruiting team will be organized, and the role hiring managers need to play. Here are some sourcing channel ideas you might want to consider as part of increasing your effectiveness sourcing in the sweet spot.

Job Board Advertising

The key to success here is compelling ads that are easy to find, combined with an easy application process. This will capture the interest of less active candidates, who might only look for an hour or so every other month. Search engine optimization techniques need to be combined with web analytics to ensure that the best people find your ads and that the application process is designed to minimize the opt-out ratios. To quickly see how well you’re doing here, put some of the keywords a top candidate would use to find a job into Yahoo! Search. If your jobs don’t show up, you’re not sourcing in the sweet spot. Back-end processing is equally important here. You must be able to call the best people within 24 hours. This means that your candidate search engine must be able to separate the best from the rest, and your recruiters must be competent when calling. Of course, when they call, recruiters must get more referrals if the candidate is not a direct fit or if you have multiple openings. Equally important: The whole recruiting team must be doing this, not just a few. Most companies complain that their job board advertising programs don’t work too well. The reality is that most don’t use this important channel to its fullest extent.

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Semi-Passive Candidate Sourcing

There are a number of front-end keys to successfully sourcing and recruiting top people in this pool. First is having a compelling opportunity to offer. Top performers want not only a better job but also a better long-term career opportunity. Using a performance profile that clearly spells out the challenges and opportunities in the job is the key to success here. Getting names of hot candidates is next. However, the most important part of this whole process is calling these people up, qualifying them, recruiting them, and getting more referrals. We’ll leave this part to future articles, so for now let me just present a few important name-generating techniques:

  • Employee referral programs. Ask your best people for the names of the best people they’ve worked with in the past. Then call and recruit these people and get more referrals. If you’re not a phone wizard, then use Jobster. This is the next best thing — as long as you have a compelling job to describe in your email link. Without this, Jobster is just another wasted tool.
  • Online tools. My favorites are ZoomInfo and LinkedIn. These are all you need to hire anyone — if you can get the person on the phone and get referrals. There are other social networking tools in this group, like Jigsaw, that should also be considered. If you have a great job, LinkedIn’s new job referral system is worth evaluating. ZoomInfo has just released an email blaster, which is also pretty neat.
  • Internet data-mining. Getting names this way is the stuff that made Shally Steckerl famous. You’ll get some great names, but to make the techniques work, be prepared for extensive phone calling. Sometimes just getting the person on the phone is the challenge. Once on the phone, you must engage with the person and get pre-qualified referrals. This is the key to cold calling a list of names. You don’t need to ever call everyone on the list. You must be able to get referrals and then work only those referrals that are “A” players. This way, you can restrict your phone calls to top tier people.
  • Non-Internet name generating techniques. There are probably more great candidates not listed on the Internet than those who are. Getting these names requires a host of clever techniques, including competitive intelligence and advanced networking. I’ll leave these techniques for future articles, but the point for now is that these techniques should be considered in combination with Internet data-mining.

If you want to hire more semi-passive candidates, you need to be great on the phone, be great at getting referrals, and have a truly compelling job to offer. Without these capabilities in place, it’s best to restrict your in-house sourcing to a dramatic overhaul of your online and career website advertising programs and to enhancing your employee referral programs using tools like Jobster. If you do have great jobs but don’t have the in-house capability to target these semi-passive candidates, you might want to consider the use of recruiter networks like offers a quick, low-cost way to obtain pre-qualified semi-passive candidates within days. There’s no cost to check it out, and the fee is half of a typical contingency search.

Sourcing in the sweet spot is where the action is these days. Not only do you need to be there, but you also need to do it well. It starts with a sourcing strategy that’s customer driven. This converts to a tactical plan based on the use of a series of sourcing channels that are designed to optimize candidate quality and time to hire. Higher cost options should only be used if quality declines. This way, you can get the best people at the lowest cost. As part of all this, don’t ignore the customer experience. Make sure the user interface is fun, compelling, and easy to use. Go out and get an iPod to put this all into proper perspective. In the long run, it will be the best sourcing investment you’ve every made.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).


2 Comments on “Sourcing in the Sweet Spot

  1. Great article, Lou. I have to tell you that I jump on to ERE every time I see one of your articles, because I know I won’t be disappointed.

    I have a question on the Online Tools section of this article, and it is for Lou or anyone who has an idea here. You mention ZoomInfo and LinkedIn. I totally get how you can find good people on LinkedIn. ZoomInfo is another matter. I understand that the reach in a company is greater, because ZoomInfo mines the net for people and their contact information. This is very cool for making contact. But how useful is it in finding new people with a targeted skill set? The only job-related information that is returned, unless I am missing something, is the job title. Is this enough? Is Engineering Manager or Product Manager going to tell you enough about the person for effective name sourcing?

    Let me throw Ziggs into the mix as well. Lou, you didn’t mention Ziggs as a resource. Why is that? Like ZoomInfo, Ziggs mines 99% of its information from the web, but it targets different information. It targets bios from company web pages listing key players, such as board members and senior management. The biggest ding here is that it doesn’t also provide information about the rank and file, which is where most of the jobs are. But the bios usually have great information that can be searched. Is the fact that Ziggs is biased toward executives the reason that it doesn’t get mentioned more often by recruiters?

    Finally, let me throw out a product idea to whoever wants to pick it up and run with it. ZoomInfo scours the web and accumulates names, titles, and contact info for everybody it finds. Ziggs scours the web and accumulates all the professional bios it can find in one place. I have seen ace data miners here and in other forums suggest great search strings to use (‘resume’ in title, ‘resume’ in url, but not ‘submit’ on page, etc.) and little known directories for different industries where you can search for profiles or resumes. Why doesn’t some enterprising website build a product that goes out and aggregates all of these in one place? Or is somebody doing this, and I just don’t know about it?

    You guys are the pros. Please enlighten me.

    Merle Tenney

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