Sourcing Insights: No More ‘Apply or Goodbye’

FL09_Masthead“Apply or Goodbye” is a great metaphor for a transactional recruiting process. Sadly, “apply or goodbye” seems to be the end result with most recruiting processes. Everything seems to be about a transaction—filling the open requisition. If a prospect is qualified and interested, then they are moved through the process. If they are not qualified, then at best, they receive a letter of rejection. If a prospect is not ready to apply to do a job, we usually do not know about them. We have de facto told them “goodbye.” And given the prospect-to-candidate falloff rate (research projects application non-completion rates as high as 70-80%), a great number of prospects get lost because of the transactional nature of recruiting technology.

In a moment of frustration (or epiphany) I quipped that candidates were seeking relationships and our recruiting technology offers them the equivalent of a one-night stand (or more accurately a chance to complete an application). Looking past the potential off-color nature of the comment, the truth is there is a gap between what people in this world of Web 2.0 desire and what a typical recruiting operation allows. That gap is the williness on the part of recruiting to have a conversation with you unless you are part of the chosen few that meets with requirements of a specific job.

Jeff Jarvis writes in his book–What Would Google Do?—about the first law he learned on the Internet:

“Give the people control and they will use it. Don’t and you will lose us.”

Think: It Is Not About Us!

Giving up control is scary, but the alternative is downright frightening. If you would like to see that picture, just read Jarvis’s famous blog post about “Dell Hell.”(Use keywords “dell hell” in Bing.) It is the story of Jarvis in a moment of frustration with Dell that caused a groundswell of public opinion and caused Dell an amazing amount of pain (i.e. lost sales, bad PR, etc). Dell eventually got the message, but at what cost? To say that this event has caused a sea change is an understatement.

Think Distributed, Not Destination

Jeff Jarvis (What Would Google Do) suggests that companies (like Google) that act as a distribution system have been more successful in the Web 2.0 world than organizations (like Yahoo) that have focused on building portals and destination points. When you build a destination site, it is as if you are taking the prospect where you want them to go, as opposed to using the site as a method that they can go where they want to go. The Microsoft Talent Engagement Model (see graphic below) is more of a marketing distribution system for our jobs and jobs-related content than to a single talent community site. In fact, as you dig into the model, you will notice that activities and information flow in a myriad of directions as opposed to a single web site.

Not Creating New Communities!

We joined existing communities (LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook) and used their platforms to engage the appropriate segments of their membership. Not only do these social networking sites have a large number of active participants, the very audience we are trying to reach contained in their ranks. Forrester’s Technographics research indicates that a Groundswell has occurred and the majority of adults in our society (especially the best educated, highest-paid professions as well as the new entrants to the job market) have joined social networking sites. It is very apparent that our target audience is online and in these existing communities or social networking sites.

We are creating community, but not necessarily creating new communities (if that makes sense). Perhaps a way to good way to think about it is that we are organizing a community in way that can make the community function better to better meet the interests of our target audience. For active job seekers, we can provide a higher quality experience and help them navigate Microsoft. For the more passive individuals, we can provide the “inside scoop” on technologies; what it is like to work at Microsoft; and engage current employees in conversation.

An Alternative to Goodbye!

At Microsoft, we are pipelining talent in communities as an alternative to saying goodbye. These communities are located on social networking sites (LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook) as well as our vendor’s (Jobs2Web) platform. We use communities to

  1. Offer an alternative to prospects who are not ready to apply
  2. Offer an alternative to prospects who are screened out
  3. Offer an alternative to prospects who do not complete the application process.

The Microsoft Talent Engagement Model (see graphic) illustrates that there is a lot going on in our approach to pipeline and creating community.

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ERE Slide Deck Sept 2009 Rev 14

The pie chart in the upper-left hand corner is a reminder that the talent supply is comprised of active, casual, passive, and non-job seeking talent. And it points out the active job seeker is only about 14% of our potential audience. That leaves approximately 86% of the potential audience—causal, passive, or non-job seekers that could be part of the talent engagement equation.

The center of the funnel illustrates that we feed our SEO results; our SEM activities; our TalentStream (A CRM-based pipelines/community engaging approach that maps a target audience’s behaviors, attitudes, and interests to our outreach) campaigns; and the prospects generated from live and virtual events. Previously, I argued that SEO Is Not Enough: that tactic alone does not reach a large percentage of the potential talent supply. So we add TalentStream campaigns, events, and other outreach strategies to reach deeper into the potential talent supply toward where the more passive prospects are. We use a variety of approaches that are based on an understanding of our target audience’s behaviors, attitudes, and common interests.

The left-hand side of the Microsoft Talent Engagement Model depicts how we use a number of different opportunities to distribute information to active, as well as some casual and active prospects. In this way, we allow the prospect to decide how they want to engage or hear from us. For example, the passive job seeker might want to subscribe to a job agent that will alert them when a certain type of opportunity becomes available. The casual job seeker might have been referred by an employee to a specific job and we want to move them forward in our process. The prospect that is not looking might show up at a virtual event that has a Microsoft leader discussing an important new technology.

Not ready to apply? Not the right fit? Came in second? Regardless of the reason, the right-hand side of the Microsoft Talent Engagement Model graphic illustrates the ability to offer the prospects the opportunity to remain engaged. If they join a community, we will listen, answer questions, and converse with prospects. If they are “non-applicants” at the present time, we offer a variety of ways a prospect can decide how to receive information. For the person who is screened out of an interview process, we can offer them the opportunity to stay engaged while they wait for a better job fit. For the candidate who came in second in an interview panel, we can actively assist them in considering other opportunities within Microsoft. And for the person who has left Microsoft for other opportunities, we can keep in touch. In many instances Microsoft Alumni wish to return after a short length of time in their new venture.

This behavior of not allowing for conversations with prospects is going to catch up with the recruiting profession—and it is not going to be pretty for some of us. But we still have a chance to get in front of this. Apply or Goodbye is no longer the only option.

The THX commercial tickles our ears in the movie theater, loudly proclaiming the “Audience Is Listening.” The lesson of the Web 2.0 is the “Audience Desires a Conversation” and recruiters had best join in the dialogue.

One purpose of this article is a preview of a presentation for the Fall 2009 ERE event, where our talent community pilot will be discussed in the broader context of Web 2.0 Beyond the Social Recruiting Hype: Microsoft’s Approach to Building Talent Pipelines and Communities. While the presentation will be much broader than a discussion of “apply or goodbye”—one of our core beliefs is that Web 2.0 demands that we have conversations with prospective employees at all phases of the job search cycle. Failure to do so will result in our recruiting the best talent for Microsoft, and that significantly impacts our business.

Marvin Smith is veteran talent acquisition practitioner who focuses on strategic talent sourcing, talent community building, social recruiting, employment branding, and the use of technology to drive talent identification and engagement strategies. He has been on teams that were at the forefront of resurgence of talent sourcing as a strategic weapon in talent acquisition. These teams piloted groundbreaking programs (ERE-Media-award-winning) work that used business intelligence, data, and technology to segment the target talent audiences and build talent pipelines and communities. His current role is a strategic talent sourcing consultant with Lockheed Martin, where he is responsible for talent pipeline building for critical skills talent; project management of a RMP (recruitment marketing platform); and driving corporate-wide, talent community initiatives. Previously, he served as senior research recruiter on an internal executive recruiting team with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; a strategic sourcing program manager with Blackberry (Research In Motion); and a talent sourcer/program manager for Microsoft. He is a writer and speaker on the topics of talent communities, strategic talent sourcing, Moneyball sourcing, and talent acquisition strategies. You can follow his blog or join a community that he created on talent community development or follow him on Twitter.


30 Comments on “Sourcing Insights: No More ‘Apply or Goodbye’

  1. Marvin:

    This was a brilliant and thought provoking article. Thanks for sharing. The whole “apply and goodbye” approach has distorted the “gift” of true recruiting which, ultimately boils down to relationships and connecting people with the right opportunities. We talk about respecting the candidates but, if they are not allowed to have a “voice” through the channels we’ve established then our efforts in many cases are in vain.

    It’s true, technology has taken sourcing to another level however, it must be used responsibly and strategically to advance our cause rather than allow it to become a hindrance. Anybody can post jobs and wait to see “what happens” however, with this strategy, I question if we are really experts or simply administrators. The bottom line is, if we are not establishing coherent sourcing infrastructure that support our business partners hire quality minded employees then we fail to add true value to strategic workforce staffing.

  2. Great article! Any recruiter who wants to help bring their company’s recruiting process up to date by thinking “out of the box” should pass this on.

  3. Marvin, thank you for this article. No matter how “efficient” we try to get, we keep coming back to relationship and true engagement, don’t we? I really like your vision in that it starts with the presumption that relationship is important, and then you translate this into practical terms. When we start off with this presumption, and proceed with the conviction to not sacrifice relationship, somehow we make it work, don’t we? Way to go.

  4. Hi Marvin. We couldn’t agree more. PLease check out as we have an innovation that speaks to this issue. We are the first to make resumes and job postings interactive. (patent pending) Candidates can now post questions to postings rather than applying. This empowers then rather than having to submit a resume to the “black hole”. The Q/A can be viewed by others making the job positng “living” or organic rather than static. The same is true of resumes in that recruiters can post questions to resumes rather than hunting them down to get basic questions answered. This approach makes it quicker, more efficient and more engaging for all. We also embrace social media on the site allowing members to post pics, vids, interests, career goals, links, blogs ect all on one page.
    We are offering licenses to use the technology for a nominal fee. We want to change how the candidate and employer interact! I would love for microsoft to be our first user. Please check us out!
    John Hughes

  5. yes Maureen –

    A lot of the ‘Talent Engagement’ folks at Microsoft (past & present) are pretty much über IQ, but they also are very curious by nature / not afraid to try something and have it fail miserably. I recall many a “post-mortems” meeting during the 3 contracts over 6 years that was my MS exp. These post-mortems were critical to hash out what went right, wrong, etc after a Strategic Sourcing Initiative.

    After that, you are then able to see if you can duplicate the winning processes and move forward (which is probably where some of the above chart got vetted). This is the key difference between Corporate Sourcing Teams that sit around and just talk about how cool something might be & the folks that legitimately try it; most times on their own without any outside help. Although, I think Marvin might be promoting a couple key Vendors presently to help do the tactical to MS’s strategy.

    The stuff I hear from Marvin, Kay, etc. out of there shows that MS is still a Leader in the space! GOOD JOB TEAM

    …………………. ? sourcer

  6. My team will launch a product that does this in 12 days. It’s simple. It’s also hair-raising-exciting. We’re pumped.

    I agree with everything you wrote except that the focus should not be on one way distribution or non-predictive friendly messaging – it needs to be based around doing real stuff. When it’s based around real stuff, it gets scary exciting. Then we flip the switch and talk about this talent community as revenue generating – this is when things get freakishly game-changing.

  7. Hi Marvin. We couldn’t agree with you more. We have created a site called that is the first site to have interactive resumes and job postings. (patent pending) We have merged discussion boards into resumes and job postings. This allows members to post questions directly to postings rather than sending their resume into a “black hole”. This empowers the candidate and makes the engagement process efficient and simple. Other members can also view the Q/A on each posting making the posting “living” rather than organic. The same is true of resumes. Employers can post questions to resumes rather than having to track down applicants to get basic questions answered. This makes it quicker and easier to get engaged. Other employers can also view the Q/A. We have also embraced social media. Members and employers can add vids, pics, interests and career goals, blogs, and links all on one page. We are offering the technology for lease at a nominal fee to use on corporate sites as we are trying to change the way employer and job seeker engage! Please give me a call.

  8. Marvin,

    Wonderful article! You are spot on with this, especially in a time when companies are being more selective than ever and when there are in some cases many more qualified candidates than there are jobs. Companies that ignore our lose out on those who they can’t hire today but may need tomorrow will suffer in the long run for sure.

    This model is really about applying technology to cultivate relationships and expand communications on a scale that just were not possible before. On top of that, it can be relatively easy to set up (although harder to maintain), and rather inexpensive (if not free if you can do it all in house).

    Thanks for sharing, I’m always learning something from you…

    Ben Gotkin
    National Recruiting Director
    RSM McGladrey

  9. Marvin – As always great article. I can’t be at ERE but I’m looking forward to catching up wiht you. @Maureen I agree, step 1 at MS is 180+ on the IQ.

    Marvin, since joined the conversation, how do you incorporate phone sourcing into this process?

  10. Ryan-we use phone sourcing, as well as, Internet Sourcing as part of our inputs into our TalentStream Strategy. Targeting the right audience requires using name generation activities, as well as, aggregating information from a variety of sources. Since we build pipelines for (10) different functional areas, we use a wide variety of resources to identify and engage the target audience.

  11. Maureen-Genius at Microsoft? You must be talking about my boss.

    Heidi-thanks for the kind words. I appreciate your insights about administrators. Our is and will always be a people business.

    Marilou, Kristi, Sue, & Mary—thanks for the encouragement.

    Jeremy- as always, you add to the conversation.

    Ted—I saw the buzz in ERE that Grouper Eye us is game changing. Looking forward to your launch.

    John—I will check out “bigdoghub”

    Ben—I appreciate your feedback—especially from someone that “gets it.”

  12. Hi Mary. Thanks for the note. The site has been very well received by users thus far. We are adding 100 to 200 members a week. John Zappe gave us a nice mention not too long ago in one of his articles. I have been leading recruiting teams for many years and sought to bring something into play that would be a positive change for all. The examples on the site help clarify better than I can in words.
    Seven lines down I should have said “static” in place of “organic”. Resumes and postings are organic as they grow as people contribute questions and answers to both. Thanks, John

  13. This the best article about talent management posted on ERE to date this year. Thank you so much for sharing – I’m keeping a copy on file to send to all my clients. In the age of social networks and the changes it brings to relationship building & branding, the model you presented is surely the way of the future.

  14. Marvin, an excellent article that clearly explains why companies really need to think about sourcing as a “Marketing” activity. It’s not just about the applicant, it’s about those relationships and creating processes which enables that across an entire organziation.

    We’ve built a recruitment marketing platform that helps companies automate the entire process, check us out at

  15. Marvin:

    interesting – but from an applicant’s pov the effects are difficult to see. MS stays a teflon mountain (and I do have the 180 IQ), with little obvious engagement into my fields at least (high-tech, moving very dense manufacturing information around, combining data….)

    I believe we need a much richer way to elicit skills, abilities, potential. The standard resume and the resume polishing industry are an impediment to achieving this.

    Well, I’m off to ping the MS Recruiting site and see if I can exploit my new knowledge!


  16. Yep, Marvin’s doing great stuff, and I’m happy to say “I knew him when” he was just starting to test the synergies between social recruiting, physical event recruiting and other “traditional” methods when we were both at MSFT. I knew it was great stuff, then, too, and was happy when he accepted my invitation to make one of his first full group presentations internally to Microsoft’s Global Central Sourcing Team a couple of years ago. Fortunately, MS now lets him share those insights externally, too. If you didn’t catch his much larger presentation at ERE last week, don’t worry, I’m sure it won’t be his last!

  17. Too often, internal recruiters spend too much time looking for reasons to knock candidates out rather than look at them as a possible fit in another role.Doesn’t fit opening exactly, so one and gone. Every candidate should be considered still an active viable candidate. I have found and hired vice presidents and directors from old resumes sent in to our company applicant tracking system,at various companies, where no one even looked at them! This included diverse executive candidates.
    Those candidates that are not engaged, not talked to, not considered, may land at a rival company going after the same business as your firm. They will remember the slight and do everything in their power to kick your company in the teeth every chance they get………..

    Good article. Glad Microsoft is thinking way ahead that these candidates or applicants are not only potential fits down the road, but could end up with potential business partners or with business rivals out for blood…….

  18. Great way of building a talent “community”. However, when your utilizing messaging (both high and low touch) that engages your talent community about your client brand or employer, there’s one thing that I think 99% of recruiters either don’t know how to do or won’t do and it’s the hardest part.You touched on it though Marvin when you mentioned logging candidates attitudes, behaviors and motivations etc.

    What is it ?

    Its “shaping” the messaging RELEVANT on an INDIVIDUAL basis to your talent pool. Here’s a tip, use miller heiman based methodology and business win v personal win. Record this information on every candidate and then shape your brand message to their personal win (more evocative than a business win).

    Your click through/on rate will go up if you create a way like I did of shaping titles and content of low touch nurturing material that appeals on an individual basis your talent engagement level will be much higher. Saw this is an old topic but still very prominent today in APAC where 58% of organisations are saying that lack of talent access is restricting business growth.
    You can follow up conversation with candidates and bring value and insights around the information you send them and have an engaging conversation – as opposed to “Hi or bye” as I call it.

  19. Marvin’s message certainly seems prescient today being written almost five years ago. ERE has such a wonderful library of this stuff; someone ought to be going through it and dragging it back up for re-discussion! Thanks Stuart, for doing so.

  20. That’s actually a great idea Maureen.

    From a people, process and technology perspective exactly how far has the recruitment industry evolved over the last five years and is it adequately servicing our employer brand or client needs? Are we ahead of the game and mitigating people risk through predictive tools & innovation ? Or are we jogging along side demand ? Or are we scrambling madly behind it ?

    Interested in all of your thoughts, especially as we’re now in a “value driven” age where our clients are now more sophisticated with the ease of access to information and hence more demanding.

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