Systematizing Semi-Sourcing

A few weeks ago, I wrote a semi-article about semi-sourcing. Last week, I wrote an article about systematizing the hiring process. This week we’ll combine the two topics and discuss systematizing semi-sourcing. Semi-sourcing is a recruitment technique that maximizes candidate quality while minimizing time to hire and cost per hire. Most current recruiting programs focus their efforts on finding a few good people in large pools of active candidates ó for example, by using job board advertising. Surprisingly, most companies continue to spend too much money and time on this tactic and are having limited success. Semi-sourcing takes a different tack. First, it minimizes the wasted time and effort spent on working active candidates. Instead, using headhunter tactics combined with aggressive, theme-based recruitment advertising, recruiting efforts are focused on finding semi-active and semi-passive candidates. The best candidates are over-represented in these pools. That’s why semi-sourcing techniques provide leading-edge recruiting departments with opportunities to find more top people for less time, effort and cost then they’re now incurring. (Our first online web conference on semi-sourcing is coming up shortly. If you’d like to be part of the action, email me at to learn more.) Systematizing hiring involves linking all of the steps involved in hiring into a repeatable business process. For example, while ATSs do a good job of tracking information, they weren’t designed to help recruiters influence candidates, assess their competency, or coach hiring managers. The next revolution in hiring will be to tie all of these steps together into an expert system. This will enable all recruiters to be more effective more quickly. Those forward-thinking companies that make the hiring of top talent a repeatable business process will have a distinct competitive advantage at no increase in cost. Hiring the best talent on a continuous basis starts with finding the best talent, so systematizing semi-sourcing is an appropriate place to start the hiring revolution. Semi-sourcing minimizes the time involved in sourcing active and passive candidates, instead focusing on semi-active and semi-passive candidates. Here’s why. There are too just many active candidates. Selecting a few good people from large pools of unqualified candidates is an administrative nightmare which diverts important recruiting efforts into the wrong activities. Semi-active candidates are those employed people who look now and then when their jobs become particularly dissatisfying. There are some top people in this group, and you can reach them with different forms of recruitment advertising. However, your backend systems need to be redesigned differently to handle the unique needs of top people. Semi-passive candidates rarely look, but they are open to a call from an experienced recruiter offering a better opportunity. You can find the names of these top people from proactive networking with your best employees and your best candidates. You do need good recruiter skills to attract these top semi-passive candidates. Passive candidates require too much time, cost, and effort to find and attract. Leave them to the extremely skilled external recruiter when the less costly alternatives fail. Systematizing sourcing means that your recruiting channels are first redesigned to target semi-active and semi-passive candidates, and then sequenced together to ensure a continuous flow of top talent. An example best illustrates how this is done. Assume you use the following six primary sourcing channels. Here are some ideas on how you can rework these channels to get more top semi-actives:

  • Resume databases. Rank-order the resumes older than 30 days to bring the best to the top, and then send an email asking these people if they’d be open to exploring a new career opportunity. You must describe the job in compelling terms to capture the interest of the best people in the pool. If the person is interested, require that they either take an online test or online interview or submit a write-up describing some of their most significant accomplishments. If the offer is compelling enough, a few of these passive candidates will respond. Reading their write-ups will tell you if they’re good or not.
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  • Job board advertising. My semi-sourcing article describes how to do this in-depth. So rather than repeat it here, I’ll just note that the key is to write very compelling and visible ads which a semi-active candidates will see on their days of frustration. Your systems need to be designed so that a recruiter can call this person within hours of applying.
  • Corporate career website. The concept is the key here. You need to be able to nurture good candidates to come to your website, and then contact them when an appropriate job becomes available. The career website also needs to compelling enough to increase the interest of talented semi-candidates once they hear about your company through any of the other sourcing channels.
  • Employee referrals. Most employees refer active candidates, which is a no-no. You don’t want any active candidates. You want your employees to refer the top semi-passive candidates your best employees worked with in the past. To get their names, your recruiters need to be trained to proactively ask for these names in a very professional way. Then they need to be recruited. We have a technical client that finds most of its techies using this technique.
  • Candidate referrals. The top candidates you find from these semi-sourcing techniques know other top semi-candidates. Work this network hard to find more top semi-candidates. This does require good recruiters and some training, but we have one client who fills most of her sales rep positions this way.
  • Career events (open hours and job fairs). You need to leverage your best employees and best candidates to get the best they know to come to these events. First, get their names and personally invite them, then network with the invitees. At career fairs, it’s important that recruiters conduct real-time networking to get the best attendees to bring their associates to your booth.

The key to redesigning your semi-sourcing channel strategy is to concentrate on targeting the best at every step, while minimizing the time spent administering or talking to the bottom half. Sequencing all of these programs together is how you then develop a systematized sourcing program. The first step involved in setting up a sourcing system is to use batch processing. This means that once you have a pool of five to eight strong candidates for any given job, stop looking for more candidates. Instead, push these strong candidates through the hiring process. Our audits of recruiters around the country reveal that too much unnecessary time is spent looking at every resume, forgetting the fact that the best candidates must get processed first. These are the ones you lose because some other company moved more quickly. Start off by using the lowest cost semi-sourcing channel possible first (generally highly visible advertising or proactive employee referrals). If this doesn’t produce enough top candidates, then add on one of the other channels. Then stop sourcing when you have reached the ideal batch size. If time pressures increase, you’ll need to use more channels concurrently to make sure supply equals demand. As long as you do each channel well, this is all there is to creating a systematic process for sourcing. Of course, it does require some type of management systems to tie all of this together, and metrics to track how well it’s going. But the concept is pretty basic. As the economy strengthens, your metrics will tell you when you need to add more channels or if you’ve tapped out the resources of your recruiting team. Continuous sourcing is the foundation of a systematic process for hiring top talent. Redesigning each channel to target the best semi-candidates is the first step. Sequencing these channels together in logical fashion then creates the business process. For small companies with a few recruiters, this tracking can be done easily in Microsoft Excel. Some of the bigger applicant tracking systems will soon be adding these features. Larger companies, with the help of their IT departments, can tap into their current ATS and develop robust database systems to manage this activity. Systematizing the process of hiring of top talent is the next revolution. The first uprising is systematizing semi-sourcing. Now is the time for you to become an insurgent. Note: As many of you know, in conjunction with ERE we’re starting a series of online conferences discussing these semi-sourcing and systematization concepts. For more information, send an email to We’re also starting a national road tour next month, and I look forward to meeting many of you in person. Watch these pages for our tour schedule, or check out We have a sneak preview in Long Beach, Calif., on August 20, co-sponsored by ERE. So if you’re in southern California you might want to attend the early launch of our national tour. I guarantee it will be outrageous, fun, insightful ó and great insurgency training.

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).


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