The Dark (and Seldom Spoken) Side of Sourcing Social Networking

In my last article I challenged the audience to show me where most of America’s employees are locatable on the Internet. You can read that challenge in the third paragraph of the article here.

One brave soul — or maybe not so brave; how brave is it to post anonymously? — seemed to take umbrage with the challenge and recited the number of membership numbers of six networks that I failed to mention in the article. To repeat the useful info, they are, in the words of “Source This”:

  1. Jigsaw: 21,607,128 contacts with email and work number.
  2. CareerBuilder Archive: 26,145,391 searchable passive resumes (searchable resumes posted outside one year and all the way back to when CareerBuilder started. These are people who never removed their resume, but were looking for work at one time.
  3. Online Directories: I recently found a highly targeted, industry specific, national directory which contains more than 3 million individuals with contact info (this is 3 million passive candidates within the industry we serve!!!!)
  4. State Licensing Boards: in the millions.
  5. Professional Association Directories:  in the millions.
  6. Facebook: 400 million active users (not the best resource, but you can use the advanced search to search by title or employer).

Though those numbers recited above may be dizzying, and may appear to fly in the face of my challenge, here are the facts:Most of the resources above are worldwide numbers, and most companies in America, where most of us are doing most of our business are interested in U.S. citizens for most of their jobs. Notice I use the word “most,” so don’t jump to the conclusion that I am speaking de facto across all needs. The key words in my assertive challenge are: not able to be identified/sourced for a specific reason — that reason being, in our industry, to fill a particular role.

What this means specifically is that a small percentage of those names that are on the Internet contain all the requisite info that ties them specifically to a common cause, and that cause would be — in most of our cases — to fill a very specific open position.

To be more specific, and as an example of what I mean, let’s say you want to source architects out of specific companies in Texas. The companies your customer wants are publicly held architectural and engineering firms with gross sales over $20 million. He wants these caveats included because he wants people out of what he perceives to be high volume companies with proven world class competitiveness.

Sure, as listed in my detractor’s list above, there is a professional association for architects in Texas that promises, “Architects, interior designers, and landscape architects must be registered by the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners and adhere to specific standards and criteria set forth in law, including the completion of continuing professional education every year. It is against the law for any individual to claim to be an architect, landscape architect, or interior designer unless they are registered by this Board.”

Most states have organizations like these as well, but for our purposes we’ll choose Texas, an economy in its own right and, as some would claim, a country set apart as well. After all, don’t they say, “Everything’s bigger in Texas”? (By the way, I’d agree with that sentiment. I am a Texas fan.)

Accessing their member directories really isn’t such a trick and lookie; you can even search by firm name in this Texas directory!

Pick one of the larger architectural and engineering companies headquartered in Texas, Fluor Corporation, one of the world’s largest international design, engineering, and contracting firms that is on your customer’s target list. The company provides engineering, procurement, construction, maintenance, and project management services for a variety of industrial sectors around the world with almost $22 billion in revenue. Plug Fluor into the firm name box. Don’t forget to further fine tune your command by choosing only the “architect” selection. Press the magic button and you get … “No results found.” And that’s across all states by the way!

How disappointing. And I was filled with such hope. Let’s try another requested large Texas company: KBR, with $12 billion in market share. KBR builds, designs, and manages airports and energy and chemical plants; provides engineering, environmental, and transportation services; performs security and threat analyses; and designs and manages urban rail projects. It looks promising. Dang. No results found again.

Let’s ratchet it down a mite to $6 billion. McDermott comes up on the radar — a global engineering and construction firm active in offshore oil and gas construction, power generation systems, and government contracting. You’d think it’d have architects wouldn’t you? Nope. Not listed in this state directory.

Now, let’s use one of the dirty little tricks that many sourcers know, and just put the first initial of the firm name in and let’s see what happens. Don’t forget to choose the state you’re working in; for some reason, this directory searches all states but your customer only wants people in Texas, remember? So let’s choose an initial — any initial will do — let’s choose “M,” which also allows us to double-check the no results thing on McDermott. When we put the initial “M” into the firm field and dutifully select Texas and “Architect,” what do we get? A whole slew of architect names that are licensed with corresponding firm names that start with “M” but again, no McDermott. I guess the first query was right. (By the way you can use this first initial trick in many online databases, even in the member name box, all the good that it’ll do ya’ sorting through the myriad results.)

Hmmm. It looks like Morris Architects is one firm that allows its firm name to be tied to its employees’ names listings, but when I look at Morris’s overall structure it seems it only has 150 employees. Maybe my customer will want to target Morris, but when I propose this addition to what is usually a hard-and-fast target list he stammers, “But that’s my client!”

Back to the drawing board. Marmon Mok looks promising. Darn, it only has 55 employees and $6 million in revenue. I’ll ask anyway. No, it has to have to have a minimum of $20 million in revenue.

There’s another one. Meeks + Partners. Turns out it’s just barely on the radar with $200,000 in sales and three employees. I feel stupid for asking.

My customer isn’t buying.

Let’s return to his original target list and run through the rest. Like I said, my customer isn’t buying my proffered targets — the ones that have their employees listed in the database. I’m beginning to look like a fool for asking, so let’s stick to what he wanted in the first place.

Just one more query before we move on. I know a company in Texas in this architectural and engineering space. It’s pretty big, I think. It turns out Austin Industries, with $2 billion in sales, is pretty big but it isn’t on the list. I’ll ask about that one. After all, it provides construction, maintenance, and electrical services for the chemical, refining, power, and manufacturing industries. It’s employee owned and for that reason has been left off the customer’s target list. I’m getting nothing but “no” here from my customer. When will I learn?

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Lauren Engineers & Constructors is on the list with 100 employees and $375 million in revenue. It’s a contractor that targets the power, chemical, special metals, and oil refining industries. In addition to its core engineering, procurement, and construction capabilities, the firm offers fabrication, project management, and mechanical and electrical maintenance services. Plug it in. Nope. No go. No names.

I give up. Let me try another way. Let me go to LinkedIn, the current popular social networking drug of choice, and see what I can find. Into the search fields I enter:

Architect (Title)

Flour (Company Name)

Current (Employment Status)

Yippee-Skippee! Forty results. Oh wait. A half a dozen are in Texas, and most of them don’t give me their names, just the taunting “Architect” title on the results line. I spy a couple duplicates in there too. What were these guys thinking signing up more than once? But here’s one: Juan Maas Project Architect at Fluor International in Houston, Texas. I wonder if he’ll work. Oh, no. It turns out he’s already on the customer’s list of “names not to duplicate.” (By the way, I get more and more of these today; most of the names generated off the Internet.) No wonder. I bet these other names on the list came off LinkedIn. Yep, looks like they did …

I know I could x-ray LinkedIn from outside for those names that were hidden but, to tell you the truth, I don’t want to. I know you sense my impatience and that’s because when I first started sourcing I spent thousands of hours foolin’ around on the Internet, forestalling that moment in time when I had to get on the telephone. I’m not sayin’ all that Internet cruising wasn’t fun. It sure was. But I learned the fastest and most direct route was to spend a few minutes on the ‘net, capture some information, and then get on the telephone to fill in the gaps.

It’s the best method for finding passive talent in the entire universe of recruiting and I’m going to be talking about it at SourceCon, September 28 and 29 in Washington, D.C. If you come to my sessions, here’s what you get: a step-by-step method of generating the names of people who are working in the jobs you are recruiting for right now. Mark your calendars.

To return to my complaint: The above example is a typically frustrating Internet search I did here as an example with no searching on my part to find an example to fit the bill of the claim I make that most employees inside American companies cannot be found on the Internet in a connection that makes them suitable to your immediate search. Now, if I had spent the two hours it took to assemble and search the information I offered here on the telephone instead I may well have procured most of the 50 — yes, that’s the number of names the customer wants — out of the dozen or so companies on my target list. A skilled telephone sourcer is entirely capable of this. How do you want your researcher spending her time?

I’m going to say it again. Most employees in corporate America are hidden away from the prying fingers of Internet diviners. If America has 150 million-plus workers, rest assured the greater majority of them are not locatable on the Internet. (I welcome argument on this fact. When I say “not locatable” I mean they are not able to be identified/sourced for a specific reason — that reason being, in our industry, to fill a particular role.)

Anyone wanna debate?

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!


21 Comments on “The Dark (and Seldom Spoken) Side of Sourcing Social Networking

  1. Sorry to somewhat aggressively challenge you on this. But, have you considered that the problem may be that you aren’t a true internet “diviner”? Searching keywords isn’t the only way to do things. I did a simple google search for email addresses at Try this search string: Using this “trick” in google, I found literally hundreds of Fluor candidates who have posted in blogs, chat rooms, etc. I’d suggest giving that one a shot!

  2. Don’t be sorry and thanks for challenging! Those hundreds of names – are they Architects? That’s exactly my point. A bunch of email addresses don’t tell you exactly what those people are doing. And that’s what you need when you’re truly “divining”.

    For instance, I did as you said – I plugged into the google search engine box. Here’s my results for the first dozen or so listings:

    Alan Boeckmann Email Fluor CEO CFO VP
    No, I don’t need him.

    Jim Heavner Fluor Email Jim Heavner is the Senior Vice President, Energy and Chemicals Group of Fluor.
    No, don’t need him either.

    Davy Mckee – Fluor Email Davy McKee is the Vice President of Fluor
    Nope. I’m looking for Architects – remember?

    And here’s the dilemma facing sourcing today and it’s giving it a bad rap. Many of today’s sourcers think like you just did – that some magic boolean is going to conjure forth what they’re looking for inside companies. It ain’t happening Steve. Not that I wish for all your sakes it wouldn’t, but it just isn’t. And it’s not about to any time soon. Only the telephone can deliver those fifty (mostly unique/first time seen) names to your discerning customer in a reasonable amount of time.

    I know it’s not what many want to believe.

  3. All I’m saying is that using all your techniques you didn’t find any. And, your conclusion was that they aren’t out there. I pose that SOME actually are out there, and you can find them. There’s no magic bullet that will drop them in your lap.

    Refine the search and you can get better results. Look beyond the first ten. Find a few, call them, and work their networks. If it were easy, they wouldn’t call it ‘recruiting’. They’d call it ‘search and find’, and the recruiter’s job would cease to exist.

  4. They’re out there Steve – rest assured they’re out there.
    The majority of them are just not findable using Internet search as the bullet and that’s my premise here.

    Now you said something interesting and commendable: “Find a few, call them, and work their networks.” Exactly my point. That’s what Internet search is best for – as the jumping off point to the telephone sourcing part. But few want to accept that. Fewer and fewer sourcers these days want to work the phone and it’s a huge falling-short in the industry.

    The only “refinement” that works for finding all (or the great majority) of America’s employees in an exacting context in a reasonable amount of time is the refinement of your communication skills. It’s a hard and challenging fact I know.

  5. You know, I’m glad it’s that way. If it were that easy, recruiters who know their stuff wouldn’t make the kinds of living that some do. And those who can craft a magic boolean string would be successful.

    Recruiting is the hardest easy job there is. There’s nothing hard about it. You find someone, talk to them, introduce them to others, help make a match. Easy, peezy.

    But, it’s not. The things that are hard about it are calling people back, asking the hard questions, digging into the search until you find that nugget. Still not hard, but not everyone has the knack to do it. This is the art form, and it’s what gives long term value to the job title “recruiter”… at least to those who really “recruit”.

  6. All right, why don’t we try to keep this discussion a discussion and focus on what helps the reader improve there ability to solve sourcing challenges (which is what I hope this is all motivated by).

    For starters, I think Maureen’s point is that you can’t find everyone on the internet. I personally agree with this statement, however sourcers are rarely trying to find everyone (but maybe they should be). If the question is which sourcing technique or tool to use, I think the majority of people would agree that it all depends. It depends on the job, the types of people that hold that job, the technique or tool the sourcer is most familiar with, and the list goes on. Instead of debating the best sourcing method I recommend the following.

    First, estimate the size of the target population. If your customer comes to you with a request to source the names of architects within specific companies in Texas you can estimate the population using the estimated sales for each target company and the average sales per employee of your customer. This won’t be exact, because there are differences in sales per employee between firms, but my experience suggests is will be better than 85% accurate. Architectural firms are usually private, so you might have to connect with people at your customer who used to work at the target firms, other people who recently left the target firms, etc. to get the sales data you need. If you are dealing with public companies you can easily get this information from securities filings. This does not take long to do and gives you the basis from which to measure the effectiveness of all sourcing methods.

    Second, using LinkedIn, Jigsaw, Google, Professional Directories, etc. do a top level search to see what types of results you get. I’m a big fan of Jigsaw, wrote an article comparing it to Hoovers and ZoomInfo which you can find at, but even though this database has lots of names with phone numbers and emails that you can’t find on Hoovers, ZoomInfo, etc. it is only 75-85% accurate. If your target market is not executive level Hoovers will not be much help to you. If your target market is not heavily covered by media or heavily engaged in online activities ZoomInfo may not be very useful because of how it collects information. The point here is that after you have estimated your target market’s size you can quickly determine what portion of the pie internet sources, or any other source for that matter, will get you. In the long run I think you will find that a proprietary database is best because none of these sources will have 100% of the target market, most probably won’t every help you source more than 30% of your target market.

    Third, start tracking the projected and actual number of names generated by each sourcing tool. Over time this will help you determine what mix of tools work best for the jobs or job families you work on. It should also help you estimate your time to source a particular number of names for any given position, and it should help you place a financial value (cost) per name to each sourcing tool. The later will help you start to optimize your sourcing costs by allowing you to compare all sourcing tools on a cost per name basis (i.e. comparing CareerBuilders resume database to LinkedIn). If you are really on top of things you can also measure how many names you have to source to get one strong, interested candidate, and then work backwards to the market size you need to begin with to ensure you source enough names in the first place. You can also evaluate each sourcing tool as to the quality of candidate it produces and eliminate those that provide little if any value.

    Finally, I’ll close by saying that the goal should not be to find the “one” best sourcing tool, or to debate which tool is the “best”. The goal is to find the best candidate, and in most cases some mix of sourcing tools will likely be the best solution. Sourcing tools will change over time, and if you approach sourcing this way you will always be able to compare what you have to what people are trying to sell you. I recommend you keep this in mind when considering any specific sourcing tool or technique.

  7. CorDell Larkin
    Jigsaw is 75-85% accurate?
    That’s huge.
    Define “accurate”.
    I never found it to be that high in accuracy but I’m willing to be convinced! 40 million+ names (that’s right, isn’t it?) w/ that kind of accuracy is a strong tool no matter how you slice it apart.

  8. Maureen,

    What I mean by this is that if you generate a list of names in Jigsaw the phone numbers and emails will be accurate 75-85% of the time. Said another way, if I generate a list of 100 names in Jigsaw the phone numbers or emails will be rejected or not reach 15-25 of those people.

    This is not to say that if I have a target market estimated at 100 people Jigsaw will have 75-85 of those people. If it did a sourcer could probably get by using just Jigsaw, but it has a long way to go before it reaches that level.

    Hope that helps.

    A quick note on why I like Jigsaw. The data is input into the system by marketers, salespeople, recruiters, etc. Those that don’t have a lot of money to spend on premium Jigsaw memberships have a huge incentive to keep the information up to date because they get points every time someone else downloads/buys the contacts they put into the system. I’m a big fan of user generated data, information, and content when the correct incentives are in place! And, now that Jigsaw is owned by a lot more users from small and medium companies have access to the system right from their CRM system. I can see SFDC using this to drive further information/contacts into Jigsaw, as well as improving the accuracy of the data as more people interact with individual company and people records, and further increase its value.

  9. “phone numbers and emails will be accurate 75-85% of the time” <-That's still huge. Is that the experience of others as well?

    Will company affiliations still be that accurate as well?

    For all the reasons you listed (user generated data, information, and content) I always thought Jigsaw had the best potential out of the social (let's call them what they really are, shall we? business) networking sites.

    The privacy thing always kind of spooked me. I guess I listened too much to the early critics? That's funny really, privacy spooking ME, a phone sourcer. I see the irony in it, believe me.

  10. Maureen,

    I think the 15-25% inaccuracy is reflective of company affiliation accuracy. In other words, the majority of the time I find a phone number or email does not work it is because the person no longer works there. A common reason the email may not work is because whoever put it into Jigsaw knew the name but probably guessed at the email address using other information. I say this because I’ve had emails bounce and called to verify the person is there and sometimes find the email structure was incorrect (i.e. first initial + last name was in the system, but it was really first name (DOT) last name).

    Also, readers should take note that my use of Jigsaw is to identify people at the Director, Vice President, or CXO level, and about 20%, 30%, and 50% of the time respectively. It should go without saying that accuracy (no matter how you describe it) increases (particularly within Jigsaw) as the number of people interested in the data increases. There are more people interested in identifying prospects at larger organizations than smaller ones, and they are more people interested in knowing the CXOs of organizations than there are interested in knowing the Vice Presidents, Directors, etc.

    The level of data accuracy I find in Jigsaw is likely reflective of this, which is why I tell people to estimate the market size first and then test/measure each sourcing tool/technique to see what works best in each situation. Jigsaw is good for what I want, but may not be good for those who want something different.

  11. The points you are making, Cordell, still support the assertion that many people are available one way or another through the internet… if you know how and where to find them.

  12. IMHO, this is splitting hairs: some people can be found on the internet, and some require a phone to find. Either way, the vast (and increasing) majority can be found my someone for $11/hr or less, and for the ones that can’t we can have Maureen, Glenn, Irina, or Shally find them for $50+/hr or whatever they charge. There’s less and less in the middle, and less and less that we ourselves need to do and not farm out, unless we aspire to be in the League of the Olympians: Maureen, Glenn, Irina, and Shally.



  13. Maureen-
    It was nice getting a chance to chat with you yesterday during the conference stream. What CorDell says re: Jigsaw/Hoovers/ZI rings true to me, including the % accuracy. Because the data is user-generated and steps are taken to prevent reams of junk being input, it has a much higher hit rate than other sources. The difficulty of course is in Jigsaw’s higher price per contact, particularly if you don’t have the resources to input contacts at the same rate that you consume them.

    When you get down to it, I think you hit the nail on the head: You’re not going to be able to get to everyone you want to get to just by being a Boolean guru. Perhaps it’s truer now than ever that we can’t just view resources like Twitter, Facebook, Google, Jigsaw, Linkedin, and such as static entities to act as candidate pipelines. These are information marketplaces where we do best if we barter or search for a deal.

    In regards to the idea that you can “find” anyone, that may be true for many or even most people, but without proof of relevance, you might waste time trying to get in touch with the wrong people.

  14. I am in complete agreement with Maureen. As a retained recruiter for over 20 years and a very early adaptor of internet search, I am still amazed at whom I cannot find on the net. I work a niche industry, so often I already know whom I am going to call, but would like to do some background research on them prior. So even knowing their name, industry, profession and current employer, I am sometimes unable to find any thing substantive on their work background. I often find home and email addresses, how fast they ran in a race, how much money they contributed to a politician, serve on the PTA, or have a Facebook page (without any employer info), but nothing that would have allowed me to ascertain their profession if I didn’t already know it. In discussions with some of these candidates, a few have shared that they have worked to keep their presence on the net at a minimum, like not having a LinkedIn profile.

    Additionally, I too have killed hours x-raying sites and creating Boolean strings with little results and ultimately picked up the phone and voila, a few calls and I had all the info I needed. The best thing you can accomplish on the phone that you can’t on the net is direct communication with people. People who know other people, can discern who is really good, who might be receptive and whom you might never have thought to contact.

    Even if there was some all encompassing data base, ours is a people business that ultimately requires we interact with people if we want to be successful.

  15. Dear Maureen,

    The title of your article is misleading. I got no information regarding the “dark side of sourcing through social networks”. I understand that it does not work for you (although it does for many many other people) and that you have alternatives that are a better use of your time. That is great but it is not revealing any ‘dark side’.

    Sourcing is complex (otherwise, why pay a recruiter a hefty fee). Sourcing however **is and will increasingly** be fundamentally transformed by recruiting through social networks (if you do not believe me, check out how many employers are using social networks as a replacement of external search firms). Still, most recruitment agencies / search firms do not realize the magnitude of the change.

    Bilal Ojjeh, CEO

  16. I’ve always been an advocate to use an expert internet sourcer and an expert phone sourcer.
    I’ve worked on a countless number of projects with very good phone sourcers and sometimes I’ve delivered names they weren’t able to generate sometimes they have delivered names I didn’t find and often times we generated the same names. This works best by either starting off with the internet sourcing and use the phone sourcer to fill in the gaps and to verify the internet leads or to have the phone sourcer go into the front door of a company while the internet sourcer goes into the back door.
    For the most part with the type of searches I work on if the candidate can not be found on the internet I doubt that person is worth the effort to find… I know that is not the case with all searches.

  17. Maureen,

    I’d like to add one more huge resources that might helpful sources who are working on International projects. This site provides a FREE JOB POSTING and worldwide unlimited Resume Access of candidates from various skills set , expertise and background such as; Cruise Lines, Hotels, Travel, Manufacturing, Agriculture, Oil and Gas, Mining, Constructions, Retail, Information & Technology, Engineering, Banking, Finance, Marketing, HealthCare Industries, and many more.
    Thanks and hope it’s helpful!

  18. I feel compelled to add that we need to be specific about what qualifies as accurate info on Jigsaw. I use Jigsaw quite often and find that a user’s email address may be valid and the phone number provided is often a general office number rather than a direct dial. This is of little use to the recruiters I work for and though it may be considered valid to some, I consider it bad info. The recruiters I work for will not use a candidate’s corporate email for fear of legal ramifications. The direct dial is the only number that counts. I often will find direct dials via Jigsaw, but the number is far lower than 75%.

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