The Recruiter vs. Sourcer Dilemma

Recruitment, Recruitment Group, Talent Acquisition, Talent Acquisition Group, Executive Recruiters, Recruiter, Corporate Recruiters, Internet Recruiters, Sourcing Specialists, Talent Acquisition Specialist, and I am sure I am missing some monikers associated with recruiting.

I had a colleague in one of my 2012 meetings describe the job of the recruiters as being sourcing specialists. She went on to explain that recruiters don’t sit at a desk; they get out and they actively meet people. They don’t just post positions and do the administrative stuff. Sourcing specialists, on the other hand, use keywords and methodology to find key professionals to fill open vacancies … that was her way of explaining our recruiter role to some non-HR staff. In her mind, she believes that recruiters who aren’t out and about actively recruiting are sourcers.

While I spent most of my time in that meeting biting my tongue, her description caused me to think about recruitment as a profession and whether or not we are misunderstood or having an identity crisis.

I happen to think it is a little of both. Recruitment seems straightforward to hiring managers, job seekers, and anyone else who isn’t heavily invested in performing those specific duties that are required of a recruitment professional. Here is where the misunderstanding begins: you don’t have a clue as to what recruitment truly is until you are in it. The other piece is there are operating definitions or generalizations within the industry for what recruitment professionals do; they either get expanded or diluted by individual organizations depending on their needs. In keeping with my colleague’s mindset, she equates travel and in-person interaction with “true” recruitment. It is an essential duty in her mind. Without those two things the recruiter is merely a sourcer in her world.

Sourcers on the other hand have been an entry-level position in recruitment in the places I have worked. I’m not diminishing what a sourcer does, just speaking from my experience.

Of greater importance is that they are an essential part of the recruiting staff that engages the passive and even active candidates and gets them excited and enamored with the organization so the recruiter can seal the deal and ultimately procure a hire. There are some sourcers who are just short of genius and work in technical and non-technical fields where they are highly coveted. However, to call a recruiter a sourcer is slightly insulting depending on who you speak to in the industry. For a recruiter, it is not just getting the candidate interested, it is conducting effective interviews; it’s being up on the latest in employment law and compliance; it may even include helping hiring managers manage their people better. It is also knowing how to set a salary and sell less-than-stellar benefits in a company that may not be the greatest.

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The point is: recruitment or talent acquisition is complicated. It requires much more insight and knowledge in other facets of HR than meets the eye.

So who are we? Are we an industry made up of a diverse set of professionals dedicated to hiring the best talent for our companies? Or are we a misfit bunch with a mash-up of roles and responsibilities that lack context?

It doesn’t much matter. Recruitment is recruitment is recruitment. It’s all the same crap. There may be different industries, regions, and skill sets to consider, but at the end of the day it is all still recruitment. In a profession, that requires its professionals to be multi-talented to keep up with increasing demands for top talent; good recruiters better be good sourcers and sourcers should be ready to get into other facets of recruitment if needed. None of us can afford to have tunnel-vision when it comes to our roles in HR.

You can call yourself recruitment, talent acquisition, or procurement of human capital. Whatever you call yourself is quite irrelevant. Of greater importance is that you are the focal point, shining star, and essential facet of the organization accountable for driving the talent strategy in a way that adds value to the company.

Janine N. Truitt is a human resources professional as well as an HR blogger/founder of “The Aristocracy of HR” blog. Follow her blog "The Aristocracy of HR" at . Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her tweets on Twitter @CzarinaofHR. The opinions shared in her articles are her own and are in no way a reflection of the views of her employer.


14 Comments on “The Recruiter vs. Sourcer Dilemma

  1. Can’t agree more. From a corporate recruiter point of view, a recruiter who cannot source is useless. I have close recruiter friends who are poor at sourcing. I tell them straight up that I will not hire them until they can become experts at sourcing. If my hiring manager wants a left handed trilingual .net developer who can start ASAP on site in a position located in the upper peninsula of Michigan, I’d better be an expert at sourcing.

  2. Hello Bert,

    Thank you for your comment. Recruitment and sourcing goes hand in hand. Granted some positions and scenarios require better sleuth skills than others, but sourcing is a fundamental piece of what recruiters do. I agree with your sentiment 100%.

    Thanks for reading! I appreciate it.

    Best Regards,


  3. Thanks, Janine.
    Whatever we do, we should concentrate on the high-touch, high-value add activities that are worth at least $50/hr or more, because if they’re not, they can be no-sourced (eliminated), through-sourced) or (out-sourced) sent away for usually less than minimum wage.

    Finally, whether you’re mass-sourcing entry-level unskilled labor, or executive-recruiting CEOs, WE’RE ALL MOVIN’ THE MEAT and shouldn’t “put on airs”…


    Keith “Master Meat Transporter” Halperin

  4. Thanks for the article, I appreciate your perspective. Perhaps, there is an identity crisis, but the challenges of recruiting, at least in the corporate environment have resulted in sourcing and recruiting evolving into separate specialties and that makes sense to me. My experience in the last few years in enterprise sized organizations support my opinions.

    Sourcing is more about the hunt: research and identifying the target talent; engaging the talent and in some cases developing strategic communities and pipelines. Most sourcing is done when the target audience would be considered a prospect for the organization and a hand off to recruiting occurs when the prospect becomes a candidate. Recruiting is more about farming; that is bringing in the talent crop. To me, recruiting manages the process; developing a relationship with the candidate; hiring manager presentations, extending offers and the many steps required to hire a candidate.

    The skills required, while at times interchangeable, are really quite different and not always compatible. In this era of talent shortages in Corporate America, sourcing and recruiting have become separate specialties. I have found that talent sourcers’ skills are akin to marketing as opposed to a recruiter who has more has skills more similar to the sales disciplines. To do a great job of talent identification requires tools, techniques and tactics that are evolving; it is a craft that is honed daily. On the other hand, to land the key candidate, the recruiter must engage, nurture, and manage a process that is most challenging because of competitive forces and the sheer number of requisitions they work on at any one time.

    I agree that sourcing and recruiting are on the same strategic team. As a sourcer, my role is to identify the key talent needs for the next 3-5 years and build pipelines and communities that will map to the workforce plan. As a recruiter, I must understand the competitive landscape and be able to articulate that information to my hiring teams in order to anticipate the obstacles and challenges to meeting the workforce plan. Two skilled teams working strategically on a common workforce plan.

    It doesn’t have to be the same old crap. It doesn’t have to be an identity crisis. It is probably more like explaining the differences between marketing and sales.

  5. Marvin,

    You make many valid points. Sourcing is a discipline in and of itself. It is a separate and distinct skill set that isn’t necessarily interdependent on the recruiter’ s role.

    I think the combination and/or separation of these two roles depend on the needs of the business. Early in my career, I worked in Staffing. There was no separation there- I had to act in both capacities.

    Now, it is less of a primary duty in my current role. Can I source when needed? Of course. However, I enjoy the hiring process management more than the nitty gritty excavation of talent. I don’t think it helps any recruiter to not hone both of these skills, but I see your point and it is certainly factual.

    Thanks for reading amd commenting.

    Best Regards,


  6. Very well put Marvin!

    The issue comes down to what each individual organization needs to support their Talent augmentations. There are many different definitions of “sourcing” and ultimately how you utilize this position can be the differentiator between having a strategic plan to convert “top talent” and up the organizations game or having more hands on deck to support volume of augmentation.

  7. It’s been my experience that (with the possible exception of executive hires) very few companies are willing to devote the bandwidth to create candidate pipelines- most of recruiting/sourcing is drinking from a fire hose or wondering how soon we’ll be let go….

    Has anyone had experience with the companies that will create candidate pipelines on contract? Does that even seem like a sensible idea?



  8. Keith,

    In your post what doe mean companies that will create candidate pipeline on contract-are you speaking of folks you bring in on contract or asking contract recruiters to build a pipeline before they leave. I have done both. I am on currently on contract and the company would like me to build a pipeline of candidates for a division where they anticipate turnover in the first 3 months.Yet there is a good chance I will not be there. My feeling is I will build one, but will connect with these folks via linkedin so I can continue to increase my net work.


  9. Marvin’s description is accurate and is describing the “best practice” model.

    Ultimately, the duties and process/model that company goes with is most likely determined by the capabilities of their staffing team (sourcers & recruiters) and the number of resources available. The best sourcers or recruiters that also source are the ones that can not just find people or send inmails on Linkedin, but get talent on the phone and start talking to them.

    You can have a great blueprint, have the best tools, a large budget…but it comes down to the actual recruiters working their desks. Then its up to staffing leaders to ensure their teams are delivering to the company what it needs.

    In my experience working with many companies that are implementing strategic sourcing models, there is clearly a success factor. That factor is the team lead. It could be a VP of Staffing, Director, or a “team lead.” Who ever the recruiters/sourcers immediately report to..that’s the most important person in company’s staffing department.

    Right model with the right people, you can do some great stuff. Right model with the wrong people, you are wasting time and money.

  10. Recruiters are outgoing “people” people who are not afraid of the computer. Sourcers are human capital data discovery experts who are not afraid of the phone. The majority of people in the recruitment industry are both.

    Also, Martin has some excellent points in the above comment.

  11. Good post Janine. I think Marvin has hit it on the nose however. Sourcing is more of an outward facing function that is a derivative of traditional corporate recruiting. They should not be merged.

    Sourcing drives talent to the company and hands off to recruiting where applicable. They can’t be bogged down in numbers of job reqs, meetings and general reporting. They work out in the field. It’s akin to sports scouting, but shouldn’t be confused with agenting. Agents represent the talent and sourcers engage with talent, but represent their employers.

    Sourcing specialists create interest in the organization and find ways for prospective candidates to engage in sidebars with managers well before they submit to a formal interview process.

    Sourcing, as a specialty, will continue to grow and gap away from traditional recruiting, as the economy firms up and the talent pools grow thinner.

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